Working as an aupair, especially at a “ripe” old age of twenty-four:
Not the first thing that comes to people’s minds when you are fresh out of college.
Not your conventional resume building gig.
Not exactly the most intuitive job in the world.
Many people have their misconceptions about what working as an au pair entails, some (if not too many) assume that it is a glorified term for domestic servant, full-time nanny, home-stay programmes where one exchanges room and board for childcare. In a way, I don’t blame them for having the wrong idea, after all much of my work involves most aspects of a little bit of this and that.
Like all other jobs, you come away from it learning something.
Having being an au pair for nearly one year, I would like to think that there is something distinctly unique about this work experience that makes your person just more complete, more introspective and richer at the end of it.
Knowing that it won’t last forever, knowing that it is your own choice and not a volunteer stint, knowing that it will throw you into the deep end of the pool called life – I mean, it is a lethal cocktail and a hell of a rollercoaster ride, filled with anxiety, a huge sense of responsibility, excitement, hardship and lots of heartache thrown into the mix… not to mention the occasional stomach in the throat sensation.
So I am not photocopying documents in a lovely air-conditioned office (by saying so I’m in no way belittling this very important office task), instead I am chasing after a dog or two, and cleaning up after their misdemeanours in the house.
So I don’t have 10am meetings with my immediate boss discussing how to proceed with the upcoming big project. Instead, I am trying to convince my kid to hurry up before she’s late for class,or eat her salad greens while at the same time explaining to her in a way that is truthful yet not misguiding why men and women love and hate one another so much, and it is perfectly okay to have a partner of the same gender (very important lesson especially in this day and age).
So I don’t have a customer who is not satisfied with her product and wants a refund and I can’t make a decision because my manager is away and now I’m stuck in sh*t six feet deep. Well, instead for me, the dog has run away (for the third time in the week), my kid is crying hysterically, so now I have a runaway hound to hunt and a screaming child to pacify.
So I don’t have a boss that makes me work on Friday evenings till late (and thereby missing my weekly Friday Happy Hour session with my mates). Instead I don’t have the liberty to blow off a day by calling in “sick” after a weekday late-night outing of too much booze and too little sleep*, because every morning I am expected to be a perky, chirpy and happy-looking role model for my kid, not dragging in my heels and racoon eyes smeared in last evening’s makeup.
(*Disclaimer time: I am not saying that people who work in a “regular” job are irresponsible, it is just that if the unfortunate occasion of having a killer hangover has arrived, you can exercise your right to a sick day if you believe you can’t drag yourself to work – good luck explaining that to a 7-year-old child why you are vomiting non-stop in the day with your hair smelling like a mixture of stale cigarette smoke and alcohol without having to make up stories about swashbuckling pirates attacking you with unicorn horns.)
As you can imagine, I am not pleased to have to justify my choice everytime I run into someone who doesn’t appreciate the significance of what I do – even if it is just for a short period of time. But it is now my responsibility, having lived through the experience to talk about what I’ve gained so far.
The opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. Being a sister to my kid who’s an only child has brought her comfort and companionship and much solace, something I am too happy to afford her because I have myself benefited from being surrounded by siblings from day one. And I hate to be clichéd, but I have come to learn that by giving you learn more about yourself than taking, anyday.
The chance to travel, a lot – after all back home at my entry-level gig, having two weeks vacation a year is not going to cut it considering my penchant for wanderlust and my love for travel. I have visited more than 20 cities, countless places of attraction and museums – my favourites (but by no means exhaustive) are the Rhine Falls, the Zugspitze and the Berlin Wall, as well as the city of Venice and Hamburg, and my solo bike trip next to Lake Constance, a beautiful sapphire of a lake in the south of Germany… I have managed to make ends meet – if you are looking to get rich quick, this is definitely not the job you are seeking – while not compromising on my passions and dreams to see the world. I think I did good there.
Learning in-depth the language and culture. I made good (somewhat) of a promise I made to myself two years ago – that I would go to Germany and improve my German. I admit I am often too shy and self-conscious to speak the language, but I have become so much better – only I would know myself, I guess – than before, that I often feel like I could stay here forever… (Entertaining an idea like this is always too dangerous for a wanderbug.) I have learnt some of the regional dialect and slang, and sometimes cannot distinguish between Swabian German and “High” German (or Hoch Deutsch, the German equivalent of Queen’s English). I guess you’d say my immersion is a success.
People! I have made friends here – lovely guys and girls whom I could share my joys and burdens, chat over one too many beers and gallivant around over the weekend and great buddies whom I would write postcards to wherever I go and end up in the future. And my host family has become family away from my own family… people who have left an indelible mark in my life and I’d remember forever.
These days, as I count down to my departure, people kept asking me if I regretted my choice to come here – is this the German roundabout and modest way of asking if I am so in love with Germany that I don’t ever want to leave, perhaps? – and I am surprised they even had to ask.
Right now, the only thing I needed to do is to convince myself to get on that plane and go.
And yes, not to make it sound all gory, but a big part of my heart and soul will undoubtedly stay here for a long, long time to come.
And the Germans got this one perfectly right, I’d not be saying “Farewell, my friends” but more:
Auf Wiedersehen**, meine Freunde! ❤
**Literal translation: Till we meet again