Dwana, in Paris
“Dream big and make every day of your life about making that dream a reality.”
DOUBLE dates don’t always click. Couples sometimes aren’t compatible for whatever reason, but the evening my husband and I were invited to dinner at the Frank’s home in Washington, DC, our double date lasted into the wee hours.
The first hint I had that DWANA FRANK was a woman of style + substance was not only the elegant dinner that she prepared herself, but the ease in which we began our conversation about everything from our favorite walking trails in DC to African art to our love of adventure and travel. I was inspired by Dwana’s warmth, her confidence, her intelligence and her view of the world.
A native of New Orleans, Dwana always dreamed of a wonderful life filled with limitless possibilities. After graduating from college with dual degrees in Computer Science and Engineering, Dwana began a successful career developing innovative telecomm technologies, but when the time came she enthusiastically embraced motherhood often balancing school runs with training for marathons. For the past few years, Dwana has embraced an unexpected adventure with gusto — living as an American in Paris.
As we move closer to a new year it’s important to remember that creating a beautiful life is within your grasp if you reach for it and Dwana is the embodiment of that because she is living her innate truth and we did this interview with the intention of inspiring you to live your best life in 2014.
Growing up in New Orleans, did you ever imagine the life you have now?
I can’t say that I imagined it exactly as it is now, but I definitely imagined that my life would be some kind of wonderful. Growing up, I was a dreamer who believed that dreams do come true if you work at them. The dream for me seemed easy to ascertain. It was a great job, a great husband, a few kids, a very close-knit family, a beautiful home (I literally envisioned a white picket fence) and I would travel all around the world with my incredible family. So, the first thing I needed to do to put my dreams in motion was to get an education to go after that great job. Once I received my Master’s degree in Computer Science and Engineering and began my career, I felt that I was on a path that would eventually lead to my dreams becoming a reality.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of living as an American in Paris?
The first challenge was to get over judging the cultural differences and having expectations based on experiences in America. The sooner I released ALL expectations, the better off I was. Another big challenge for me was the language barrier. Even though many people in Paris speak English, they don’t always want to, nor should they have to in their own country. It’s important to learn to speak French if you’re going to live in France. That’s just it! Communication is power.
How did you learn French?
I underestimated how much time and effort is required to learn French given the fact that enjoying Paris and traveling was a substantial priority. It’s truly not an easy language to grasp without great effort. I practiced Rosetta Stone, hired a private tutor, took a 2-week immersion course, and spent a few days a week in a classroom. But still, I have not dedicated nearly enough time to achieve my goal of fluency. But of course, living here and the opportunity to practice has brought me a long way. I can communicate in French, but I’m not fluent.
Was it difficult cultivating a social network?
The wonderful part about living in such a great city like Paris is that everyone comes to visit! Socially, I have not suffered at all because just about every month, friends and family from the U.S. come to visit. When I’m not hosting, I’m usually traveling because it’s so easy and convenient to visit another country in two hours! It’s been a blessing because honestly, it’s not easy to make French friends.
Why do you say that?
The French seem to be very personal and private when it comes to their family life. They’re not likely to invite “the new neighbor” over for dinner or invite you into their social network. Since my kids attend the American School of Paris, families from the school community are obviously in our social network. However, there are several other native Parisians we’ve met throughout the years who we are happy to call our friends.
If someone is considering a move to Paris, what advice would you offer?
Start learning French before you move because it’ll help you tremendously with the necessities for transitioning. Forget about comparing how things are done at home and let go of certain expectations of how you think things should be. Have an open mind and be prepared for Paris to blow your mind. It’s truly an amazing city with so much to offer. A simple walk outside is like strolling an outdoor museum. Enjoy the parks, learn to appreciate art, appreciate the details the chefs put into preparing a perfect meal. Take it all in. Enjoy it with a smile.
What’s one misconception about Parisians you’ve found not to be true?
They’re not as rude as the reputation that precedes them. But it takes time to cultivate into the environment to come to this conclusion. The French can be a bit fussy, but they’re just passionate and emotional by nature. But that same passion and emotion can very well be sweet, kind and helpful. It matters a lot how you approach. Please say “bonjour” before you open your mouth to say anything else. You’re considered the “rude” one if you don’t and you might find out very quickly how the French have earned their reputation.
