2011, Toronto. Get up at 6 am. Drive for over an hour barring no accidents and bad weather, teach, and then drive home for up to two hours during rush hour. Rinse and repeat. Drive to the store, drive to see friends, drive half a day to the lake in the summer. I felt my life was spent in a car. After almost 20 years in teaching, I was craving something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
On a whim that autumn, I spotted a seat sale for Air France. I hadn’t been across the Atlantic for 15 years. What followed was a series of snap decisions made on gut instinct, with a playful attitude and a bit of trepidation.
“Do what excites you a lot and scares you a little.” – Vishen Lakhiani.
When I saw the ad, I made a deal with myself: “If the sale is to Warsaw or Stockholm AND if the sale price is available the first night of March break (as if !!!), I will buy the ticket.”
What were the odds? To my utter surprise, my criteria were met and I kept my promise to myself. Why Warsaw? My parents were Polish-Ukrainian. The few times I had visited Europe, I felt I was home. Why Stockholm? No clue, but meeting a pair of Swedish sisters on my trip would prove to be serendipitous…
I hadn’t been to Poland in over 30 years. I was nervous so I asked a Polish colleague at school for some words of advice. We did the bises as a farewell. This is probably why I find living in France familiar, versus feeling like a fish out of water. Bises, bonjour, the concept of vous, asking permission to tutoyer (dropping the formal version of “you”) were all things I had grown up with. Long family meals with many courses including foods that my friends found gross such as tartare and carp were de rigueur. Details, artisanal crafts and food were in my blood.
Back to March 2012, I was already out the door when I heard my colleague call me back. She took a blue, sticky paper, quickly folded it up into a small heart and said, “Take my heart back to Poland for me.” She asked me to photograph it on the stone steps leading to the Vistula river and it became one of the pieces in my photo series From Poland to Paris which went on display in galleries in Poland and France.
On my way to Warsaw, I transferred planes in Paris. Flying towards the sunrise, the thought, “You will live in France one day” drifted through my head. A quiet voice of intuition that is never wrong. I took a photo while landing at CDG
I had never considered moving before. How could I? My teaching pension was in Canada, but I subsequently discovered it could be collected anywhere in the world. One more step towards a new life.
I explored Warsaw with my new Swedish friends and spent a few days capturing the beauty of the Old Town with my first Nikon. I had always thought point-and-shoot cameras were good enough until I realized the limitations. A few of those photos were published in a local newspaper – it was the start of my journey into the world of photography.
Completely taken by Europe, I returned months later in the summer. Lund, Sweden would be my home base while I travelled around. On a trip to Venice, I met a Parisian. Again, I felt life had its own agenda. To me, Europe was a magical place full of history, beauty, sustainable products and market food. It was also where time seemed to slow down. Sitting on terraces for hours on end was just par for the course.
Upon my return, I looked at over 1000 photos every day, which kept the memories alive and led to spending Christmas in Poland and the New Year in Paris.
Paris put on a show as I walked by the Seine in the golden light of a winter afternoon. For a Canadian it was warm, I was surrounded by greenery, bouquets of flowers, and independent bookshops on every corner. I met extended family who showed me how easy it was to travel to different European countries on the weekend. My wanderlust was now insatiable. I returned numerous times over the next two years, and by August 2014, I was here to stay.
I had taken a 6-month sabbatical from my teaching position which allowed me to spend enough time in Paris to not only find a job teaching science and math but to get a true taste of daily life – using the metro, finding the local Monoprix, buying food at quaint markets, spending time reading at the Buttes-Chaumont park.
On the other side of the Atlantic, I was fortunate that I was able to secure an EU/Polish passport even though I was born in Toronto. With each step, I was confronted by (mostly) Polish and French paperwork and bureaucracy. There were more than enough challenges, from not knowing about apartment guarantors to extra fees for delivering my shipment because I lived on a narrow street.
On the flip side, speaking Polish and Ukrainian since childhood and having learned some French grammar at school made my language transition much easier. I even learned to eat dinner after 7 pm and became fluent in military time!
After six years, France is home now. My apartment is a 20 minute walk from work, which seemed like an impossible dream when I lived in Canada. I use my time to channel my energy into reading and learning. I am fascinated by how people think, learn, and feel. I listen more to my intuition and pay even more attention to details. This has also impacted my teaching. The time to really think, make mistakes, explore and understand requires time, patience and repetition. In the end, it often leads to a love of learning.
One of my students last year coined the phrase “math is not magic, but it is magical.” This was in response to my request that students use precise language and not take short-cuts. When I started teaching, one of my uncles said “don’t forget, most people truly do not understand the meaning of an equal sign”. The slower pace of life in Europe has given me the space to explore this in the classroom.
For years I have wondered how to combine my love for photography and education. During confinement, I found the right time, the right thoughts, and the right people, and my new website evolved. Through it, I will blog, connecting people to my photography and education along with the beauty of Paris. I feel grateful to live in this country, which opens the door to all of Europe, and while here, to appreciate my favorite places, walk, think, and of course, take more photos.