When I went to college at 17, I made a promise to myself that I would never live at home again. Not that I had a bad home life. I came from a supportive family that would always have a room, or in the case of my divorced parents, two rooms, readily available for me to come back to. Still, going back was my biggest fear.
As a teenager, I spent so much time dreaming what it would be like to be on my own. I would watch hours of Samantha Brown specials on Travel Channel in awe of someone who was paid to see the world. My old journal entries consisted of me yelling at my future self, “Dear 25 Year Old Me, I know you’re reading this: You better have done something cool by now,” I would write, “…. tell me you at least went to England or something.” When I finally went away to school and became an adult, I couldn’t let my child self down. With no money, almost no actual travel experience and only some local babysitting on my resume, it was going to be difficult.
I spent hours researching, scoring the Internet for any type of program. It was so hard to find anything that wasn’t an unpaid internship, manual labor, volunteer work or that required a trust fund full of money to do.
Finally, I found a website that would send me overseas to do the one thing I knew how to do… babysit. I created a profile, found a match, chatted with them over Skype and when I was 18, I was paid to spend a summer in Auckland, New Zealand.
Yes, it was awesome. Of course it was awesome. Most importantly though, the experience helped me become the person I am today. Here is what I learned at 18 years old, on the other side of the world.
The feeling of complete independence
No one can tell you how your independence will feel. It is a different experience for everyone. Mine feels like I’m flying, literally soaring. If your independence feels like mine, you feel invincible, like you are exactly in the right place at the right time, doing all the right things and nothing else could possibly be cooler than that moment. If your independence feels like mine, you might also get a bird tattoo… or several. Or maybe you won’t, I’m just saying.
Learning the exhilaration of complete independence has been the best gift I could have ever given myself. When you finally know what it feels like, you know when you aren’t feeling it. It’s like a drug; you’ll always be chasing it, searching for that next high. That’s how travel can become addicting and that’s how I never settle for anything less than my independence.
How to be alone and totally afraid
I won’t lie and say that there were not moments I was absolutely terrified. There were very few points in my life where I had to be on my own. I didn’t have friends at first; I didn’t have a roommate to talk to or a campus full of students to surround myself with. I quickly learned how to be alone with me. Which has allowed me to be totally fine watching Gilmore Girls on a Friday night by myself. Oh, and also be confident in all of life’s adventures.
How to make new friends, who are also cooler than you
Up until this point, all of the friends I had, were more or less, forced upon me. I mean that in a good way, they were the friends I sat next to in class or went to college orientation with.
I was so motivated to go out and meet new people, I tried everything. I was the annoying girl at the bar or café that kept trying to start a conversation with you, I even tried to invite my hair stylist out for a girls night. I joined a book club, auditioned for local plays and wasn’t afraid to actually call people my that employer said, “might be a good contact.” In the end, I ended up with a great group of friends from all over the world. Some of them were au pairs, others were ex pats, and then there were the locals who were so proud to show me the best parts about living in Auckland. Since then I have never been afraid to move to a city where I did not know anyone and because of that, I’ve made lifelong, valuable friendships.
How to be a world traveller, not a tourist
Yes, there is a difference. As a traveller, you immerse yourself into a different culture. An Au Pair lives with their family, they go through everyday life with them. My family was great and took me to tourist spots so I could also see more of New Zealand, but I learned more trying to figure out how to fit my life into theirs. I learned to drive on the other side of the road, cook dishes I had never heard of before; I attended community events, made local friends and shopped at new stores. I paid taxes and applied for a working visa.
All of these things took me out of my comfort zone, forced me to make sacrifices and compromises on the way I was living and made me a true Kiwi for the time I was there.
How to market myself to future employers
Lets not forget I was doing a job, you guys. I worked Monday-Friday like a normal person. Mostly, I woke the kids up for school, made meals, took them to activities and helped them with homework. Sometimes their mother would travel for work and I became their sole guardian.
The girls taught me responsibility. I had just begun to take care of myself and now I was in charge of the well being of two young girls. I learned how to be a good mentor to kids, when I still felt like a kid in a lot of ways. They looked to me for guidance and support. Not to mention fashion tips, relationship advice and all of the best American pop culture gossip.
Being an Au Pair ultimately inspired me to become a teacher, I saw first hand the impression a good role model can have on young people. Though it has been almost ten years since I was in New Zealand, I can still go into job interviews confident that I have had the experiences to help me thrive and be the best educator I can be. Not to mention that in today’s world, employers are looking for self-starters, adventurous and proactive candidates for their positions.
It’s pretty easy
In the last 10 years, there has not been a time when this has come up in conversation and the person hasn’t responded, “That’s so cool, I wish I could do something like that.” I’ve always wondered why people thought I was special, or exceptionally gifted. I can tell you, I am neither of those things. I just assumed there was a way it could be done.