Moving to France can be a daunting prospect for many people, but Helen Ferguson and her hubby took it all in their stride.
In fact, you might say they’re experts at international moves as this isn’t their first.
I was introduced to Helen by Amanda Johnson, who I interviewed back in January, and I was really interested to hear about the story behind Helen’s move to France.
I think we can all relate to wanting to escape the rat race, leaving the 9-5 grind behind and upping sticks in search of a better lifestyle.
I know I can. I was lucky enough to do this back in 2018 and have never looked back.
But with the cost of living skyrocketing in the UK, moving to France is something many people are considering.
Finding that elusive work-life balance isn’t easy, but it seems that Helen has found it in rural France.
From the UK to Greece, and now to France. Tell me how you ended up living in a tiny little village called Aizecq near Nanteuil-en-Vallée and the journey to getting here.
I was a therapist and manager in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in the UK. It was very easy to think, back then, that that was the continued road I would travel.
But there came a point where I and my husband realised that if I stayed in what I was doing then burnout was inevitable, although I probably was in it but not recognising it. The 9-5 that was more like 7 – 9, the pressured expectation of targets and deadlines, humans becoming numbers on a spreadsheet, no social life, home life being affected, the race to the next holiday. It all felt wrong and I was only 36.
My husband and I felt that we needed to change our lives and we had the capacity to do it (he worked at sea which meant that we weren’t tied to the UK in that way).
We chose the Greek islands, and more specifically Crete. We’d enjoyed the culture on holiday there and the slower pace; recognising of course that a holiday is different to living there.
I handed my notice in, we sold everything in the UK and within 3 months of securing a house on the island, we moved to Crete. We didn’t feel anxious or stressed about it. It just felt right.
We lived there for 6 years and loved it. I still continued with my private therapy, developing further therapeutic skills and expertise. I also had side jobs which I loved such as working in a boutique Cretan winery for example.
Moving to France from Crete
We made lovely friends there and the culture fit very much with who we are. However, there was something missing and that was the ability for me to grow my business.
My husband wanted to be home more rather than at sea, and unfortunately, there were animal welfare issues on the island that became intolerable for me (I’m a huge animal welfare advocate).
We had to re-evaluate what we wanted and needed, whilst maintaining a balance of quality of life, a slower pace and maintaining/growing my business.
We chose France as it gave us the best of both worlds.
We had intended to open a gite but having bought our house we have spent the last few years renovating that and creating a lovely home.
We needed space, countryside, connections to cities and culture, the ability to grow my business further, connections to friends and family, and not feeling like I was back in the daily grind. We found that in our small village.
How life has changed since moving to France
How has your day-to-day life changed now you’ve made the move?
Life here is vastly different to Crete and to the UK for different reasons. It was really important for me to create the balance between what I’d enjoyed about life in Crete and why I was moving to France.
Due to the work that I do in my business, it is vital to me to be able to relax and I find I do this best when out in nature. Being in a rural location means that I get to do this daily (rain or shine!) as a natural part of my self-care, with and without my dogs.
It is so different here in terms of the rural aspect as I rarely ever meet anyone on my walks. This taps into my liking for peacefulness and solitude when I spend a vast proportion of my days speaking to people.
I spent a little time in Norfolk in the UK recently and was quickly reminded of how grateful I am to have the space here for walking without meeting anyone!
I spend a huge amount of time outdoors in my garden after therapy sessions with clients and love the birdsong, the sound of woodpeckers in the woods and the quiet (unless my dogs are barking!)
It’s also lovely to be 3km from some great amenities; a gorgeous tea room, bistros, 3 great but diverse auberge/restaurants, and the different markets in the area.
And what about family? Who have you left behind and who have you brought with you?
It’s me and my husband here with our 2 Greek rescue dogs Leo and Lyla. I’m actually a lot of the time here on my own as my husband works at sea for 3 months at a time.
I have friends in Greece and the UK who I miss dearly and of course family but (covid lockdowns aside) the world is a small place now so I don’t feel disconnected from anyone.
And I regularly go back to the UK to train foster carers and social workers.
Speaking French after moving to France
I have to ask, as I ask everyone this question, how good is your French? Is it something you struggled with or did it come naturally?
