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Interview with Sibylle – A Parisian expat living in New York City

Updated 7 Dec 2015

Sibylle is a Parisian expat who has been living in New York City. Her arrival to the city was certainly not the most conventional, a 12-day journey by freighter across the Atlantic. However she has made the city her home over the past 13 years.

Most recently, Sibylle has been working for the United Nations, the organisation which has its headquarters in the city and celebratied its 70th anniversary in 2015. In her interview with Expat Arrivals, Sibylle provides us with some great insights into what has kept her in New York for over a decade.

For further information on expat life in New York City take a look at the Expat Arrivals New York City Guide or take a look at more expat experiences in the USA.

About Sibylle

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I am originally from Paris, a city very dear to my heart and where I was fortunate to grow up. 
Q: Where are you living now?
A: I am now living in New York, a city that I absolutely adore.   
Q: When did you move to New York?
A:  I moved to New York from Paris in 2002. I have been living here for the past 13 years and consider New York my home as much as Paris is – if not even more.
Q: Did you move to New York alone or with a spouse/family?
A:  I moved alone. I was young when I moved to New York. I was 23 and knew absolutely nobody. 
Q: Why did you move to New York?
A:  I love living abroad as I find it very enriching. I come from Paris but I also had the opportunity to live 3 years in Casablanca, Morocco and one year in the islands of South Pacific between Wallis and Futuna and Tahiti. At 23, after my studies at Sorbonne University, I wanted to immigrate to the Unites States of America and live in NY which is a city that excites and stimulates me. As a matter of fact, I so much wanted to emigrate here that instead of arriving by plane like anybody else, I chose to take a freighter, a container ship, and arrived by boat as I wanted to start my life in NY straight away with, what I thought, was an interesting way to arrive to a new country and try to feel what what the European immigrants felt like arriving in New York all those years ago by freighter. I was lucky to have time to do that as it took me 12 days to cross the Atlantic. A real luxury in a world of fast pace where we always rush to the destination we want to reach and forget sometimes to enjoy its journey.
Q: What do you do in New York City?
A: I am working at the United Nations in the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate. Previously, I was working for a few years in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. As you may know, the UN just celebrated its 70th anniversary this year and it’s a great honour for me to have had the opportunity to work for the organization for the past 10 years. A decade is a long period and I learnt a lot on so many different topics and issues and it enriched me a lot personally.

Living in New York City

Q: What do you enjoy most about New York ? How would you rate the quality of life compared to Paris?
A:  I love that New York is so cosmopolitan, the entire world is in NY. You meet people from so many different cultures and backgrounds and you learn so much from it. And of course, I love the positive energy of this city that keeps you in good spirits. It’s a city where people are enthusiastic, friendly and are smiling. Although, lots of people work hard and sometimes have difficult lives, I find they have an easy smile because they made the choice to be here and feel happy about it. They have hopes and dreams. Lots of people have real stories about them here. The taxi driver, the owner of a deli, your doorman, I met people who were doctors back in their home countries and had to do it all over again in NY having won the Green Card at the lottery for instance. Humility and strength are keys. I have tremendous respect for people who make it for themselves here, who dream of a better life, who take the lead and work hard at it, who shake themselves up and finally make it. Whatever “making it” means from different perspectives.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about Paris?
A:  I try not to focus on the negatives. Of course, when you leave your home and cocoon to try to make a brand new life by yourself in a host country, difficulties and struggles will come your way because you have to do everything from scratch and you are alone.
So it is difficult, it is a lot of work and I would say that the only negative is that, many times, life is more hectic than what it may have been if you had stayed in your original home where everything was already set up for you. But it is so much more interesting that it is all worth it, I think. It’s an incredible adventure and a good life experience that not only benefits you but I believe benefits your family back home as well and obviously is a game changer for the next generation when one has the blessing to have his or her own family because they will be the second generation of immigrants.  
As for the things that I miss, I don’t really miss anything as I can still go to Paris when I want. I would say the only thing that I really miss is my family and not being able to see them every day or every week. But besides that, I don’t miss anything.  
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in New York? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: No, New York is such an exceptional city. I embraced it all. I was young, 23, when I arrived and NY shaped me a lot.  All my adult life was spent here so I am a product of New York with some Parisian roots. I take the best of New York and I take the best of Paris with me. I like that combination a lot.
Q: What’s the cost of living in New York like compared to Paris? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A:  The cost of living is more expensive in terms of real estate, medical costs and education for children when you want to create a family. But coming from Paris, I am also used of an expensive city.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in New York? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: You absolutely don’t need to own a car. I don’t drive in NY. Of course, one of the main reasons for that is that I am not the greatest driver of all. I passed my driving test while living on the French islands of Wallis and Futuna in the South Pacific where there were no traffic lights and very few stops. So basically, I really would have to take more classes if I was going to drive in the city.
I love transportation in New York . I love the subway. I had some periods of my life where I was not crazy about it but I am currently in a period where I think it is the easiest way to get around and I love to see the people who ride the subway in New York City. It makes me feel very alive. It inspires me. You see all kinds of different people and styles. This is what NY is all about! I also like the bus if I am not in a rush and of course, the yellow cabs when I feel lazy or when I am in a rush – which happens frequently.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in New York? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: The healthcare in New York City is extremely good. You have some of the best doctors - if not the best - in the city. I have only had the best experiences so far and absolutely love all my doctors. All wonderful people. New York Presbyterian Hospital, Mount Sinai, NYU, Cornell, Lenox Hill are just a few of the very good hospitals of New York City.  
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in New York? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: I feel very secure in New York. The police are often present and respected. Usually, people in New York are kind hearted and I don’t feel animosity. The biggest safety issue is what we all face today, the risk of a terrorist attack, as New York is one of the target cities of course. But although we are all impacted by terrorist threats which require us to be more vigilant and less care free unfortunately, as this is the world we are now living in, I am not afraid of it. As for other safety issues or areas new expats should avoid, I would just advise them to use common sense. Don’t go out in the middle of the night in deserted areas that you unfamiliar with. Get to know the city first and know where you are going. People who look unsure and lost are obviously more vulnerable. It’s like in a jungle. And although nothing is likely to happen to you, you just don’t want to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in New York? What different options are available for expats?
A:  The options of housing in the city are numerous. Furnished, unfurnished, short-term, long-term, 5 boroughs… Manhattan is only one borough, the most famous one, but you should not forget that there more affordable options in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten island. And also New Jersey, Westchester, Connecticut. All very close to NY, just a short train ride away. You have to pick what works best for you.
Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A:  I recommend Manhattan because this is the most convenient when you work in the city and if you still want to have time to enjoy NY and all it has to offer. But I lived also in Brooklyn and the Bronx and each borough has really beautiful things to offer.

