Have you ever heard of French Guiana? Don’t worry, not many people have. This small country is on the Northern coast of South America and is, in fact, a French department and region. It is almost entirely covered by forest, of which a big chunk is an Amazonian rainforest. Maybe not a place where many would decide to move to, but Sara took an opportunity and moved to this fantastic country without any experience of living abroad. Get inspired by her incredible journey, which proves that even without work experience or a lot of savings, you can move to a Tropical paradise!
Sara, you moved to a very exotic place. How did you end up in French Guiana?
Truthfully, I didn’t know anything about French Guiana before I moved there. I desperately looked for a place with a lot of nature and a place to gain work experience after my midwife studies. A lot of French midwives go to French Guiana as there is no midwife school there. I had a midwife friend who was already working there. So it was relatively easy for me to ask him all my questions and join him there!
In the end, I didn’t really decide to move to French Guiana. There was an opportunity, and I took it without having to think about it very long.
Still, making such a big decision takes a lot of courage, especially when moving abroad to an unknown country. What led you to make that decision?
I decided to move to French Guiana a couple of months before I got my diploma. It was six months after a break-up, and I wanted a change and a new adventure!
There was an opportunity, and I took it without thinking about it very long.Sara
Once you decided to move there, how did you plan it? Mostly as it was your first job, after your studies.
When I made my decision to move abroad, I started looking for a job straight away. I sent out my CV, and a couple of days after, I got a positive reply. Three months later, I left for French Guiana. It was my first real job, and I didn’t have much money at the time. But I was very fortunate that my mother could lend me some money to start a new life there. That was a life-saver, especially for the first weeks.
Also, as it is a french department, there wasn’t any need for visas or specific paperwork. That made the move very manageable and straightforward.
How did you experience the first months? Was settling easy?
Firstly, the people there are amazing. French Guiana is a real melting-pot with lots of different cultures. There are Amerindians, descendants of runaway slaves from West Africa, Hmong, Chinese, Carribeans, Brazilians, and people from the French Metropole. The history of French Guiana is heavy, as it was a penal colony for years, and the land was entirely built by prisoners, especially St. Laurent Du Maroni, where I lived. Today, there are many young workers (mainly from the French Metropole), and everybody is helping each other. Making friends was very easy as everyone is experiencing the same situation. I met people who became really good friends!
The other thing that made my first months so incredible was living in such a beautiful place. Every day, I was amazed by the amount of nature. The flowers, animals, rivers, and thousands of different colors – that was what I was looking for!
Was it all smooth sailing, or did you experience some challenges as well?
The major challenge was finding a house. Housing is a real problem there: expensive, far from downtown, and there aren’t many options. When I finally found a place, I got in, and it was literally full of spiders (like giant tarantulas!) and very, very dirty. That was a very stressful period for me.
Another tough time was when my boyfriend visited me and got very sick. It was nothing like we ever experienced, and he had some pretty strange and scary symptoms. Even the doctors didn’t know what it was. Luckily, he was back on his feet after five or six days, but I was really worried during those days, mainly because of the lack of medical support and medications.
What are your tips for settling in, making friends, finding a house, etc.?
Joining the local Facebook groups was very helpful for me. The groups were very active with a ton of information on local activities, events, sports, markets, etc.
To make new friends, you have to step out of your comfort zone. In the beginning, I was going to events without knowing many people, but I met a lot! Visiting local events, like sports events, helped me to meet people with the same interests.
How did you create a sense of home?
I’m very attached to the notion of home. It’s very important to me to feel good at home, so I brought many pictures of my family and friends.
It’s a bit cliche, but I feel like home is where your heart is. I fell in love with French Guiana, so it quickly became my home. I did miss my family for sure, but I felt so grateful to live this experience. I lived it 100%!
It sounds like an incredible journey. Did this adventure change you?
I guess moving abroad has made me more adventurous. I am proud of having been involved in the local life (coaching a young basketball team), and not only as a “tourist.” I am also very proud of the strong relationships I’ve made in such a short time. I made friends with people who live there for a specific time, but I also became friends with people who have lived there all their lives.
“It is so deep to discover this part of you who can adapt everywhere.”
After 15 months in French Guiana, you are back in France. Has your move to French Guiana sparked a desire to live anywhere else?
Yes! This experience ultimately reinforced my desire to live abroad. Not for like a life-time, but for a couple of months (years ;-)) at least. At the moment I’m planning to move to Mayotte, another french department. It is a little paradisiac island, close to Madagascar.
Another exciting adventure! What is your advice for people who are reading this and are thinking about moving abroad too?
I would say: Go!!!! It’s such a substantial human adventure. Of course, it’s magical to experience a new place, culture, landscape, and people. But it is so deep to discover this part of you who can adapt everywhere.
Again a bit of a cliche, but you only live once. If you have such an opportunity, take it.
Are you thinking of studying or moving abroad and inspired by Sara’s adventure? Take Sara’s advice and Go! To help you get started, pick up a copy of the Let’s Move Abroad book. For more stories of people like Sara, continue reading below.
If you have any questions for Sara, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.