My understanding of French is very good and I’ll often translate for my husband when we have the neighbours in for aperos etc. But my ability to be fluid in response to French is often difficult as it takes a while for my brain to shift into gear!
When I first moved here I would often reply in Greek.
It’s also difficult as I spend most days speaking English to clients and a fraction of the week in French company.
That doesn’t mean I don’t try, it just means I’m a bit slower in learning.
This phrase on your website caught my eye, “I was never born to fit in, and I didn’t want to…”, I can really relate to that. Tell me more about the meaning behind this and how it’s fueled you throughout your life.
I have and always have had a deep sense of my own identity. I think growing up in a large family with me as the youngest helped me to do this. I also as a child and young person was creative in my imagination and the sense of who I was, my physicality, and my self-image.
I have a friend who’s known me since I was 14 and she even remembers how self-assured and self-aware I was even then.
I am a huge Prince fan and have been from a young age; not only did I love his music, but I also loved his sense of himself, the confidence he had in his own self-esteem and who he was, his style and the ability to change and grow unapologetically.
I completely resonated with this as a young person, and as I have grown since, so he really inspired my sense of being able to be truly me and not like anyone else.
Being the same as everyone else doesn’t interest me.
I admire other people of course and love spending time and connecting with so many different people from all cultures and walks of life, but I am also hugely happy in my own company, who I am and the sense of safety I have in that. I actually love my own company.
Working as a therapist after moving to France
You’re a qualified therapist but there are so many different forms of therapy you offer. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you do and how it fits in with your life here in France?
I’ve been a therapist now for 24 years ( I know I don’t look old enough ….lol!). I started my ‘work’ (although I prefer the word purpose) with children and young people who had been traumatised/abused and were in foster care or transitioning to adoption.
It’s an extraordinary honour to help/guide/support children in this way. However, along the way, I began to meet so many women who had experienced trauma and had been holding onto their pain and needed my help too.
Too many women keep silent, lose their voice and try to mask their pain in so many ways, and it’s often hard to ask for help thinking that therapy is only for crisis!
BUT I always remind everyone that therapy is actually a beautiful act of self-care and self-compassion.
When you connect with your true self, that’s been squashed to silence by the pain of your experiences, and allow her to emerge, you become free to be who you are unapologetically.
You are not what has happened to you.
This is what I guide you to, the self-aware, self-accepting and self-compassionate woman you need to be for every part of you.
As I have so many different specialist skills and expertise, I describe myself as a cross-pollinator because there’s no ‘one size fits all’ or cookie cutter approach to healing and recovery; it’s unique to you and as I have clinically trained in a significant number of therapeutic skills it means I tailor the therapy relationship to exactly what you need.
Lots of people think that therapy means you’re mentally ill, you’re broken, and that you need to have therapy for eons…..but this isn’t the case at all.
It’s as short or as long as it needs to be for you to feel safe and happy in yourself and your life.
As a therapist, I have my own therapy in order to make sure I am emotionally available for anyone who needs my support or guidance.
I work internationally with women from so many different cultures and backgrounds, and I still work with children too. I also teach and train in the UK and am an international speaker on trauma and trauma recovery.
It certainly keeps me busy here in different time zones, but I also make sure to spend time with friends here socially, and with professional women’s networks here as much as I can. There is always the danger when you work from home that you don’t leave the house much!
Living your best life in France
Without thinking too hard about it, tell me your five favourite things about living in France?
- The rural space/environment for walking
- Peacefulness – (I’m not surrounded or overcrowded)
- Good transport links in France
- The spring/summer/autumn weather
- Am I allowed to say …. The patisserie!! – although my waistline would not agree
And what, if anything, do you miss from your previous life, either in Greece or the UK?
Apart from my friends and family, I don’t miss anything from the UK, I enjoy dipping my toe in though.
Greece I’d have to say I miss the Mediterranean culture of ease and flow and I do miss the Greek openness in their curiosity and willingness to get to know you and welcome you as part of the family.
Helen’s top tip for moving to France
If you could offer one piece of advice, something you wish you’d known before moving to France, what would it be?
Give yourself as much information about systems and processes before moving, but don’t allow them to ‘put you off’ as there are people who will help you.
Remember why you moved even in the times when you may say to yourself ‘what have I done!’
To find out more about Helen and the services she offers use the links below: