Expat Interviews: From Ukraine to France
Posted by Stephen Whitfield
As part of international health insurance expert Medibroker's Expat Interview series, we've been asking people who left their home countries and never looked back why they do it. Every day our team of experienced insurance advisors speak to people looking for medical cover overseas and we help them choose from over 100 plans.
Here, Ukranian born Elena tells us about grappling with the language in France and recounts an unusual night in the Indonesian wilderness - but whether it sounds scary or exciting depends on your sense of adventure!
What first inspired you to start travelling the world?
The world itself! It’s an inspiring place with so many things to offer you. When I was younger, I had a huge map pinned to the wall where I marked the cities I wanted to go to instead of doing homework. I read tons of travel magazines and history books and yearned to see each and every place mentioned.
During my final year at college, I got a decent part time job and made some savings, then spent all of them on air tickets to India and backpacked through the northern states for nearly three weeks. It was an amazing journey full of new, eye opening experiences.
When I got back to my daily routine, I felt so miserable. That was the turning point. I knew I didn't want to have the boring life I used to live anymore. So, I started saving each and every penny and thinking of ways to travel long-term. Then, on my next trip around Indonesia, I met a boy whom I couldn't let go and followed him all the way to France.
What did your family and friends say when you told them you were leaving?
Everyone was a bit surprised as my decision to move was pretty unexpected. My parents were totally supportive and my friends were really happy for me and promised to visit.
What was your biggest worry before leaving?
Not knowing the language. I've moved to small town Besancon in eastern France and there are not many people who speak English. I had no idea how I would do basics things such as shopping or getting a haircut!
I didn't have time back in Kiev to take a French course prior to my departure, so when I arrived, all I knew was “Merci!” and “Bonjour”. Frankly, after almost half a year, I don’t speak fluently - but my gesture skills have developed significantly!
I’m good at reading and comprehending what people are saying when addressed in French, yet I can’t say much in response and prefer to smile and node instead.
Making friends was hard this way, but my significant other and I are fine with it being just the two of us most of the time. Recently we've made friends with some other expats here and a few exchange students as Besancon has a huge University with people coming all over the world to take a semester or two in French.
What is your most memorable experience while travelling so far?
Now, that’s a fun one. I got lost in the jungles at Kadidiri Islet, Togean Archipelago, Indonesia. One afternoon my significant other (we weren't dating yet), his friend and I decided to go on a short trek through the jungle to check out a deserted beach we'd been told about. We made it easily to our destination, took a few pics and decided to go back as the sun was going down.
Having fun talks and watching colourful birds and huge bats floating above our heads, we hadn't noticed how we got off the path. We were wondering aimlessly through the thick jungle, trying to make our way to shore where we could catch a fisher’s boat to our lodging. It was getting darker and over and over again we bumped into a thick wall of trees and bush that we simply couldn't get through.
Eventually, we found a clearing with a fence around palms and a small wooden hut with some sort of a machine pumping water for irrigation of the trees. We had no torches, a cell phone with no signal, my camera and a lighter.
The decision was made to settle here for the night and find our way home when the sun came up. There was a bottle of some flaming liquid in the hut, so we managed to make fire from all the damp wood we found around, plus the fence and the garden (dear owners of that place, I’m really, really sorry for that!). We made bedding from palm leaves and were feeling pretty safe and even sort of amused about the whole thing.
We were almost asleep when we heard some strange noises – like shouting. It became louder and we could distinguish our names. We started shouting back and in around twenty minutes a doggie came to us, followed by a man from our lodging. It took them more than 3 hours to find us!
We came back dirty as hell with our legs scratched, though pretty happy about the adventure we had - and thankful to the guy who found us.
What was the most difficult part of starting your travels?
Getting things sorted at work. I love my job back in Ukraine and really didn't want to quit it. My boss agreed to keep me full time and let me work out stuff while I’m in France and I can’t be happier with that. I was so nervous when telling him about my plans!
If you could start again is there anything you would do differently?
Yes! Buy less clothes and other stuff I don’t need and save even more money for my trip to India.
What’s the best piece of advice you can offer someone thinking about becoming a traveller?
Just do it! There will never be the right time to start travelling. The older you get – the less courage and recklessness you’ll have to head for a life-changing trip to the middle of nowhere.
Money issues? Try getting a scholarship for your grad studies, find an ESL job or volunteer to have your food and housing expenses paid. Getting a part-time job in South East Asia is pretty easy for a foreigner. There are plenty of opportunities out there, just learn how to find them (a.k.a. use your brains and Google).
Above all else, was it worth it?
Definitely. Each and every decision I've made since buying my ticket to Delhi, brought me to better and better places and made me way more happy than the person I used to be.
I’m Elena – a twenty-something girl, getting lost in different parts of the world and balancing my life between two countries – France and my native Ukraine.
A life of adventure is out there - but it's important that you find the right health insurance for your journeys first. Contact Medibroker today for a quote and one of our team will get straight back to you. You can also call us on +44 (0) 191 270 3034 or email Customer.firstname.lastname@example.org