Mar 09

Homecomer: “One of the best things about being back are the smiling faces!”

Karen Longley shares her experiences as a South Africa abroad in France, her favourite things about being back home, and the amazing things her company is doing to transform local lives.

I left South Africa in 1988 a year after the general election which had left the country in the hands of the right wing and the extreme right wing. This made me realise how bleak the political future was. I was married to a Frenchman and we decided that we would go to France. I arrived in Dijon and spent the next (almost) 25 years of my life there. It is a region which I grew to love and I felt at home in the vineyards and countryside of Burgundy.

My husband at the time was French and so France was a natural choice. I also came from a French-loving family and had been to France as a child and as a teenager on several occasions.

In France, I wasn’t really an expat as I have dual nationality. The French are extremely warm and welcoming once they know you. I also speak French fluently and was able to run my own company there.

My daughter was born and raised in France. The school system is very intensive but she was able to receive an excellent school education in private schools for a tenth of what it costs in SA. One of the disadvantages though, is the French school system doesn’t leave much place for sports activities as the school day is very long (08h00-17h00).


The decision to return home was based on both personal and professional reasons. My family were all in SA and my daughter, who is French, had decided to study Politics and International Relations at Wits University. Being a business owner in France, I wanted to create a new company and this has proven to be an excellent decision!

The best things are being back with family and the great climate and the smiling faces! The worst things are the struggle to get all the logistics sorted out in the beginning – phone contracts, bank accounts, insurance, medical insurance etc. This really isn’t easy and is often very expensive. The things I missed most while abroad were my family, the sun, and the bush. The things I missed least were the electric fences and high walls which seem to characterise the suburbs in Joburg. They really are ugly.

To South Africans living abroad who are considering returning home, I would say, “Come back! You won’t regret it!”.

Through the new company I have created, I am able to reach out to South Africans who are struggling with English for their jobs, often as a result of poor secondary education levels. Leading Language offers tailor-made training programmes aimed at improving language skills to help people communicate in the business world. In addition to custom courses aimed at improving language skills, we also offer translation and interpretation services and language audits for recruitment and training requirements. We have been able to help a number of people with English and in so doing, they have been promoted to better jobs.