We recently had the good fortune of catching up with Audrey Ebibie Nze in Libreville, Gabon. Audrey is a French citizen and aside from the Republic, she has lived in Vietnam, the United States, Spain, Mexico, and most recently Gabon. Audrey shares with us her early formative years, which hardwired her for travel, and gives some insight into what it's been like adjusting in some of her more recent travels. Audrey has not just traveled abroad. She has worked, studied, and even met her life partner while abroad. She is a seasoned traveler in addition to being an amazing person, and we are happy to be able to share a part of her story here with you.
ND: You've said travel is part of your education. What do you mean by that?
Audrey: My dad is an aircraft engineer with Air France, he's been working for them for more than 40 years. And we've been raised going with him into different countries where Air France sent him for work. I'm the 5th of seven children, so it became a game. I've been raised always travelling and it's part of my education actually. My dad was born in Vietnam and my mom was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They were both raised in Vietnam and they moved back to France during the war.
ND: Oh, wow. I'm sure they have lots of stories to tell.
Audrey: They always told us that it's always good to be open minded, and that's why you need to travel in order to see how people are actually living and what the other country can offer you. So that's why I decided to do it on my own. I grew up by always thinking, when I grow up, I need to travel. I need to find my way. And one of my goals was actually to be a flight attendant, because being a flight attendant means you need to travel!
ND: How old were you when you moved to Vietnam? I know you spent part of your childhood there.
Audrey: I did my middle school in Vietnam, so I was 11. We spent 4 years in Ho Chi Minh. During those 4 years my parents showed us their roots they really wanted us to know where my grandparents and my great-grandparents came from. So we spent 4 wonderful years over there. We went to an international school. And most of my friends, they were from Korea, they were from Austrailia, and they were from the United States. So, it was a peaceful moment. It feels like when you live abroad— it's like you are in a bubble. You're not in front of what your country is asking you to do.
When you're a grown-up, you need to pay your taxes, you need to do this and you need to do that. When you travel, the only thing that you can do is actually discover and see what you can bring to you as a positive note.
ND: When you moved to Vietnam at 11 years old, were you excited, or were you nervous? How was it adjusting?
Audrey: The first few months I actually was crying. I was begging my parents to let me live with my big sister who was staying in France. I felt like it was so different. The weather was really really really hot. The first few days I was always taking six showers a day. And I did not speak Vietnamese, so I felt like I was lost. If I wasn't with my mom or with my dad we couldn't do anything. Then my sisters, brothers, and I decided that we needed to learn what to do, so we started going out in the street and talking to the neighbors. Though not in full Vietnamese, but when you're a kid you find a way to communicate.
So, we decided to do that. It was hard, but at the same time we had learned the basics of Vietnamese. How to say hi, and how much does it cost? I'm thirsty. And thank you. So it was really really helpful. And we met also, some of my mom's family who were still living in Vietnam, so they taught us a lot. They were living in the poor quarter, but my parents always said you need to know the worst of a country before knowing the best. So that was really, really nice. Even though the first few months were hard, you can't forget about that experience.
ND: Let's skip over a little bit: You're a little bit older. You know you're coming to the States to study. How did you feel coming from France to Philly a little bit later in your education?
Audrey: I was excited actually. Before going to Philly I had been living in Spain and Mexico for two different internships and after I improved my Spanish I said it was time for me to improve my English. During the time that I was completing my Associates degree and I was working on moving abroad again. I knew my next trip was going to be either England or the United States. So I had been looking at different opportunities and how I can— you know— do it by myself, and this is how I decided to become a nanny. And after I've been accepted and I found a host family. Two weeks before I was leaving I told my parents, I'm moving to Philadelphia where I'm going to live for a year. They were kind of surprised, but at the same time, they were expecting that one of their seven kids would do something like that. So, I went to the States. I was so excited! Really, really, really, excited! I'm not going to say that being a nanny was my dream job, but it was my way that I could discover a country at low costs. They were giving me a place to live. They were giving me everything. The only thing I had to do is take care of their child and study English. So, I went to UPenn to study English. And during my spare time I met Yannick. I met Yannick less than two weeks after my arrival in Philadelphia.
ND: I think that's proved to be a fateful meeting. Tell us about your first time coming to Gabon. I know that trip is important to you for a couple of reasons.
Audrey: My first time coming to Gabon was a big move actually, because before I landed, Yannick proposed on the airplane. It meant that one day I will be living in this country. I was. . .I am into Yannick. Yannick is my everything. We arrived at about 5 o'clock in the morning and the whole family was waiting for me at the airport because they all knew that he would propose to me.
