I have lived in Australia for 10 months today, meaning I now have exactly 60 days left in this country. Being an au pair can be an enticing way to travel the world, especially when you plan ahead and have your job secured before leaving the country. I care for a 4 year old and a one year old after being hired while I was still in university last year. For those considering the big move, or just curious about a way to travel while making regular income, here is some advice based directly on my experience:
1. Everything is exciting.
Okay, yes, we’ll start with the obvious. Despite that I had skyped with my host family only twice since we’d “matched”, I was thrilled to touch down in Brisbane and get to finally meet them. I was thrilled to be in another country, driving on the opposite side of the road, seeing all kinds of unfamiliar birds, lizards and plants right of the bat! It’s a bit of an absurd how little I knew about Brett and Jacqui, my host parents, before arriving, but not uncommon.
You often email your host family a lot before arrival, but how much time can a busy 20-something and a family of four really find to Skype or Facetime? Things could have gone horribly wrong, but, I was really excited. Life after university was exciting. Traveling to another country with a job, 3 day work weeks, and a whole lot of free time was exciting. Australia was exciting. Ten months in, it’s still exciting! There is still so much I haven’t done. Being overseas almost always offers something to be excited by because there are so many firsts to experience, especially (I imagine) in the first year.
2. It’s nerve-wracking and intimidating!
So many things about arriving in Australia were instantly intimidating! I found myself daunted by spending 365 days away from home and people I already missed. Learning to drive on the left side of the road was a LOT scarier than I thought it would be (though once I got used to it, I totally conquered it!) and I found it nerve-wracking sometimes to approach my host family when I wanted to do something independently. I can be shy and very eager to please, and I always questioned if what I was interested in doing seemed worth-doing to them.
Now, maybe that’s simply my personality, and/or a part of the experience of being an au pair. All I know is when I was on the plane I was so excited to carve my own path and spend my days off exploring and doing things by myself and as soon as I actually arrived… I got nervous. I’ve talked to a lot of au pairs who, despite having differing personalities, feel the same.
It seems it’s natural to feel comfortable with your role in the family, but not necessarily as a foreigner in a new country right away. It takes a lot of confidence to find your footing in a community that is not your own, especially among the locals! One of the most important things to know for this experience is to know that that is okay! I branched out beyond the family when I was ready to, and I have a great variety in my Australian life now – a variety that fits my own needs/personality perfectly.
The perk of all the discomfort though is that you learn ways to comfort yourself when you spend time alone. After all, I know when I was in college I was rarely actually alone. Now, I’ve learned when I want to be by myself, and when I don’t. Living with kids is also a good way to learn this lesson. Alone time becomes exponentially more valuable.
3. Others may not relate.
Moving across the world is one thing, living where you work is another, being with kids 24/7 is too and it all can be hard to describe! Sometimes you get tired of meeting people, or getting to know people, and just want to be around people who already know you! This is where au pair Facebook groups can really come in handy. Though I didn’t make friends with many other au pairs, I have one friend from Bristol, England who is one of the best things that has come of my trip to Australia! We travelled together, enjoyed Brisbane together and have been each other’s sounding boards.
Even though she’s left Brisbane, she’s still around on Facebook if I need to talk about something. Finding ways to articulate specific aspects of my experience to my significant other or my friends was definitely tough, but ultimately the people who care about you back home want to hear about your experience and usually strive to understand. Though it can be a bit isolating, it’s also fun to know you’re the only one of your friends who’s gotten to do something so out of the box!
4. And despite any loneliness, it’s okay not to like everyone you meet. It’s even more okay to know what you like, and what you don’t.
You may go to an au pair meet up, or arrange a trip to a touristy spot with a bunch of fellow nannies and come back thinking, I didn’t have anything in common with those girls other than my job. Being an au pair is a job that attracts all kinds of people, and just because it’s an easy way to meet more people doesn’t mean it’s the only way. It took me a lot of forcing myself to go out in these big groups to realize and accept that it just wasn’t working for me.
I prefer the company of one or two people, and I also can tell if I click with someone essentially right away. Having to spend the entire day on an excursion with people that I realized hours ago I wasn’t going to hit it off with, well it just wasn’t the best way to spend my time because I wasn’t enjoying it! That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for everyone though, it just wasn’t for me. And once I realized that that wasn’t what I liked, I became more open to meeting people one on one, and making friends who weren’t just other nannies. One of my best friends here is a mom I met while out with the girls at a museum! Should people be given a chance? Of course.
