1 August 2016

Sylvain Kalache - Expat in San Francisco, The United States

Sylvain Kalache - Expat in San Francisco, The United States

Sylvain Kalache is a 26-year-old software engineer who lives in San Francisco, USA. Originally from France, Mr. Kalache relocated to San Francisco after studying in China for a year because he wanted to improve his English. “Silicon Valley is Disneyland for geeks, and after few months I felt in love with the area and knew I would like to live here,” he said.  Presently, Mr. Kalache and his wife have been living in San Francisco for five years.

Mr. Kalache noted that his hardest experience as an expat in San Francisco involved bringing his then-girlfriend with him to the United States. “We are set now, but it took us 5 years to figure out and 2+ years of long distance relationship,” he said, explaining that generally it is difficult to immigrate to the United States. He also said that relocating to the USA was difficult for his wife at first. “She is Russian and there are strong American clichés in their culture,” he said, explaining that San Francisco can be shocking to outsiders. “She came for 2 weeks first and did not like it at all. But you need to learn the city, once you know it, you become to like it better and finally find your habits.”

Like Mr. Kalache’s experience, dealing with formalities can be challenging for expats who are planning to bring their spouses or family members with them as they relocate overseas. To make the process easier to handle, expats may want to look for assistance in the form of professional immigration services, which can offer services related to the application process and other policies established by immigration officers. Professional relocation services can also do a good job of assisting expats with not only the basics of packing and shipping, but also with visa processing needs.

Find out more about Sylvain Kalache’s experiences in the United States in his full interview below.

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: France

Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: I had the opportunity to study abroad, I wanted to see the world and improve my English. I decided to go study in China (because why not). After a year, I decided to go to the US because I could pursue my goal of improving my English and because Silicon Valley is Disney Land for geeks.


Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: Reasons I mentioned above. After few months I felt in love with the area and knew I would like to live here. 

Q: Where are you living now?

A: San Francisco

Q: How long have you been living in the U.S.?  

A: 5 years.

Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in your host country?

A: Bring my, at the time, girlfriend on the territory, in one word: immigration. We are set now, but it took us 5 years to figure out and a 2+ years of long distance relationship.

Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in your host country? What was your experience with these?

A: In general, it is hard to come in the US. Immigration is tough, but I believe it’s the case in most countries. I’ve heard stories about my home country, France, at the end the US might not be that bad.

Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I married my wife in San Francisco, we met in China (where we were both living).

Q: How are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: It was hard for my wife at the beginning, she is Russian and there are strong American clichés in their culture. San Francisco can be shocking: homeless people everywhere, dirty streets, junk food. She came for 2 weeks first and did not like it at all. But you need to learn the city, once you know it, you become to like it better and finally find your habits. I think San Francisco is a big melting pot, culture wise, so you can find pretty much anything that suit you. Now she likes it: good food, good weather, nature around. But it took a little while. Plus she could not work for the first 3 years living here (because of visa) so that was a very tough thing to accept.

Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people?

A: Yes and no. Yes it is easy to meet people; everybody is very easy going and willing to engage a conversation with strangers. You can easily spend a whole evening with people you never met and they’ll act like you are best friend. However don’t count to see these people again later. 

No, because even though you meet “new friends” very easily, it won’t count for them as the start of a new relation, it is just a life style. I have only few American friends.

Q: Do you mainly socialize with other expats in the U.S.? How did you manage to find a social circle in the U.S.?

A: San Francisco is a melting pot of people coming from all over the world, so you can’t really “avoid” this. I’m surrounded by Chinese, Indian, Canadian, Mexican, Korean, Russian people. I could go on forever with this list.

But actually I had trouble connecting with French people, and especially the ones from my industry. French people don’t have the same social behavior as Californian people, they won’t start a conversation with strangers and especially with people in my industry (engineers) that are usually introvert and shy people.

As we could not find peers and there was no group to gather them, we created one with Julien Barbier, another French expatriate. The French Tech Alumni Network is call “while42”, we started it in November 2012, and the goal was simple: gather French tech engineers from the Silicon Valley by organizing meetups. The recipe worked well, and organically the network grew to 30+ cities with 2000+ members. The network is now all over the world.

Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: Walk into San Francisco and appreciate the mix of culture, you will see the difference in the architecture, type of restaurant, type of people, type of festival. Go try the food from exotic place, most of the time it will be owned by native so the food will be as authentic as it can get.

Q: How does the cost of living in the U.S. compared to your home?

A: A cup of coffee costs $3.50, while a in an inexpensive restaurant costs $9. A meal in an expensive restaurant costs $80 and a bottle of wine costs $15. For a pack of cigarettes, it costs $7.  

Q: How do you find the local culture and people in your host country?

A: Fantastic as the melting pot makes it very rich. Again, that is very typical of San Francisco, you won’t find this in other US cities (may be NYC).


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in your host country?

A: Positive: presence of IT industry and entrepreneurs, place for innovation, disruption. Place with people who are smart, willing to embrace change. Melting pot of culture. The nature around is amazing.

Negative: real estate price is crazy, lots of homeless people/poverty.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Not really. I like my country, but I enjoy living here, I have no regret.


Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I find the food I like, I buy a lot of imported product, it is usually quite expensive but that’s the game. I alone encourage my friend and family to come, at the end, that is the only thing “money can’t buy” and an experience that I can't’ replace.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: Maybe a different country. After 5 years in San Francisco I have my routine set, the taste of expatriation is going away as everything is easy and figured. My wife and I are working on being able to make money with jobs that would allow us to work from abroad for extended period of time.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about your host country?

A: I write about my expatriation experience in French http://sanfrancisco.sylvainkalache.com/

My twitter feed https://twitter.com/SylvainKalache

For any French engineer that is moving somewhere in the world: http://while42.org/