From France to Ecuador through the USA: an expat's tales

Expat interviews
  • expat family in Ecuador
Published on 2022-06-17 at 09:00 by Nelly Jacques
Mathilde moved to the United States for an internship when she was 22 and left with a husband and three children to start all over again in Ecuador. Originally from Grenoble, France, she talks to about her uncommon journey.

How did this whole expat experience begin?

I was 22 when I left France for an internship in San Francisco in the United States during the summer. I met my husband there, and the following year I moved to California with him, and we got married!

So you have lived in the USA for 20 years. Tell us more about it.

I have actually lived in the USA for 15 years: 12 years in San Francisco, California, then 3 years in Denver, Colorado.

In San Francisco, I first worked with the IRC (International Rescue Committee) as an immigration case manager -- my role was to help refugees with their residency and citizenship applications. After that, I started a career as a Private Investigator with the California Appellate Project (CAP). For 7 years, I conducted investigations for the defense of prisoners on death row in California. My 12 years in San Francisco were very intense, with a new family, new career, but the reality of the excessive cost of living in San Francisco (especially rents) made us seek a change. So we decided to move to Ecuador after the birth of our third child.

After 3 years in Ecuador, we returned to the United States. We moved to Denver because San Francisco had become financially inaccessible to us. And my husband also had family in Colorado.

Living in Denver has also been a very positive experience for us. This city reminded me a lot of Grenoble, my hometown, with its snow-capped mountains and valleys. We made the most of it despite my husband's fragile health. Thanks to our children, we have successfully integrated into 2 fantastic communities: that of dance and that of capoeira. San Francisco and Denver are two very different cities, but they were perfect for me at these specific times in my life!

The immigration process was, therefore, the biggest challenge to your life in the United States. Can you tell us about it?

When my husband and I got married in California, my husband was not a US citizen (he is of Ecuadorian origin)! So all the steps for me to become a permanent resident were complicated too. First, he had to become a citizen (it took one year), then I applied for my Green Card as a spouse of a US citizen. However, our case remained pending for five years because, apparently, our marriage was "dubious"! Finally, we had to hire an immigration lawyer to complete the immigration process.

Two months later, I had my permanent resident status, and after 3 years, I became an American citizen!

Did the red tape weigh on your life in the United States? Do you have any regrets?

I had many regrets at the start when my file was put on hold. I had to renew my work permit every year, and each time I wanted to return to France, I had to obtain authorization to return to the United States. That cost me thousands of dollars! But I have no regrets because since I am an American citizen, I have access to many benefits even if I don't live in the United States anymore!

How did the plan to move to Ecuador come about?

After we had our third child in San Francisco 10 years ago, we decided to move to Ecuador because life is cheaper there, and we were tired of the hectic lifestyle and spending half our salary on rent and the other on daycare for our children. Since my husband is Ecuadorian, it was easy for us to move to Ecuador.

How was the immigration process in Ecuador?

Since I'm married to an Ecuadorian citizen, the immigration process was much easier than in the United States. But the bureaucracy is just as cumbersome and ridiculously slow! We were also poorly organized regarding documents that we had to bring from the United States. For example, any document (such as birth certificate, marriage certificate, and criminal record, in particular) had to be translated into Spanish, apostilled and notarized. We had no idea about this before moving. Still, we got our Ecuadorian residency in 2 months.

What did your life in Ecuador look like when you arrived?

We first lived for 3 years in the Galapagos Islands as my husband was a teacher there. It was simply paradise. I just had to take care of our children, who were 1, 3, and 7, respectively. It was pure bliss!

However, we had to go back to the United States for 3 years because my husband got sick, and healthcare was better there than in Ecuador.

We came back 3 years ago after spending 3 years in Colorado. We now live near Quito, in a valley in the Andes. My husband has retired, and I work online.

How was the culture shock when you arrived in Ecuador?

I must admit that I have a soft spot for the United States. When I arrived in San Francisco 20 years ago, it was a dream come true for me. I was surrounded by cultures from around the world. People around me spoke Chinese, Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic, etc. I found it fantastic to live in the middle of this patchwork. The United States is a country full of contradictions and extremes, and that is really fascinating!

Ecuador is a beautiful country, the people are very warm and friendly, but there is a significant rift between the Ecuadorians of Spanish origin and the natives, which sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable.

Has your life changed a lot since you arrived? What are your plans for the future?

For 20 years, yes, my life has changed! I went from a student to a mom of 3, so I've had different priorities like my kids' well-being and their education.

I would like to go back to Europe now. My children grew up in the United States and Ecuador, and I want them to know about European culture in general, not just French culture. So we will probably be moving to Spain in 2 or 3 years!

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