Such a spontaneous thing-- to pause your life in your country to live a year abroad in the home of another family as an au pair. It's a learning and growing process from the very beginning. I am 18 years old and have learned so much in the Netherlands since I got here two months ago. Things about life, culture differences, and myself.
The biggest thing I've learned since applying at GeoVisions to become an au pair is you cannot plan the next 10 years of your life and expect everything to go accordingly. Last year, I originally planned ongoing to college for two years and university for three years. I then decided to take a year off, work from June to December, and live with my uncle in Vancouver. (I live in Montreal, which is a three-hour flight to Vancouver) and wanted to explore the west coast of Canada.
In the middle of the summer, I got fired from my new job as a saleswoman at a sports clothing store. It felt like the worst thing that ever happened to me. Eventually, I had to start looking for a new job. My brother told me "get a job abroad! Why not?" Well, I'm an 18-year old girl. So safety and lack of experience were stopping me. But I looked around anyway. I looked at the prices for renting rooms in different countries and for job openings, things like that. On the side, there was this link called "GeoVisions". So I clicked on it, ended up paying the fee at one in the morning, half asleep. Two days later, I received a call from someone working there! I had almost completely forgotten about it.
Two months later, I was on a flight on my way to Amsterdam, The Netherlands to au pair. So I can now say that the worst thing that ever happened to me (losing my job, which I wasn't good at anyway) led me to the experience of a lifetime. Here are some things I have learned while being an au pair:
- Planning too far ahead is pointless because it never ends up the way you expect.
- Time is money! I think time is more precious than money. You may lose or spend your money, but you can make more. You will never re-gain time you spend. One year in a different country is not a lot.
You must take every chance you get to do something or to go somewhere because before you know it, it will be time to go home.
Also, with much free time, there's the opportunity to try new things and habits (that you didn't start in the past because of being too 'busy') such as trying new recipes, working out, reading, meditating, going for long walks, etc. It's a really good opportunity to become at peace with yourself, and also to get to know yourself.
3. Money management. This is a big one. As an au pair, I am lucky. Au pairs don't have to pay for accommodations or food, and we get an amount of deduction for our cell phones as well. This only leaves hygiene products to buy for ourselves (shampoo, deodorant, soap, etc.) and the rest goes to personal spending. That personal spending needs to be spent wisely! It's very easy to be broke because you have no bills to pay.
4. Let it go- of the past and of people. It's not healthy to hang on to the people who used to be your closest friends, and to be nostalgic. To move forward is very important. Make friends and meet new people with an open mind- open to different ideas and cultures.
Here are some things I have learned about the Dutch culture:
- They're so simple, honest and polite.
- They love bread and cheese, and their favorite cookie is the classic Stroopwafel.
- On average, they are very tall.
- The bicycle and train are their main ways of transportation.
- Procrastination is a SIN.
- Make friends, or you'll go crazy. Au pairs are always looking for new friends.
- Alone time is important. Journaling about your experience is also great for clearing the mind.
- Give yourself time to adapt and keep your head up. It;s definitely worth it!
- If you can do something at home (example, go to a zoo) do not do it abroad. It's a waste of time and money in a different country where you have limited time.
- Stay open-minded
- Be responsible. You will be taking care of other people's children.
- Communication and production are the two keys to having a good relationship with the host family.
- Until you are comfortable and open with your host family, they will not be comfortable either.
- Make the best out of everything, take all things as an opportunity.
Being an au pair is truly an experience of a lifetime. I would recommend it to any young adult looking for their passion in life, who wants to explore different cultures around the world.
When I go back to my normal life in August, I will have learned so much about myself and about life. And for that, I am thankful.