Time passed by so quickly. Today, it has been two years since I moved to France, specifically to here, in Lille Metropolitan.

To recall, I moved to France to pursue a master’s degree in digital marketing and have been quite successful on that, but career and life motivations aside, the main trigger of my move to France was in fact the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the pandemic did not happen, most likely I would have continued to stay in Singapore because, to be honest, Singapore is an amazing, efficient, and beautiful country and I did not have any major problems there.

My career path was good and I had a decent salary, I had many friends both locals and internationals, and I was able to travel to a lot of countries in Asia and Europe to do many adventures and sports. I was living the dream to a big extent but…

Then the pandemic happened.

Suddenly, my last job there was at a real risk due to the compounding economic problems resulting from the health crisis, and with the government there then reasonably prioritized its own citizens in the job market, I felt that it was unlikely for me to find a new job or to have my then work permit renewed. Many foreign workers in Singapore lost their jobs during the health crisis and I didn’t want to be a part of the statistics.

The COVID-19 pandemic then, opened an opportunity for me to pursue a long time dream of getting a master’s degree which had been on my mind for many years. However, once I started earning money, it was difficult to imagine being a student again, especially with the high cost of education in Singapore and hectic work schedules. It was an impossible prospect.

I wanted to pursue a master’s degree in digital marketing as I have earned skills and expertise on this field from years and years of work experience in large, international marketing agencies.

I did not necessarily think of pursuing higher studies in France. However, during the health crisis, as France was the only developed country that continued to allow entry of foreign students, I took the opportunity and now I feel grateful for the decision that I made as it changed many areas of my life for so much better.

After 2 years living in France, I now have enough data points and experience to be able to have a say and comparison between my lifestyle then in Singapore and my current French life.

Below is a list of the major differences of my life here in France vs my life then in Singapore.

A lot more space (literally) and freedom of mind

I remember when I first arrived in Lille, I quickly realised that there was suddenly a lot more (physical) space around me. To be honest with you, after all the crazy rules during the pandemic, having a lot of space around really felt good.  I did not know I was craving for it so much.

I remember being in the Citadelle de Lille and felt ecstatic about just how much I could free my thoughts and mind without having to worry about what other people think about my actions, as I was just alone there in the middle of the beautiful green space of the park.

This was not often the case then in Singapore and reasonably so, because the city state is a small island and has a lot more people. Whenever you want to go out to a place you think is remote, the tendency is that there are others who have thought the same and you eventually find yourself in the company of other people, or be part of a crowd. Over a long time, that can feel so overwhelming which is why nearly everyone I know in Singapore travels overseas to truly disconnect and relax.

A lot more time for living

I feel that I’m living my life a lot more in France simply as a result of having more time outside of studies and work.

Of course, when I was still attending school as an international student in France, it was very busy. Nonetheless, this country has so many holidays, which felt a lot more than what I had in Singapore and in the Philippines. Moreso, holidays in France are also taken very seriously by everyone. During holidays, the tendency is that both businesses and their clients go offline or go on vacation at the same time. As a result, everyone feels the “break from work.” From someone who had worked before even outside of the official work hours very often when I was still in Asia, this felt REALLY good and absolutely refreshing. It is nice to go on a holiday, without thinking of any work to do.

After living in France/Europe for a while now, I realized just how much we work each day in Asia and how we work really, really hard just to bring food to our tables.

Less money — but I’d take that any day for more living

By turning into a student again, my income flow from salaries evidently stopped which resulted me to have a lot less money than when I was a working professional in Singapore.

Even when I started receiving salaries again when I worked for a while in Munich, the amount of money I received after paying high taxes and social security contributions was a lot less. However, at this stage of my life, I would take less money any day for more living. Money is good but I find that its value declines when you barely have time to live life and to savour its good moments without rushing it.

Additionally, in my last years in Singapore, I worked a lot in an effort to save money so I could do trips to Europe, which often lasted just over a week. So, it made so much sense to move to Europe and hopefully to live and work here as that would possibly mean I could save more money in a more stable manner, as I would less likely want to go to any other far region on the planet.

A debt to pay for the worthwhile investment

With all the great things that I gained from moving to France as an international student, the cost I had to pay is that I incurred some personal debts from borrowed monies to invest in my master’s degree education and to support my living.

However, I see this as a worthwhile investment and I believe that my life here will improve dramatically as soon as these loans are cleared. I thank my friends who have supported me on my move to France and those who have trusted me with their wherewithal to pursue my master’s degree. I look forward to seeing the day when they are all returned as that would also bring me so much relief.

Now I know that being an international student in Europe is a very expensive endeavour, and there is no guarantee of success, so hard work and grit remain the major ingredients toward advancing your career even after you receive your French/European degree.

Advance in life and an opportunity to plan for the future in France

I was really happy about this because my life has advanced somehow and this was something that I didn’t think I was looking for. Fortunately, as a gay guy, France let me to be myself. That wasn’t the case in Asia.

By moving to France, I was able to move to the next stage of my life. I found a French partner whom I have entered a civil union with after living together for almost 2 years. Through him, I learned how to speak the French language quickly and had many opportunities for “adulting”, which made living in France a lot better. I also gained two chihuahua babies that I truly adore.

At my age now, it feels really nice to have someone beside you each day to share love and stories with, and discuss intellectual and personal things intimately.

In terms of long-term life planning, unlike Singapore, where I lived for over 10 years as a foreigner and although I could say that my heart is part Singaporean, I can plan for more long-term things in France as it provides an easier way to become a permanent resident after 5 years of continuous living, let alone to become a citizen, should I wish to be one one day.

This thing may sound unimportant, but when you start to think of settling and planning your life for the future, it becomes an important matter.

In summary, France remain to be one of the biggest surprises in my life as I never actually dreamed to live here. But now, my life is getting more and more integrated in this country and I feel truly grateful for this.

In my 2 years of living here, France has given me a lot of room to be myself to be able to do what I’d like to do, to play, to work, and to live and enjoy life to the fullest extent.

I am living the dream in Europe and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

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