Testimony of Pascal, young French expatriate in Mexico

Pascal Burgard of the blog La Vida au Mexique, a young French expatriate in Mexico since September 2007, shares his rich experience of 13 years of expatriation, from England to Mexico via Ireland.


My name is Pascal and I’m 35 years old. My parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were all born in Alsace and have lived there all their lives.
At school, I was more of a “scientist” than a “literary”. But I loved English. I loved the sound of the language, of course, but also English’s ability to take me on a journey; I’d fly in my mind from the classroom of my college in a small village in the French countryside, all the way to this as-yet-unknown island across the North Sea. I felt drawn to mystery, to adventure, to people who were different.

A school trip to England the year I turned 15 convinced me of what was already obvious to me: I wanted to be able to, one day, experience living abroadto discover a culture different from my own, and to be able to express myself from morning to night in another language.

My first expatriate experience was the summer of my 21st birthday. I had managed to find a job in the UK that would enable me to finance a 2-month stay. Above all, it was the reward of great perseverance, since I had to endure over a hundred rejections before finally being accepted as an intern in a company! That summer of 2001 was so full of adventures and discoveries that I decided to do it all again the following year, but this time in a more serious context: I did an internship in applied physics, again in England.

At the end of my studies, the desire to continue my adventure abroad was still very much on my mind. I wanted to go back, but to another country this time. I chose Ireland, somewhat by chance. I didn t want to look for a job in advance, I didn’t want to do any research; I just wanted to put my bags down and, for once, let myself be carried along by events.
As fate would have it, my arrival in Ireland coincided with the “Celtic Tiger” era , a period of strong economic growth throughout the country. At the time, the sector that was recruiting graduates in droves was IT. I landed my first job at IBM.
I knew the basics of computing, but nothing more: a bit of programming, some knowledge of networks. Yet this was no obstacle in a country with an Anglo-Saxon “go for it” mentality. In other words, people there place far less importance on the knowledge a person possesses at the time of hiring than on their ability to learn and assimilate new knowledge. Good thing too: I’m a quick learner. Anglo-Saxons love it.

I pursued my career path in Ireland, always striving to keep learning and to be alert to opportunities as they arose: as a result, I was promoted almost every year and moved from IBM to HP, then to ACS, doubling my salary in less than 3 years!

While my corporate adventure gave me complete satisfaction, my Irish life slowly began to become commonplace: the excitement of discovery gradually gave way to routine. I was already too fluent in English. England and Ireland had very few mysteries left to offer me. I was beginning to feel a certain nostalgia for those happy moments in my school life when I was patiently discovering English and England.

So I tried to relive those emotions by studying another language. I chose Spanish, almost arbitrarily. I didn’t speak a word of Spanish and had never been to Spain, but I’d always loved the sound of the language. I hoped that Spanish would become my passport to new adventures.

Life is full of opportunities just waiting to be seized.

You just have to pay attention and know what you want. So, while I was studying Spanish, I was looking for a way to make a new expatriation possible while remaining coherent from a professional point of view. The solution finally came from within my company: as part of a project, a Mexican delegation arrived at ACS Ireland. I made friends with my Latino colleagues who told me they were looking for people with my profile to join their team. Two weeks after their departure, I asked to be transferred to Mexico, a country I’d never been to before and knew virtually nothing about. The process took 6 months, but my application was finally accepted. In September 2007, I flew to America.

The “Latino” mentality is very different from the Anglo-Saxon one, but when I arrived in Mexico and for the next 7 years, I would only work for North American companies that impose their mentality and work model on their employees all over the world. The “go for it attitude” remains, and I continue with this mentality of always learning and always daring. The following year, at the age of 28, I was given a position as “Manager”. That’s also how, a few years later, I found myself working as an architect at Dell in Guadalajara, the highest technical position in all of Dell Mexico! Not bad for someone who never really studied computers in school. Or Spanish, for that matter…

Obviously, if I’d stayed in France, my career would have been very different. Firstly, because in the French mentality, the career path must – at least initially – be an extension of academic training. In other words, I don’t think I could have made the switch from physics to IT so easily. The French aren’t as flexible in this respect as the English or the Americans. I also feel that my progress would have been slower and that I would have fallen victim to the age criterion (“too young for such a position”). If I’d stayed in France, I probably wouldn’t have had the idea and the desire to continue learning languages (I now speak 5 of them, I studied German in high school and college, and in Guadalajara I started learning Portuguese).

What I’m most proud of, through the journey I’ve taken so far, is that I’ve been able to be, in a way, the architect of my own life. I lived what I had always wanted to live, and much more. I have the feeling that anything is possible if you work hard enough. It’s very exciting, and I’m really looking forward to the years to come.
Beware, though, becauseexpatriation isn’t for everyone! When you move abroad, you can expect your certainties to be – to a certain extent – shaken. When we expatriate, we leave a certain reality, a certain environment, to marry another. You lose your bearings a bit. Suddenly, we’re faced with people whose way of thinking and values differ from our own – and yet are just as valid. Of course, these changes can be more or less radical, and it’s not at all the same thing if you’re moving to Switzerland or China! That said, even in what I’d call an “intermediate” case like Mexico, it can be a little unsettling.

We can also come face to face with situations we knew existed, but which seemed “remote” in our home country. I knew, for example, that corruption existed in some countries, but I was struck by it when I first saw my Mexican cab driver get out of the car and slip a banknote to a police officer who had stopped him to avoid getting fined (I’ve since realized that this is a common occurrence here…). Likewise, I knew that people could be kidnapped, but I was horrified when I saw such a scene unfold before my eyes… Personally, I’m glad to have been able to live through these experiences – and many others – because today they give me a more complete and fairer view of the world. But not everyone will react in the same way to these realities.

The opposite is also true:expatriation is a wonderful opportunity to refine the values bequeathed to us by the country of our childhood. Compared to the discipline and – relative – coldness of the Alsatians, the jovial, fraternal, extrovert and disorderly side of the Mexicans represents a real culture shock, and I tend to say that since I’ve been living in Mexico I’m probably “less hard-working, but happier than before”.

If I had one piece of advice to give to a young graduatewishing to move abroad, it would undoubtedly be to beas flexible as possible in the face of events and opportunities . You may not find the job you’re looking for in the country that attracts you, but then what? This doesn’t mean, however, that the country you go to will be any less interesting, or that the job in question won’t offer you a successful career.

You are in control of your destiny at all times, and it’s up to you to seize the opportunities that life constantly offers you. Wherever you are.


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