It happened almost nine years ago. It was the last day of my Italian holiday, and I'd made the mistake of ducking into an Internet cafe to check my work emails. The inter-office sniping from New York snapped me out of my vacation reverie and left me with a burrata-sized stone in my stomach. Later, I tried to soothe my nerves by lounging in the grass surrounding the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I willed myself to soak up these final moments, to figure out a way to make this my life.
The next morning, I dutifully arrived at the check-in counter for my flight. One snag: The agent could find no record of my booking. I handed her reams of paper, an e-ticket, a printed ticket, everything. Still, no record, and the flight was completely booked. The airline came up with an enterprising compromise: An agent would drive me to Florence, where I'd be placed on a different flight to Paris, landing in time to catch my flight back to New York.
The trip was frenzied, but the Air France flight was idyllic: cheese plates, sparkling water, Francophone flight attendants. I tried to pretend that I was actually staying in Paris for a glamorous holiday, and not simply hauling ass through Charles de Gaulle to catch another flight.
That's exactly what I did, of course. Charles de Gaulle is maddeningly enormous, and by the time I reached the check-in counter, shaking and out of breath, the agent informed me and two American couples that the flight had closed. There would not be another one for 24 hours. The couples weren't having it. "We have to get to New York City," they seethed. When they eventually skulked off, I stepped forward to consider my options. The agent looked at my ticket and shared the good news. It turns out my original booking was there as plain as day, and the airline in Pisa had booked an illegal connection. I was never going to make the flight to New York City. As such, they owed me a hotel room, dining vouchers, and 24 hours in Paris.
When I got to my hotel room, I drew a bubble bath and sang loudly to the Edith Piaf songs on my iPod. I was giddy. I had willed myself to stay in Europe. Sure, my boss was going to dock me a day of vacation time ("You're stuck in Paris? That sucks," he'd whined over the payphone while I tried to sound appropriately frustrated), but it seemed like a sign.
After a day of sightseeing and eating steak frites, I eventually got on a flight to New York City. My first weekend back, I decided to check and see how much a one-way ticket to London, scheduled six months ahead to allow for planning and saving, would cost. It was $250, cheap enough that I immediately purchased the ticket, figuring I could eat the money if I didn't end up going. I picked up freelance work on the side, saved my cash, sold my furniture, and six months later I was wheels up again.
My expat experience hasn't been linear. After living in London for a few months on a tourist visa, I broke up with my British boyfriend and moved back to my home state of Texas. I then filed the paperwork (so much paperwork) to get Irish citizenship through descendency, a parting gift of sorts from the late Wexford-born grandfather who babysat me and my siblings every single day of summer vacation. Getting the citizenship and accompanying passport took a little more than a year. In December 2009, I moved back to London, where I've been living and working ever since. When people (usually my parents) ask how long I'll be staying, I can't think of a better answer than the one Julia Roberts gave in Notting Hill: "Indefinitely."
That's my story. Each of the six women featured here all have tales of their own, with their own lessons gleaned from living abroad. From Sydney to Rio, London to Paris, these ladies have all made lives for themselves far from home. The expat experience is different for everyone, but the adventurers ahead prove it's one worth pursuing.