What do Thomas Jefferson, Chopin, Josephine Baker, Marie Curie and Johnny Depp have in common? They were all foreigners attracted to France, and each has a hell of a good story to tell about their time lived here.
Every expat has a story about why they came to France, what they learned and how their lives changed under the French influence. Throughout the ages, the city of light, love, food, history, and culture has lured the curious and seduced the adventurer.
Recognizing that each personal experience in Paris is unique, two American millennials, Melissa Lim and Leah Chernick, have created a community platform to collect Our Paris Stories.
With more than 50 uplifting profiles to date of personalities from around the world representing all walks of life, Our Paris Stories is “a resource for expats to connect and a positive space to showcase the brave and talented people who have, or are in the process of, making Paris their new home”.
INSPIRELLE connected with Melissa Lim and Leah Chernick to talk about their inspiring blog for expats to share their Paris experiences.
How did this wonderful idea to create a platform for people to share their unique Paris stories come about?
After we both moved to Paris in 2016, many of our friends—and even strangers—kept reaching out to us asking how we were able to live abroad as professionals. They were curious to hear why we chose to live in France, how we found jobs here, and what the whole experience has been like.
Melissa found herself telling the same story over and over and thought, “I should just write this all down.”
She realized that what these curious individuals really wanted to know was, “How can I make the same move myself? How challenging would it actually be?”
Our Paris Stories was soon born. Over the past year, it has grown into a community that has led to friendships, business partners, and sources of inspiration for thousands of individuals across the globe.
What is your personal Paris story?
Melissa has always had her heart set on Paris. Part of her family is from Tahiti, French Polynesia, so it’s kind of a tradition to spend time studying or working in other parts of France at some point. After two years of active job searching, she found a job at Microsoft in Paris and moved with her boyfriend to the city of light. Living in France has brought out her creative side, inspiring Melissa to start projects such as her personal blog, the Asian food-hunting group ChopChicks in Paris, and of course, Our Paris Stories.
Leah moved to Paris after graduating from university in 2016. She was smitten by the city after studying a semester abroad so when she returned to the US to complete her degree, she found herself job searching for her next opportunity to move to Paris. She found her one-way ticket to Paris at Ykone, an international creative agency for digital content & influencer marketing, where she works today as a project manager. While her Paris story is rather recent, Leah’s childhood had a lot of subtle French influences, thanks to her mom. She felt an immediate connection to the city and French culture during her first experience living in France.
Share with us some of the interesting people that have offered to open up and share.
Our Paris Stories has covered expats from over 13 countries with a wide variety of occupations and experiences. We have Asheley Gao, a Chinese woman whose passion is to make art more accessible by designing educational programs for the prestigious Louvre museum. There’s also Kevin Kretsch, an Irish man who began his Paris story 17 years ago in a 9m2 studio. He worked hard to establish himself as a teacher and guitarist and now performs for audiences of 800+ people. Of course, we can’t forget Canadian Nancy Ing Duclos, who co-founded INSPIRELLE to inspire, connect, and empower women in Paris and beyond.
We love meeting these inspiring expats who are also a lot of fun to take photos of—one of our favorites so far is Jacko Senoville. (Yes, dogs have their own Paris stories too!)
You each have fulltime day jobs! Why create Our Paris Stories?
At the project’s inception, we spent a lot of time thinking about how to balance our desire to stick to a reliable publishing schedule—every Monday—with the reality of our available free time.
Since we do have day jobs outside of Our Paris Stories, it was necessary to establish a streamlined production process from the beginning. Each expat actually writes his or her own story through our online submission form, which then notifies Melissa to follow-up and edit the article. Leah then schedules the beautiful portraits you see on our site.
Since each expat chooses his or her favorite location in Paris for the photo shoot, the bottleneck in our process is traveling all over Paris to meet people and taking time to select from hundreds of pictures. We actually just brought on another talented photographer, Kate Devine, whose creative artistic style and passion for the project will make her an exciting addition to Our Paris Stories.
What is it about Paris that stirs the imagination of millennials? Why does the city of light continue to lure young people to France for a totally new adventure?
Kate had an interesting insight on this. Many people—even those who have never even visited Paris—feel a strong personal connection to this city. There’s something about Paris that really gets at the roots of our cultural imaginary, especially for millennials. Perhaps Paris taps into the duality we face of starry-eyed idealism and cynicism. Paris is, at a very foundational level, representative of that intersection between childhood and adulthood, where the fairy-tale of making our dreams come true is challenged with the occasionally harsh realities of the expat experience.
Through this project, our team aims to share a Paris that extends beyond the sparkling Eiffel Tower—we also want to reveal the nitty-gritty of actually living here. Mainstream visions of Paris are so often centered on its idealization, from the picture-perfect lives depicted on influencers’ Instagrams to film portrayals like “Midnight in Paris.” Those moments of perfection certainly exist, but they’re just one facet of the story.
Has your blog grown and what future plans do you have for it?
Our first “whoa” moment happened when the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce found us on Twitter just two months after we launched, saying they loved our idea and wanted to feature us. A few months after, the fashion start-up Wheretoget also published, “Meet the Modern Storytellers of Paris,” which covered how living in France has influenced our team’s fashion styles.
Now, we’re very excited to be here on INSPIRELLE, a site we respect and read frequently!
Moving forward, our team has discussed expanding to become “Our London Stories”, “Our Hong Kong Stories”, and the like. The model we’ve built is easily translatable to other cities, as long as there is a dedicated local team to run it.
From your experience, what do you think expats have in common?
Journalist Amanda Randone sums it up well in her story: “Missing a joke or simply greeting someone with a handshake over a kiss on the cheek are the isolating kinds of errors that, while small, are harsh reminders of your expat status. Sometimes being asked, ‘Where are you from?’ feels more like an affirmation of your otherness than a question out of curiosity.”
The people we’ve interviewed all echo the struggles of homesickness and figuring out where they fit in, especially in situations where they are the only non-French people in the room. It takes a very strong and motivated person to persevere and overcome daily obstacles of navigating another culture, learning a new language, and building a home oftentimes far away from loved ones. It is through these shared experiences that so many of us bond together, no matter how individually different we may be.
To celebrate Our Paris Stories’ 6-month anniversary, former marketing manager Christina Bailey organized our first event, an apéro along the Seine. Over 60 people showed up throughout the afternoon to meet the stars of the blog’s stories and discuss life as expats in France.
What advice do you have for millennials thinking of moving to Paris to live and work? What’s the reality check?
There is actually a dedicated section in each article of Our Paris Stories where expats share their advice on this topic. Common tips range from making copies of everything—paperwork is not as efficient here as it is in other countries—to practicing patience, to being proactive and learning from others’ experiences. For those of you interested in living abroad, we hope Our Paris Stories is a helpful resource to learn about expat stories and to give you access to individuals who’ve already made the move.