Nicky Whenman moved from Essex to Malestroit in Brittany six years ago. Here, she tells FrenchEntrée why she chose to settle in the region and how she found a way to work from home so she could be there for her children…
Why did you decide to move away?
Our oldest son was at an age where we had to make a choice of primary schools in the UK. We wanted him to grow up without experiencing the language difficulties that we experienced in France. Also, by observing friends in France, their children seemed to retain their childhood for longer, which is something we wanted for our own children.
How did you go about finding your new home?
We found our French home whilst on holiday in Brittany, before we had children. We wanted to buy in Brittany because it was easy to visit on a weekend away and a complete contrast to day to day life in the city.
What type of property is it?
It’s a longère in a rural hamlet. We are the youngest people here by about 40 years!
What are the best things about living in Brittany?
I love Brittany in the summer – it’s wonderful that my children can play outside in a huge garden and the fact that as a family we enjoy outdoor pursuits, so spend lots of weekends walking or at the beach.
How do you earn a living abroad?
Predominantly by providing transcription services through McGowan Transcriptions. I also give English lessons to a couple of local children who attend the local collège.
Talk us through a typical day…
At 6.30am when the alarm goes off, I drag myself out of bed and get the boys up and out to school for 8am. On my return to the house, all being well, I will have work already downloaded waiting to be transcribed. I work pretty much continuously all day because I like to have my work finished by 4.15pm when I need to collect the children from school. After school, I cook dinner and help the children with their homework. When they go to bed at about 8pm, I complete any unfinished transcription work or check work done earlier in the day to be returned for a 9am deadline in the UK; then catch up on housework or gardening and generally sit down at 10.30pm, watch some TV and try to get to bed before midnight.
Were you in the same line of work in the UK?
I began my career in the UK as a legal secretary and completed my qualifications to eventually become a legal executive in London – being able to type has always played a major and beneficial role in my career. Working in law and drafting documents has also given me an eye for detail, which is essential when providing transcription work.
How did you get into transcription?
I had two young children at home and I really did not want to go back to working long days in London. Transcription was the perfect job in that sense as I could be mum during the day and work in the evenings.
What are the main differences between life in France and in the UK?
People say they move to France for a slower pace of life, however I haven’t experienced this at all! My life in France is possibly even busier. Having moved from London to a rural farming hamlet, I miss the convenience of having shops, theatres etc on my doorstep, but especially meeting up with friends for a coffee and a chat. Friends here are spread over a much wider area.
How have you benefitted from the move?
Life is harder and offers me more challenges, however my children flourish here. My eldest son has autism and is receiving excellent care both medically and educationally.
Do you plan to stay in France?
Yes, we’re here for the long haul.
What have been the most challenging aspects of your move?
Obviously language barriers have been a massive challenge, the French bureaucracy is a nightmare of paperwork and making friends when language is an obstacle – it’s not so easy to pass the time of day.
How have you improved your French?
I took lessons when I came here, then for a year I spent every Tuesday afternoon at my children’s school listening and speaking French with the children and teachers. I’ve undertaken an OU course in French, I taught English at a local college and lycée for a year where the children taught me French and I taught them English, but mainly my French has improved by toughing it out with a glass of wine at dinner parties with friends and just going for it.
Do you have any tips for settling in and making it work?
Even if it seems like the hardest thing in the world, try and chat to people, be it neighbours, the postman, parents in the school playground. It does get easier over time and you do form acquaintances.