Sibylle Eschapasse from Paris to New York and the United Nations

A lover of adventure, Sibylle started her dream of living in New York City in style: arriving there as many immigrants did a century or so ago -- by freighter. Read on to find out how this Frenchwoman has come to feel like a true New Yorker and what it's like to live and work in the Big Apple.

Sibylle Eschapasse

-Where were you born?

I was born in France. Although I am from Paris, my parents were living in Paris before my birth and I grew up in Paris, I happened to born in a city named Nantes in the west of France as my mother was originally from a family well established there and she preferred to deliver me in Nantes to be close to her parents. That was her thinking at the time! The funny thing is that my mother wanted also to deliver me with a great Professor of medicine from Nantes that her family knew well and she felt comfortable with him and this doctor happened to be in Paris unexpectedly at the time of my birth so it was not even him who delivered me! So I was conceived in Paris, was born in Nantes by the choice of my parents and went back to Paris a few days later. :)

-In which country and city are you living now?

I am now living in the United States, in New York City.

-Are you living alone or with your family?

I am living for now alone with a cute Havanese dog named Argy Boy. :) Hopefully, I will not live alone all my life as I don't really like to live alone and I also would love to have a family.

-How long have you been living in New York City?

I moved to New York in 2002 so I have been living here for the past 13 years. Exactly a third of my life!

-What is your age?

I am 36 years old...

-When did you come up with the idea of living in the USA?

I wanted to live and make my life in New York, a city full of excitement and interests for me. I was young when I decided to emigrate here. I was 23. I had just spent the year prior, in some French islands of the South Pacific in Wallis and Futuna, but also Tahiti and the rest of French Polynesia, especially the Marquesas islands. I was studying at the time geography, which I really love, at Sorbonne University and I had decided to study the islands of South Pacific for my master's degree and DEA program. When I came back to Paris to present my thesis, I didn't want to enroll to complete my PHD as I preferred to work and emigrate to New York where I wanted to live. So I took a freighter from the south of France to arrive in New York as I wanted to arrive like an old immigrant and try to feel what may have felt immigrants decades ago when they were taking freighters to come to the United States from Europe. I also wanted to arrive from the beginning with what I thought was an interesting way. I love to write and live interesting experiences and I wrote my diary on board this container ship which I published for Le Routard, which is the French equivalent of the Lonely Planet. We were 5 passengers on board that freighter in addition to the crew and it was a remarkable experience to share the life of these men who spend months on ships and you never meet in real life. And of course to arrive in New York by sea after 12 days of crossing the Atlantic, and seeing the Statue of Liberty, after all these days where you see nothing else but water, was magical for me. I loved it!  


-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?

It was not difficult to get a visa as I got very lucky to be selected to do an internship at the French Consulate in New York so this allowed me to get initially an A2 visa. After my internship, I switched to a J1 visa for another job working for a French-American club in NY and subsequently I switched for a G4 visa which is my current visa. It's a diplomat visa for international civil servants who work at the UN. The visas were not difficult to get as they were directly linked to my jobs but finding each job was not easy. So all in all, it was not an easy process. I had to find everything myself as I knew nobody in New York when I arrived.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived? 

No, it was not difficult. I have always been covered living in New York from the time I was an intern at the Consulate. At that time, I think I recall having taken something like Mondial Assistance or the CSFE, I am not sure which one as it was a long time ago but of course I had a health insurance. And then, when I got hired for my next job, I had health insurance too. Now, working at the UN, I am lucky to have another great health coverage. I really recommend to all who consider moving to the U.S. to be fully covered. Health is too important. As we say health is wealth because with time, it's the most important thing we can have, and medical costs can be very expensive here; you don't want to play with that.

-How do you make your living in NYC? Do you have any type of income generated?

I am working at the United Nations as an international civil servant. This is my source of income and also what gives me my visa status in this country. I am obviously very grateful for the opportunity to work for the UN. It's a great honor for me. 

- Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?

