When Elizabeth Milovidov stood on the cobbles before the thousand-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral and wandered Paris’s narrow stone streets, soaking up the history and elegant architecture, she knew that her heart was lost.
“I thought: I want to be a part of all this,” she says. “I knew I had to live here.”
Even if it meant giving up a promising career in San Francisco. Ever since childhood, Elizabeth had felt a pull toward all things international. In college and law school, she took courses with an international theme and just hearing a foreign accent made her tingle.
She dreamed of living in Europe but was too focused on her studies to think about making that dream a reality. Yet after that trip to Paris, something inside her changed.
“That international pull became an insistent tugging,” she says. Four years later, working as an attorney in San Francisco, she found herself sending out resumes to law firms and companies in France. She got no responses, which was hardly surprising, she admits, given that she spoke no French and had no background in French law.
But, undeterred, she shocked family and friends by quitting her job and enrolling in an English-language MBA program in Paris. “I lived in an 8th-floor walk-up and earned money by teaching English and babysitting,” she says. “I’d always said I wanted to be a ‘human doing,’ not a ‘human being’—and even if everyone else thought I was crazy, I was doing it! I was living my dream.”
While Elizabeth was in awe of the great beauty and history of Paris, it was the quality of life that made her want stay forever. “Unlike in California, everything I need is a short walk or metro stop away. I don’t need a car unless I am going on a weekend trip. I lost 40 pounds my first year in Paris because I adopted the Parisian lifestyle—small portions, no between-meal snacking and I walked everywhere.”
The cost of living in Paris also came as a pleasant surprise to Elizabeth. “At first I had trouble realizing that the amount needed for a Parisian standard of living was much lower than in California. For example, if in California the average salary was $40,000, in Paris it was $22,000. But although Parisians live on a lower salary, it is entirely possible to do so, because the cost of living here is lower. Also, the health care system is phenomenal! The quality of care is excellent and everything is covered by insurance: from dental to vision to surgery.”
During the two years it took for Elizabeth to complete her studies, she studied French intensively. “Language was one of the biggest challenges,” she admits. “But you shouldn’t be afraid to come here if you don’t speak French. Buy language tapes, find someone to have practice conversations, and just embarrass yourself. That’s part of the process.”
She has never once regretted giving up her California life. “France welcomed me and nurtured my soul. My experiences here have made me a better person.”
Editor’s note: For more expat adventures in Old-World Europe, see the current issue of International Living magazine. A new life overseas—in Paris or elsewhere—can be easier than you think…