Elise, 25, loves her life now – the couple have a baby daughter, Alixe – and has no intention of returning to the UK. But when she first arrived, she could not understand why her parents had brought her here.
It was hard being pitched into 5ème in collège with no grasp of French. She said: “We had other English-speaking new arrivals with us, which helped in one way because we had someone to talk to, but not in another way as it took us longer to learn French.
“The other kids were mostly friendly, but it was mixed with the teachers. Some were very welcoming, but many did not know what to do with us and put us at the back of the class.”
A plus for Elise was being able to have her own horse, which would have been too costly in the UK. She already knew she wanted to work with animals and thought of being a vet.
She went to the nearby lycée, but did not do as well as she needed and so changed school and resat a year.
“That was the best decision of my life. I was in a small class of motivated students who all wanted to go into medicine and so I worked hard and got good grades. However, because French was not my first language, my teachers thought a preparation year to go to vet school would be too tough, so I took another option and went to do a BTS (brevet de technicien supérieur) in an agricultural college at Naves, near Tulle.”
She found it amazing that she could spend two years studying to work on a farm: “I learned most when they put me in charge of 56 pigs on internship for a summer on the school farm.
“I realised I did not want to be a vet, but was more interested in seeing them being born and rearing them.”
She went on to do the preparation year at Clermont Ferrand she was now ready to do – and did so well that she was accepted at a top school to study for a three-year degree in animal husbandry in Paris.
She stuck it out for two years: “I did not enjoy it. I was with students who had lived all their lives in the city and never been on a farm. I was happiest when I was back at the Naves school farm on internship.
“I don’t do big towns at all. I would not have wanted to work in research. I prefer being on the farm.”
Elise married Guillaume last year and joined her husband’s family farm, near Ussel, Corrèze – not as a farmer’s wife but as a farmer in her own right.
She said it is sometimes still difficult for people to accept the idea of a girl working a farm, but she has learned to stick up for herself and show she is to be taken seriously.
Her husband already reared veal and she has added pigs to their stock.
They employ a butcher to cut and pack their meat and they hire him out to other farmers. They sell their meat direct to clients, which means that four times a week she goes off in her big van to market.
They sell to restaurants, local schools and supermarkets, so she also has to deal with the huge amount of paperwork any business generates.
“We always hear that the life of a farmer is hard,” she said. “Yes, we get up at 6am every day, including Christmas Day, and we have to find someone to look after the animals if we want to go away. But we are our own bosses, so we can choose which days we work really hard, and which days we do a little less.
“We don’t earn a lot of money but we have enough and we enjoy what we do. When I feed the calves in the morning, it doesn’t seem like work.”
Does she think her life would have been the same if she had stayed in the UK? “No. I think if you work hard there are far more opportunities in France. All my education was free, and I was able to change when things did not work out for me and I could redo a year to improve my grades.
“Many friends back home went out to work to earn enough money to go to university, but then never went.
“Also many British and Dutch come here to farm, because land is so expensive back home. If I was farming in the UK, I would be an employee and not a farmer.”
She is grateful now that her parents decided to make the big move: “I think children in France don’t have to grow up as fast as they do in the UK.
“My friends back home were going out to nightclubs when I was still happy riding my horse.
“That is precious, and I am really happy that Alixe will grow up on a farm in the French countryside.”
NEXT EDITION: Translator Stéphanie Denton-Welburn