Yes, I do speak English. :) Obviously, I recommend to all who emigrate to a new country like the US, regardless of your age, to learn the language and not fall into the comfort of staying in your community and speak only your native language. Being able to speak, to communicate with others, to understand things around you is key and empower you, will set you free and bring you more opportunities.



-Do you miss home and family sometimes?

Of course, I miss my family. I adore my family and this is the only thing that I really miss. Not being able to see them every day like I would do in Paris. This being said, my mother since I arrived in NY 13 years ago never failed to call me every single day, or if one day she can't, she always communicates via email with me. And of course, with the great technology we are lucky to have in our time, we now Facetime everyday so basically it is like there are next door, even if this is only through the iPhone. But we love it! Beside my family, I don't really miss home. I come back to Paris two times or three (if I'm lucky) per year for short breaks. I also go to La Baule where my parents spend the summer. Of course, I would love to go back to Paris more often. Ideally, a long weekend, every 2 months would be best.

-Do you have other plans for the future?

I plan to stay in New York which I consider my home. This is where I spent all my adult life. I love New York! But you never know in life. But normally, I will stay in New York. As would say some people in Brooklyn with a strong Italian accent: I am a New Yorker! :)

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

I am renting in Manhattan. It's expensive. I pay 3300 dollars for a furnished studio. You can find however cheaper studios. Mine is expensive because it is in a building with full service, almost like a hotel, and includes all utilities, cable, Internet, gym, maid service, etc. But there are many other options of housing. In 13 years, I moved 8 or 9 times in total! I lived mostly in Manhattan but I also lived in Brooklyn and the Bronx. All boroughs of New York have beautiful things to offer and for all budgets. I even once lived in a convent in Brooklyn, when I arrived in NY actually, and also in a residence for young girls in Gramercy Park, years ago. 

- What is the cost of living in New York City?

The cost of living is expensive in New York but remember, salaries are usually higher too. Housing, medical costs and education for children are definitely more expensive for instance than Paris.

- What do you think about the New Yorkers? 

I love people here. Otherwise, I would not be here! It's a big country and it's a big city so obviously you have everything. Do I love everything in the US? No! But I don't love everything in France either. I try to focus on what I love. I love New Yorkers because they come from everywhere, from so many different parts of the world, and are filled with a positive spirit and amazing energy. It's very uplifting. And people are less judgemental here I think if I compare to Paris which is more narrow minded in a way because it's a smaller city and more coded society. People complain less here, they smile more. They are funny and have young spirits. They renew themselves at the image of the city that evolves continuously. I like the variety in New York and I feel comfortable in a lot of different settings starting from enjoying the simple pleasure of taking a hot chocolate in Whole Foods to attending a Gala Dinner for a Foundation. That's the beauty of a city like New York. You embrace it all and you are more likely to accept things you would not necessarily accept in your home country because you see them with brand new eyes and a form of exotism.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in New York City?

That question is very personal so what applies to me doesn't necessarily apply to everybody. I love everything about New York. It's a very unique city, very cosmopolitan and in my case, I believe it enriched me so I am very grateful living here. I don't see any negatives. Maybe, the winter; although this year, we are so lucky because the winter is very mild. So I cannot even say that the winter is a negative. If you really want a negative, as I briefly mentioned earlier, maybe the price of real estate and housing compared to Paris so as a consequence, you live in smaller apartments. Also, sometimes the speed of things can be stressful so you have to ensure that you keep a balance yourself. 

- Do you have any tips for our readers about living in NYC?

Take everything with a positive attitude and enjoy your new life abroad. It's an incredible experience and a great privilege. Many people around the world who are not as fortunate would love to be here so be mindful of that. Be strong, resilient, persistent, and yet, stay gracious and kind. And be ready to work hard. There's no magic. Success, whatever it means to you, comes with hard work. And remember failure can be, and usually is, part of success. You just have to keep on trying! 

 -Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about anything related to New York City?

I will not be very objective as I am going to recommend a newspaper that I contribute too with some interviews of stylish newyorkers I enjoy writing about every week and another blog I also contribute to.

I also like the website Humans of New York which tries to embrace all the diversity that makes New York this vibrant and amazing city.