Expat talks about her life in the mountains of New York State

Expat interviews
  • Geraldine
Published on 2022-03-25 at 10:00 by Nelly Jacques
Geraldine, who is originally from France, fell in love with the United States when she was very young, and a complicated personal journey led her to move to New York State. She initially wanted to take the time to rebuild herself, but in the end, she never left. Geraldine talks to us about how she obtained the authorization to stay in the USA, what life is like in rural New York State and what she likes the most in her country of adoption.

How did your love story with the United States begin?

My story with the United States began when I was in high school (1989-90). My father was doing shortwave radio, more commonly known at the time as CIBI (Citizen band radio in English). Since I did not speak English, he convinced me to sit behind the mic, and I started talking in English to people mostly located on the East Coast of the United States. And when we could not talk to each other on the air, we started sending each other letters.

In 1992, I gathered my savings and bought a plane ticket. I was only 20 years old, and I was ready for a solo adventure for 3 months in Maryland, in the suburbs of Washington DC, then North and South Carolina, before going up to Buffalo in the west of New York State. Through this adventure, I got to know all the people I spoke with for 2 years and developed strong friendships. I was really amazed. I had also fallen in love with the person who was hosting me in Maryland. We got into a long-distance relationship, so I regularly travelled to the US until 1995, when we broke up.

So what was your next step when you got back to France?

I was 23 years old when I returned to France, and I was working part-time. During the same period, I decided to move out of my parents' house. Very soon after, I met the person who became my husband, and we had three children. Unfortunately, my spouse turned out to be a narcissistic, manipulative pervert, and my life turned into hell. In 2016, I finally decided to get separated from him.

In the end, you always had the United States in the back of your mind, right?

That's quite right. Once I was free, I reconnected with some friends on the East Coast, including my current partner, Perry, whom I had also had the chance to meet on a trip in previous years. He understood that psychologically and physically, I was just exhausted, and he offered me to come and rest here in the Adirondacks (a huge mountain range in New York State) so that I could think about what I wanted for my life.

So how did you manage to settle down and get a visa in the US?

I initially arrived under ESTA, and I wasn't allowed to stay more than three months. So I had to return to France and apply for a B1-B2 visa (valid for 10 years, which allowed me to stay in the United States for a maximum of 6 months). I was fortunate that everything went quickly and without a hitch. Within 14 days from my departure, I was back in the US, and I was able to extend this visa twice for 6 months each before consulting an immigration lawyer. He directed me to a legal but little known way to obtain the Green Card (which allows you to live legally in the USA), which corresponded perfectly to my case as my husband was American. It was a very long process of two and a half years in total, but I obtained my Green Card for 10 years in March 2020.

Did you find it hard to adapt to the US?

My life here is very simple. I live in a mountain area, not densely populated, far from the hustle and bustle of big cities.

It's a slow life, far from stress and in the middle of nature, a return to the basics I needed to heal.

With hindsight, besides visa and administrative procedures, what are the main challenges you had when you arrived in the US, and what would you advise someone considering settling in a region like yours?

Overall, I didn't have any particular problems fitting in. The language was not a barrier, and the people were very welcoming and accessible. In rural areas, it is not so easy to integrate into already established circles: the people here have often grown up together, went to the same school, so they all know each other. When you're an outsider, they are naturally suspicious, but living with a "local" helps too. Solidarity and community spirit are very strong here, so I naturally offered to help organize local charities. This helped me get new acquaintances. Later, thanks to a professional activity, I was able to expand my circle. So, if you're about to settle in a less densely populated area, I strongly recommend that you join local Facebook groups and reach out to people by participating in activities organized by the city.

Do you think that you would have integrated in the same way if you lived in the city of New York?

I think it's specific to each person's situation and personality. One of the perks of large cities is their huge structures that help expats settle down, but they do not necessarily facilitate integration into the local population: expats suddenly feel less alone but tend to perhaps only see each other. The notion of friendship in the United States is particularly flexible in the sense that the locals will be very welcoming and friendly, but that does not necessarily mean that they will let you into their private circle. A lot of friendships are made through networking, so it can be surprising and even disappointing sometimes. Once you understand the game's rules, things go smoothly. Still, expats have to be open-minded to understand how the social fabric works. In this sense, New York has the advantage of being very cosmopolitan.

On social media, you display your passion for the region you live in. What do you like the most about it?

What I like the most here is the proximity to nature, the magnificent landscapes and colours, the mountains of course and lots of water, far from the hustle and bustle of big cities. It's exactly what I needed to recharge and heal at this turning point in my life. I'm back to basics. A serene walk in the forest along the river, being able to breathe in the fresh air, swimming in a lake, kayaking at sunset, watching the deer coming to chew on the shrubs at the bottom of the garden through the window and the dance of the squirrels, going for a walk in winter and hear the snow crunching under your feet: these moments are so rejuvenating and make me feel so safe and happy. With my partner, we go riding our motorbike around, and we enjoy all kinds of free outdoor concerts and festivals. With the slow life, it's an excellent place to disconnect from the world.

I share my daily life and my discoveries on my Instagram (@adirondackfrenchie). I really want to show that the United States is not just about big concrete buildings, huge national parks or wide open spaces. There is so much more than that. The US is considered a country of fantasy, but there are also many people like you and me who lead a life like everyone else.

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