There I stood. The water streaming down the drain. For a moment time was frozen. In this moment I took in the sound, the smell and the feeling of a place that was still very much unknown to me. I was in Amsterdam. 24 hours prior to being in Amsterdam I was still on South African soil. I was 20 years old and made the decision to go to the Netherlands for 12 months as an au pair from 2014-2015. This was my first time traveling outside of the boarders of South Africa.
Prior to venturing out to the Netherlands, I did research on how to become an au pair and made the arrangements with an au pair agency all by myself. Reality only hit me of what I’ve done the evening I arrived to my host family in Amsterdam. I was tired after my long travel and a 24hour flight delay from South Africa.
I had dinner with my new Dutch host family. Afterwards I went for a shower. That moment in the shower, when time froze, I was overwhelmed for a short second with some sort of a feeling that was filled with fear. I felt far from what I knew as home. I felt all alone in the unknown. The moment passed and I realized that I was not alone but just all on my own now. I realized that the next twelve months will be what I make out of it.
I decided to learn the new sounds and the new language. I decided to learn how the Dutch do life different from what I’ve known for the past 20 years. I made the decision to do as the Dutch do, to settle in the culture that was new to me without losing my core values in life. The thing is that no one is responsible for your life. More so, no one is responsible for what you make out of your au pair journey.
I’ve met a lot of au pairs who did nothing more than complain endlessly. They were not happy and they completed their time as an au pair still not being happy. It’s like they were seeking for something else, instead of making the best of what they had. Life as an au pair will not always be easy. Reality is that nothing in life you do will always be easy. I decided that if I can’t complete an au pair journey and be happy then I won’t be able to complete anything in life to my full ability.
I used my time as an au pair as an opportunity to teach me about life, to prepare me for what is ahead of my life and for bigger things. If you have just embarked on your au pair journey or if you have been an au pair for a while already, take these guidelines to make the most of your time as an au pair abroad.
1. Accept that life as an au pair is not always fun and perfect.
2. Realize that you’re responsible for what you make out of it. Opportunities will rarely find you. Take action, go seek the opportunities and go for them!
3. Like everything else in life, work is work. Be the best and most responsible au pair you can be. Take ownership of your working hours. When you are on duty challenge yourself to be the best possible au pair you can be. Be fully present as an au pair in your working hours. When you are off duty you are free to snap out of au pair character and be present in other areas of your life.
4. It’s temporary. It’s so short actually. It’s something that goes by. You’re there now, you might as well make the most out of where you are in the situation you are in.
5. This is a great, safe place to deal with conflict. When you disagree with your host family, who are also your employer, then use this opportunity to figure out how to communicate and to solve disagreements. This is the most comfortable and easy place where you can develop this skill. You don’t really have much to loose. In a higher work place later in your life you will have to deal with various kind of conflict with different kind of people on a higher level with much more to lose.
6. Just as you can develop the skill mentioned in number 5, there are a lot of areas in life that you can grow in or learn from. Things you can develop.
7. Don’t call home every day. Get on your own time zone now and leave the time in your home country behind. For now. If you are talking with family and friends back home all the time and trying to keep up with what time it is in your home country then you are not mentally in your own life and on your own time zone. You’re just making life harder for yourself then.
8. Set short term goals for yourself. Either to do a small road trip at least once a month or to develop a language skill. Learn a new hobby. You can also set goals with your host kids. Like by the end of a certain time they should know all 50 states. Great opportunity for you to learn with them as well!
9. See every challenge as an opportunity for personal growth. I once read a quote; “don’t go through life, grow through life.”
10. Make the unknown, known to yourself. Make the uncomfortable zone your comfort zone. Once it gets comfort, find something new to get yourself in that is out of your comfort zone again, and then make that a comfort zone for yourself as well! And so it continues.
If you have any guidelines to share or a part of your own experience when you first realized how far you are from home, please share in the comment section! Looking forward to hear from current au pairs or former au pairs!
Nitanja, Au Pair Buzz
20 June 2018