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Meet the Tech Employee who Stepped Away From the Corporate Rat Race to Become a Pastry Chef

Here's why Valerie Valcourt chose her passion over an established career.
Cover Image Source: Baking | Unsplash | Photo by Holly Stratton
Cover Image Source: Baking | Unsplash | Photo by Holly Stratton

For most professionals achieving success in our day and age is synonymous with climbing the corporate ladder. But some individuals dare to deviate and seek fulfillment in their passion, which they turn monetize to build full-fledged businesses. Such is the case of one former six-figure tech worker who traded algorithms for éclairs, abandoning the bustling tech hubs of Silicon Valley for the quaint charm of France.

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In 2020, while earning over $100,000 at a major company in Seattle, Valerie Valcourt found herself grappling with a sense of discontentment. "I was at a really low place," she recalls, pondering what would truly bring her joy. It was then that she revisited a long-held dream: to live abroad and pursue a culinary education.

She saved $20,000 by relocating to her family's home in Connecticut and, by mid-2022, secured acceptance into a culinary program in the south of France. January 2023 marked the beginning of her transformative experience as she relocated to France to pursue an intensive three-month pastry course, coupled with French language lessons, followed by a four-month internship.

The financial commitment totaled approximately $10,000 for tuition and an additional $1,900 for housing.


Despite the drastic reduction in income, transitioning from a six-figure salary to earning roughly $21,705 annually as a pastry assistant, Valcourt found a sense of contentment and financial stability in her new life.

Initially, her employer provides seasonal housing, a perk that extends until April. Upon securing her own accommodation, she anticipates monthly rental expenses of approximately $326 for a studio or $543 for a one-bedroom apartment. Whereas in the US, she recalls never paying less than $800 monthly for rent, even when sharing accommodations with roommates.

Given her employment in the restaurant industry, Valcourt predominantly relies on meals provided at work, minimizing grocery expenses. However, she plans to allocate funds for her personal food budget. She estimates that bi-weekly grocery trips may amount to $33 on average, with occasional indulgences pushing the expenditure to around $55. 

"I’m not making tons of money, but I can afford to live here. I can have this pastry job, build up my resume, and build up myself to get to the level I want to and not have to worry about where I’m going to put my head at night," she said.

Pies | Craig Dennis | Pexels
Image Source: Pies | Photo by Craig Dennis | Pexels

Transportation proved both convenient and affordable, with proximity to work enabling easy access on foot and budget-friendly travel options within France and across Europe. Valcourt could save between $1,300 and $1,500 monthly, allowing her to explore more of the country and plan for future endeavors.

Beyond financial considerations, the French approach to work-life balance, including generous vacation allowances and a commitment to leave work at the workplace, stood in stark contrast to the norms prevalent in American work culture.

"The French are very adamant about not working overtime. When it’s time to stop, it’s time to stop, go home, and rest," she said.

Chicago’s Soul Prime Restaurant. Pexels | By ELEVATE
Image Source: Pexels | Photo by ELEVATE

Valcourt harbors no definitive plans and while a return to the U.S. is possible in the near future, she remains open to other experiences.