Describe a typical day in your Parisian life.
An espresso at the cafe outside my door. A run around the Seine or a “get lost in Paris” run if I’m training for a marathon. A conversation with the store clerk as I purchase the day’s meal. Organize home duties. Various outdoor activities like a Paris tour with American School of Paris moms, shopping for fashion, school activities, a rendezvous with friends, beauty pampering, late night walks with my husband, long lunches and dinners with lots of French wine.
Living in the land of the chic Parisienne, what fashion tips have you adopted?
Invest more in quality, not quantity. Black works well for most occasions and can easily by accented with a beautiful scarf. Scarves and cute boots are a necessary part of Parisian chic.
You’ve visited 6 continents and 16 countries so far, where did your passion for travel come from?
I would have to say from my grandmother. She absolutely loved to travel. She particularly loved to travel by trains. Although I don’t think she ever got to travel abroad, her spirit for travel around the USA and the stories she told of the places she visited intrigued me. Other than that, I would see different places on television, so beautiful, and I thought…Wow, I want to go there!
Name one unforgettable place you’ve traveled too.
That would be India. Until you walk that land, you can never feel, see, taste or begin to understand the reality of life a trip to India teaches. I visited twice. The second time was to clarify my amazement from the first time. I felt the same impact. India, with all of it’s beautiful colors, festive, spirited people, amazing mosques, temples and home of the dreamily gorgeous Taj Mahal, a place of such opulence, was also a place where the level poverty I witnessed could not have been communicated through pictures or words. It’s one of those places where you have to see it to believe it. Once you see it, you’ll never forget it. My travels to India gave me a prospective on life that became a deep soul searching, eye opening experience.
Name a place you’d like to see before you die.
As you know, I’ve been working on my bucket list for a while now and I’ve made it a point to visit the places I wanted to see. So, even though Africa was on that list and I’ve been there, I would say that I’d like to go back again before I die. I probably won’t see all of Africa in this lifetime, but I would like to explore several parts. I would love to spend enough time to live the experience, perhaps teach in a school, build a home or help provide water to villages. So far, all of my travels have been for personal development, enjoying life and broadening my perspective. I really want to do something meaningful with what I have learned and experienced.
What are your three must-have travel essentials?
Running shoes to get my day started wherever I am. Walking shoes for daytime exploring, Diva high heels for night. It’s all about the shoes for a woman on the go.
With such a bi-continental life, how do you create balance in your life?
I don’t, my husband does! He says, “We have to slow down, we can’t do it all, look at our travel schedule, normal people get one vacation a year, you’ve scheduled 12!” Then, I try to compromise some sort of balance by taking a trip or two off the current list. But seriously, I paid my dues raising three wonderful children, two in college and one is a senior in high school now. So besides the fact that my kids have mostly traveled with me, the difficulty in balancing now that they’re older has somewhat subsided. Thanks to technology, work can often be conducted from wherever we are in the world. This is a very necessary balance since the job funds our travels.
Name a song that takes you some place special whenever you hear it.
‘I Was Here’ by Beyoncé.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Healthy, happy kids and a husband who’s my awesome best friend. Café crème in the morning and a glass of Bordeaux in the evening.
What advice do you have for younger women?
You only have one life. No one can live it but you. Cease the moment. Don’t be afraid to take chances because those chances write your life’s story. Be adamant and convicted when it comes to achieving your goals. Dream big and make every day of your life about making that dream a reality. Have tons of fun. Nurture your friendships. Love hard and be kind. Life rewards the heart.
If asked to write your memoirs. what would the title be?
From the Seventh Ward in New Orleans to the Seventh Arrondissement in Paris and Beyond. With Love.
Interviewed November 2013 by Yolanda, editor of Zavvi Rodaine.
Dwana was photographed in Paris by her husband for Zavvi Rodaine. Thanks, K!
© Zavvi Rodaine.com 2013. No part of this interview may be used or reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the Editor of Zavvi Rodaine.com.
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