There came a time in my life were everything became too much. My job was suffocating me, I had some personal issues, and I felt like I had drifted away from those close to me – friends and family. I was working long shifts and felt isolated and alone. I was not growing educationally, mentally and spiritually. It felt as though I was stuck and I needed to get away from everyone and everything. I wanted to disappear, and not just leave my job but leave the country.
That was a year before I decided to join a cultural exchange program as an au pair. It was not a decision I made in haste. It took a lot of time trying to convince myself, getting my experience and mindset in the right place, before I actually applied. My sister successfully completed the au pair exchange program in Amsterdam, and I believed if she could do it, so could I. Personally, I love children, and the older I got, the more engrossed I became with them. My sister came back with bittersweet stories – she was homesick almost immediately after arriving in Amsterdam (it took about two months to subside), but when she shared her stories of travelling I knew it was something I wanted to experience.
Things I’ve learned from joining a Cultural Exchange Program as an Au-pair:
1. Being able to do things on my own!
Before I left home, my parents and my sister did everything for me – from cleaning, washing and cooking, to accompanying me for college registration. I never did anything alone. Leaving home, I learned how to fend for myself – because I had to. I had to keep calm when my flights were delayed and I was stranded in Senegal. I had to smile as I asked to be seated alone at a restaurant sometimes and I had to be okay with asking if I was just purchasing one movie ticket. It took some time for me to adjust, and not constantly feel awkward by myself but now I value having that time to myself, to be capable of doing everything on my own.
Whoever said “patience is virtue” – nailed it. Kids, I tell you! I learned how to wait things out, not be pushy and just let some things be. You can get so much done, you can understand situations and people better and you can eventually get your point across if you’re patient enough. Very few things get me worked up now just because I have learned how to be patient (also because I give a damn sometimes)!
Making the right decisions is so important to being responsible. Little things like making sure I’m always punctual, paying my bills/ accounts and taxes on time; calling the cab when you and your friends had too much to drink (and nobody knows where their cell phones are!); and being genuinely nice and respectful to people, definitely goes a long way in being responsible.
Being able to not follow rules gave me a sense of independence. I don’t mean breaking rules; I mean not having rules in place at all to follow. You would think that you would fall off the bandwagon, right? No – it allowed me to do things I wouldn’t necessarily do had I lived at home. Like spending extra money on that nice hotel when going on vacation, or exploring my creative side by painting, or being able to stay out late and sometimes the whole night with friends, just because I could (insert brown parents curfew for daughters here)! I take my independence very seriously, it’s something I hold in high regard.
5. My passion for Travel!
I’ve always loved going on vacation, but only when I lived in the U.S, and took my first solo trip did I realise that I completely loved travelling. Experiencing new cultures, meeting new people and seeing things I saw only in magazines and in the movies prior gave me a euphoric feeing and it only got better from there.
There’s so much more that I’ve learned – little things like being more appreciative of my family, making lifelong friends, knowing my limits and most importantly being brave to the world! For anyone looking to experience life outside of their country, I urge you to look at cultural exchanges programs in other countries.