But just because I was getting a bit lonely, didn’t mean I needed to force myself to hang out with people who I didn’t feel great around. I’m confident that my small circle here in Brisbane now is perfect for me, and something else might be perfect for another girl traveling. I think it’s important to be open to new experiences and new people, but even more important to understand that works for you isn’t always what works for everyone else.
5. It can be hard living in a home that isn’t yours.
You have to come to terms with the fact that ultimately, you are living at work. Not only does that mean that you are frequently predisposed to working late, extra, or on the weekend at moments notice… but it also makes you conscious of any differences between you and the family’s way of doing things. When you’re an au pair, you live with your boss. Imagine what that would be like in a regular job. If you spent your whole weekend exhausted, watching Netflix – they’d know. If you accidentally left the car unlocked overnight, or some dishes in the sink… it’d be their things you hadn’t taken proper care of, not yours.
Basically all these things that we normally consider part of our private, home lives are now something our employer is privy to almost constantly. It’s funny though because in the “work” environment of being an au pair, it has some perks. You are treated with a lot of attention and care by a family who wants to make a good impression and assure you are comfortable, your work is such a part of your daily life that it doesn’t often feel like work, and there’s a good chance the family/employer you picked you picked because you got along well with.
Still, sometimes it is just hard. The best advice I have is to be conscious of treating all job-aspects like a job, and getting yourself out of the house when you need a break.
After living out of home for nearly four years, being an au pair can feel oddly like being back with your parents, especially if you enjoy your independence. I don’t love having to answer to someone in all aspects of my life again all of the sudden, in fact it’s something I still wrestle with even ten months in. However, ultimately it is a temporary situation and you’ll have the best experience if you remember that it’s all a part of the experience and you won’t be checking in with your host mum about dinner plans for the rest of your life.
6. There can be a lot of indecision, but it pays to be decisive.
Another au pair once said while we were with a group of fellow au pairs, trying to decide what we wanted for lunch – “I never met an au pair who was decisive” and it’s fairly true. After all, when you move across the world to join another person’s family, you’re usually pretty open to other’s choices.
I am really not decisive. I’m proud of my ability to go with the flow.
I used to let Jacqui make a lot of my choices. I take her advice for when to cut my hair and what to bring to drink at parties. What to do when I go somewhere she’s been and where to get dinner out. But there are some decisions you can only make for yourself. Such as, where to travel, how to travel, how much money to spend, and how long you’re going to stay. Making all these decisions for myself was a great experience. I learned from things that didn’t work well, and I had a great time when things did. I learned how to ask for what I wanted even from the people who intimidated me the most, simply because I grew more confident in my own decisions.
One of the biggest decisions I made was the one not to stay in Australia for an additional year.
I decided not to do it even though I hated the idea that Jacqui might be disappointed.
I decided not to do it even though I would love to live here and I always, always said that I would do farm work if it was an option for me, it just wasn’t.
I decided not to do it even though another au pair being with the girls next year makes me really sad.
The fact that I made a real, decisive decision about it is honestly hard to say outloud. Logistically, it makes sense that we just don’t quite have enough time. We’d have had to rearrange a lot of our plans. It’d have been easy to end up not hitting my 88 days and missing out on 88 days with a family I adore, so it was an easier decision to stick with our original plan.
Its harder to say that I’ve made a decisive decision not to stay in Australia beyond June 22nd, 2017 because I don’t want to.
Because I do want to!
But I also know now that I don’t. It’s just not the right time for me. I have things I need to figure out. I have a car, and people I love and miss, and a degree I don’t know how I want to use. It’s okay to know what I want. Deciding whether or not to stay forced me to be decisive, and I matured from that. Which brings me to my final point,
7. It forces you to grow.
When you make mistakes, you are the only one to be accountable for them. That forces you to either change, or push them under the rug only to have them bite ya in the ass. Ultimately, you learn a lot – both little things like to be careful with sorting the laundry and bigger things like communication and accountability.
When you had more free time than ever before in your life, you learned what you truly enjoy doing. Sometimes that’s adventuring and exploring, sometimes that’s seeing a movie at the theatre by yourself. Sometimes it’s going out in a big group of other au pairs, and sometimes it’s staying at home and Skyping with someone you really miss. But each decision teaches you a little bit about yourself, if you’re paying attention.
When you are the only one that really knows you in a country full of strangers – you get to know yourself.
And it is really life-changing.