I'm an American expat, writer. photographer. and old-fashioned romantic in love with celebrating the simple joys of daily life. I appreciate timelessness, the natural world, and a slow life lived with simplicity and intention. When I'm not photographing families or  slowly traveling the world and writing about it in a little notebook, I'm happily grounding myself in nature and cozying up with my sweet husband.

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Eckbolsheim Strasbourg american expat living in Alsace france

“What’s your plan? What are you doing in France?,” they say. 

So, what am I doing living in France?

I’m living.

Fully living.

I wake up with the sunlight, not an alarm clock. I’m picking raspberries and eating them straight from the vine. I’m strolling to the boulangerie in the mornings, making small talk to the woman in the bakery with the tiny bit of French I know.  I buy crispy, hot baguettes on Saturdays and I venture to the marche, arm-in-arm with my husband, tasting rich cheeses and buying fresh radishes. 

I buy the local Alsatian wine. I wander the fields and I admire the galloping horses. I watch the sunset every evening, and I read by candlelight before bed. 

I pet every pooch in sight and sing to every cat sitting in the window. I’m slowly learning French and I attempt to read every sign in the storefronts. I listen to people chat in the cafes, in their elegant, musical language and I make notes of phases to teach myself. 

I take note of the way the French dress and I aspire (and fail) to emulate it. 

I’m carrying my camera in my purse everyday, introducing her to the new details of French-living that I never noticed before. I rediscover that initial spark that led me to my first camera. I play and take portraits of my husband. I shoot film and I print pictures, clipping them around the house.

I smell the magnolias when they bloom in the spring. We picnic along the swans and I savor each bite of chocolate mousse. 

I foster kittens, delighting in their soft purrs and warm rounded bellies. I write letters to friends, burning my fingertips with hot wax and smudging dark patches of ink across my hands.  We play card games and I lose. 

We have dinner parties with friends. Not a phone in sight. 

But mostly, I’m venturing away from what I know, what I used to believe. I’m learning to be quiet and observant, curious and patient. Trusting and content. 

I needed a restart from life back home in America. I needed something different, a new way of living. Of slow and peace – traits that are so different from the hustle and “busy” culture that is so prevalent in urban cities across America. Values I no longer carry, childhood beliefs I re-train my brain from believing. I needed vast, empty space – in my mind and in the environment.

I’ve been living in France for one year, and I still don’t know if I ever want to move back home. I don’t know what it is to “do” here and I don’t have any plans for my time abroad and yet I’m deeply fulfilled.

I no longer have a full calendar, social events and a list of friends to see.

And yet I’m happier here.

How is that possible?

I know what living in the U.S. means.

I’ve been raised with this typical American belief that having money means being successful, that having ownership of things and titles is the key to happiness. That having a full schedule, making plans and being busy means you’re doing well.

But what I’ve learned, living in France, is that having less is the actual secret. Having less and expressing your gratitude for the little you do have.

France has taught me to embrace less. To let go of what you once thought was meant for you. To embrace the new, the different, and the pleasurable.

France has taught me to live and to live well. 

 

What I’m Doing While Living in France | Expat Life

November 3, 2019

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I'm Helena! As a creative storyteller, I document magical, emotionally honest family and children's portraiture. A lover of childhood, fairytales and natural light, I photograph families across the world. I'm the ultimate Disney nerd, and I'm obsessed with cats and expressing my love for the simple joys of slow, daily life.

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Helena Woods is a destination newborn and family photographer based in France and New England and travels worldwide. She is known for her natural light, modern classic, and emotive photography style.

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