Yannick was kind of worried that I would feel disconnected, but the way people in Gabon are living, it's close to Vietnam, with less people of course. And instead of being with Asian people I'm actually with Gabonese people. You know, it's very similar. The Gabonese are really warm. Family is everything for them, so even though you do not look like them, since I'm Yannick's wife, I'm now part of the family. So they were really really welcoming. I've been treated like a princess by everyone.
ND: Now on the plane. When he propeses or before, the moments leading up to the proposal. Was he acting funny, was he shaking, was he nervous?
Audrey: It was more like a sketch. I was stressed out. I was stressed out. Oh Yannick do you really think your parents are going to like me. That was my thinking, but I did not realize that he was stressed out too. He was thinking how can I get the ring into the plane and make sure that she will not know that I have the ring in my pocket. So that was all the sketch.
He talked to my dad. My dad talked to the lady at check-in and she started using codes "passenger 33 is traveling with passenger xyz" and when we went through security Yannick told me, Audrey, you need to go in front of me. I was like, no you need to go in front of me. I'm used to travel so I know what to do. He was like, no just go! But I didn't realize he made an arrangement with the security guard to get the ring through without me noticing. So, it was like, a whole kind of— how do you say…like…how would you say? Not a movie, but like a scene.
We flew business class, thanks to my dad, and I saw Yannick talking to the flight attendants in front of me. And, I'm like, "Yannick, what did you ask to the ladies?"— they were all smiling and grinning. He said that he had just asked them where the bathroom was. I was like, "PLEASE! We're in the airplane, you don't even know where the restrooms are?!"
But actually . . .
. . . .he was planning to do the proposal. The flight attendants, told each passenger at some point we're going to turn off all the lights except for one seat, because one of the passengers is going to propose to his girlfriend.
I didn't know about that. I feel asleep right after dinner. And he woke me up. I was kind of cranky, it was almost midnight. We were in the middle of both countries, which was the greatest place for him. In the plane because I wanted to be a flight attendant. In between our countries. It was the best place to propose, so he woke me up and did his speech about how he wanted to get old with me. And how he's thinking about not spending any other second without me. So, he proposed and as soon as I said YES! all the passengers started applauding. It was great. When we landed the staff actually congratulated us and gave us a bottle of champagne, so it was cute. It was really really cute!
ND: Now, that was 7 years ago.
Audrey: It's been 7 years we've been married.
ND: You guys have lived in numerous places in Philly. I remember when you were living in North Philly somewhere, you lived in Northern Liberties (a gentrified Philadelphian neighborhood), and then West Philly, where we became closer, then France, and now Gabon. Any advice that you can give any other couples who are making a transition like that?
Audrey: I would say communication is the key thing. When you move on your own it's different than when you move with someone else, especially with Yannick. He knew I would need to adjust; to make sure that I do not miss anything. Even though the lifestyle is different he needed to make sure that I would be okay. As a person I would say that you really need to be open minded. If you like travelling it doesn't matter where you are, you will always find something that you can get into and be happy about it. So, for me that's my thing. If you like travelling, you will love where you are.
(Yannick, who is sitting by listening to the interview, suddenly chimes in)
Yannick: And what's interesting about moving. We've been in 3 different situations. When we moved to Philly, separately, we were single people looking for a new perspective, a new adventure, so that's a different type of mentality. And then when we met each other. We were like two people out of our natural system. So we had to learn how to navigate the system together with both of our backgrounds, which was really— that can be really challenging. You need to know yourself very well. You need to understand where the other person is coming from. Because, can you imagine you guys going to a new environment and you guys are dealing separately with the new environment and maybe one of you may like the new environment and the other one may not like it. So how do you make sure that it works? Communication: that's why she says communication is very important.
When we moved to France, the situation was different. There, Audrey was in her natural environment. She had to give me the cues on how to adapt to the new place.
We try not to be regretful of what we've left. We're always thinking about what we're finding. How we can adapt to it. How we can make it a good experience. I think that's the key to success of our traveling. Each time we're going somewhere, we're thinking about how to adapt and how to create a good situation wherever we're living. Not thinking about how it was in the past.
And when we moved to Gabon. Now I'm in my natural environment and even though Gabon is my homeland I'm still in a new situation. I'm coming back as an adult, I'm not a a kid anymore. So there are things that I never experienced that I will have to experience with Audrey. But still making sure that she adapts that she understands how things go. Again, what makes it a success? Communication. We communicate a lot.
ND: Très bon.