Meeting people and making friends in New York City

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: Absolutely not. The United States is based on immigration and is a very welcoming country. New Yorkers are wonderful people, friendly, positive, welcoming and they respect and love newcomers and, in my case, my French accent as well -  so I cannot complain! 

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting new people in New York?
A: It’s not different in NY as it is anywhere else. A lot of your capability to make new friends depends in fact on you and not on the country. You have to be a friend if you want people to be your friends. You have to be the person you would like to meet yourself if you want people to find you nice and be your friends.

Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends? Any social/expat groups you can recommend?
A:  I am very involved and very well integrated in the French community of New York which is a very interesting and diverse community as well as the international community that surrounds the UN. But I made many friends with American people as well. One of the misconceptions people have when they arrive in NY is that it is not easy to make American friends. It’s totally false. American people are very warm and welcoming and they invite you to their homes. They really do despite what you hear.  

About working in New York

Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A:  I had many different visas since arriving in the USA. They have always linked to my jobs. I arrived on an A2 governmental visa as I did an internship at the Consulate General of France when I arrived. Then, I got a J1 visa working as an event planner for the Paris American Club and for the past 10 years, I have been on a G4 diplomat visa. Of course, being in this country for the past 13 years, I would love to obtain the Green Card and one day become an American citizen. I would be very proud to be American in addition to keeping my French citizenship.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in the US? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: The economic climate in New York is much better than a few years ago after we had the economic crisis. Finding a job is like anywhere else: try to be the best version of yourself and show it out there; meet people and get what you want!
Q: How does the work culture differs in the USA from back home in? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in the New York?
A:  I have a feeling we work more in the US. We work hard. The truth is that work is really key which we tend to forget in countries like France, where I come from. As per the saying, lots of people miss opportunities because these opportunities are often disguised in hard work. So I would say, work hard and also be very decent to the people you meet along the way. You don’t need to be a shark or push people to succeed. If you are good, it will show by itself. The cake is big, there is room for competition and you don’t need to be nasty to be strong. And keep a balance in your life. You cannot only work and fall into the emptiness of a busy life. Find time for yourself and the people you love. Create a life that makes you happy and apply the famous rhetoric“work hard, play hard”.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Embrace everything with a positive attitude. As Sigmund Freud used to say, “one day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” So enjoy everything. Enjoy your new life abroad, enjoy your new friends and your new world while keeping in touch with your family and friends back home. 

– Interviewed December 2015

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