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An American family in Corsica

©armande luciani •
Patrimonio, Corsica ©armand luciani

Cara Straforelli is an American living in Corsica. Here she tells FrenchEntrée what it's like to work there, raise her children on the island and what makes the frustrations worthwhile...

Whereabouts do you live in Corsica and how long have you been on the island?

Cara Straforelli
We live in the village of Patrimonio, Haute Corse. It’s about 18km from Bastia, a 30-minute drive. Patrimonio’s claim to fame is its wine (home of Corsica’s first AOC) and its annual guitar festivalwhich takes place in July. We moved here on 31 August 2005, but moved back to Vancouver, Canada for 18 months between February 2010 and August 2011.

Where are you from originally and who did you move with?
I’m from Portland, Oregon, USA. My husband is from Vancouver. 
What brought you here?
My husband’s father was born and raised in Patrimonio. He left the island to attend university first in Grenoble and then in Vancouver. He then met my mother-in-law, married, settled down, had two sons and only returned to Corsica a handful of times. Fast-forward to Christmas 2004. My husband and I had been married for seven years, living in Vancouver. We had recently found out that my husband’s uncle Dominique had been diagnosed with lung cancer and didn’t have long to live. We decided to visit Corsica for Christmas and say goodbye to his uncle.

One early morning, wide awake due to jet lag, somehow the idea to move to Corsica came up. It had always been a plan of ours to move abroad. We had talked about Scotland, maybe Australia, or perhaps somewhere in the Middle East. Somehow Corsica, with its family connections, seemed like a good place to start.
Do you work in Corsica?

Yes, as an intervenant d’anglais in five elementary schools. We’re talking village schools for the most part! English learning starts in CE2 in Corsica, so my students are anywhere from 7 to 11 years old. I really like my job, but unfortunately the inspection académique changed my contract this year and I’m now paid about half of what I was paid last year and I had one less school then!

I supplement this income with private students when I have the time. Next year all three of my kids will be in school, so I will probably pursue this avenue as it’s more lucrative and less time-consuming than classroom teaching. I also repped a few years for Corsican Places. While I enjoyed that job as well, working in the summer is no longer an option for me as that is the time when we visit family in the US and Canada.
Have you bought a house in Corsica?
Yes, our house was built during the time we were back in Canada. It’s part of a lotissement in the village. It’s only 89 square meters, which seems incredibly small with three small children running around in it, but we’re making it work!

What is it like bringing up bilingual children?
Our oldest, Ayva, is six years old. Her homework has helped my French immensely. I would say that Ayva is nearly bilingual. She still has a slight accent, probably due to being back in Canada for 18 months.
My middle child, Livia, is four. Her French has exploded this year and she is learning Corsican in her class as well. She’s also taught her fellow classmates to count to 10 in English!
My youngest, Noah, is two and a half. He has a love-hate relationship with French. With me, he generally refuses to speak French. He was verbal at a very young age and so I don’t think he’ll have any problem once he starts school.
Have you met any other English speaking expats in Corsica?
There are not many in my area! I have a friend, Stacy, who is from New Zealand. She’s married to a Corsican and has been here for 10 years. Another friend, Deirdre, is from Ireland. She lives further away and so I don’t see her as much. There are quite a few British folks who live in the Balagne area, some of whom are my ex-colleagues that I see from time to time. 
We’ve recently become friends with a Polish couple who lived in the UK for several years. I met them at Leclerc after they heard me speaking English with my daughter and recognized me from my blog!

© seb hovaguimian - Fotolia.comHow often do you visit friends or family or do they prefer to come to you?
Corsica is not the easiest place to visit for someone coming from the west coast of North America! My dad did make the trip a few years back and my husband’s mother has been a few times. We have had a few visitors who were visiting Europe and were able to squeeze in a few days with us and that’s just been lovely. Since our return to Corsica in 2011, we’ve pledged to our families that we would visit every summer. We want our kids to know their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. Skype is a most wonderful invention, but there is nothing like being able to hug your mom after ten months of not seeing her! 

Tell us a few of your favourite things about Corsica...
I just don’t think the scenery and weather can be beat! I went for a run this morning in a short-sleeve shirt at the end of December! While this kind of weather did make it difficult for me to get into the Christmas spirit, I'm so thankful for sunshine and blue skies. We do not miss Vancouver’s grey skies and rain! I love having a quieter pace of life here in our village. Sometimes life does seem a bit chaotic with dance class and judo class and tutoring and teaching, but it’s nothing like in Canada. I love the safety I feel living in a village. I can let my kids go outside and play and not worry too much. I love being able to walk my kids to school.
For all the frustrations and headaches it’s given me, I really do enjoy the challenge of living in another culture and language(s). While I can’t really speak Corsican other than the usual greetings and such, I can sing in Corsican! Our village choir is mostly made up of grandmas and me, but I get a kick out of them and learn a lot from them as well.

I love November as there’s a festival celebrating fall and rural life that leads up to our village fete. This year’s festival was a blast with lots of concerts, wine flowing, bonfires and singing into the night. I love Pietra, a beer made from chestnuts.

Why did you start your blog?
When we moved it was a great way to stay in contact with my friends and family. I also “met” many other expat bloggers who I am still in contact with. They were great contacts in the beginning when we were tackling issues like cartes de séjour and bank accounts and driving licences! I no longer blog as I just don’t have time, but I do Instagram.

Would you like to know more about everyday life in France? Join the conversation on the French Entrée Forum

Photo of Patrimonio courtesy of Armand Luciani •

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