The beginning of my Au Pair journey, and how I got to know myself abroad.
In 2013, I decided to embark the greatest journey of my life. I decided to fulfill my biggest dream: Living the American dream. Since I was five years old I told my parents that one day, I will be living in the US. My parents laughed at me at times and surely did not take me seriously.
When I turned 19, I told them the very first time about my plans to become an Au Pair in the US.
They were not happy. Actually, they were quite upset.
Why would our daughter leave Germany to end up in a foreign country, not knowing anyone personally? Why would she actively decide to postpone her study plans to go to America? Back then, I did not understand. I just bluntly told them:
“I pay for everything myself. I saved up some money. Your only responsibility is to bring me to the airport.”
Today, being in my mid-twenties I understood my parents’ concerns. They themselves left their country when I wasn’t even born. They build up a life in Germany, without knowing the language nor culture and struggled tremendously in the beginning years. Why would they want their daughter to go through a similar process?
After a few months, I was able to convince them that this was really something I wanted to do. I did not want to go to college straight after high school nor did I want to spend the rest of my life in my tiny hometown. I had to leave. And it turned out to be the journey of my life.
Love at first sight
I cannot even tell you the roller coaster of emotions I did experience in my stay in the US. The application process to find the right fitting family resembled a job interview. Rejects, led on opportunities, disappointment. And then finally, out of nowhere, you find the perfect fit. Your excitement to finally step foot into the unknown country increases. You will doubt yourself and your decision numerous times, but still, the excitement is greater than any insecurity. The moment I said goodbye to my family and embarked my journey to the USA, I knew something would change. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Arriving in NYC, I was overwhelmed by its busyness. The times square, Brooklyn bridge and the Central Park. Having my very own “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”- Moment. I felt like my life was a movie.
When I arrived at my “new home” in California, meeting my host family and host kids, I knew I had just won the jackpot. I was able to experience my own American dream in the Central Coast of California, near to San Luis Obispo. I was intrigued by the beaches, the sunny weather, the fog that rolled out each day and the laid back people. I felt like the luckiest girl alive and I felt like I arrived home. After a year, I decided to stay for two. I couldn’t just leave yet. I wasn’t ready. So I embarked my second journey in Upstate New York, where I spent another wonderful year in the US.
So how exactly did I find myself while experiencing the American dream as an Au Pair?
1. I became a lot more confident
First off, I gained a lot more confidence. I have never been a shy person, but speaking English intimated me tremendously at the beginning of my journey. I became extremely insecure. After a couple of days, I started to talk more and observed the way that people spoke around me. Since then, my English levels have improved in such a way that even Americans themselves thought I was one of them. But not only my English gave a confidence boost. My appearance too. Due to changing my diet and being more active in joining the gym, hiking every weekend and walking up and down the hills with the kids in the stroller, I started to lose weight without even noticing it myself. Only after my clothes began to become too big, I was aware of the change that my body went through. I began to become more outgoing, enjoyed life and found happiness in being myself.
2. I understood what I wanted in life
Most of my youth, I experienced people underestimating me, thinking less of me or being surprised that I actually finished the highest degree in high school. And it showed. I felt I wasn’t smart enough to actually finish college, I thought I wasn’t ambitious enough to follow my dreams. My host parents especially have become a valuable part of the journey of finding myself. They encouraged me in any way possible, challenged me when I was about to give up or did not even try. I felt like I have blossomed. This support helped me tremendously in my personal growth and it made me understand what I wanted in life. Today I can proudly say that I am finishing up my degree, with the aim to continue a master. Who would have ever thought?
3. I found my passion for traveling
The USA was the beginning of my love for traveling. It has always been a part of me, but only by becoming an Au Pair I have seized the opportunity in solo traveling. It began with a quick solo trip to Los Angeles. I realized I needed to see more. Experience more. I needed to step out of my comfort zone and discover more of the US. After returning to Europe in 2015, I continuously looked for opportunities to get out and explore more of the world. There was still so much to see, how could I ever settle?
4. I went through hard times
A car accident, a breakup, breaking my ankle are just a few things to name, of what I have experienced in my time abroad. To be honest, these are stories that I tell for fun. It was tough dealing with these issues while being abroad, but it made me a lot stronger. You are alone in this. But you know what, after bad days the greater days are even sweeter. I honestly had more good times than bad times in the US, but that is because my overall attitude to the problem changed while I was there. If it couldn’t get fixed, there is no reason to dwell about it. I learned that certain things happen for a reason, which redirects you in a better direction. I am thankful for the good as well as the bad things that happened to me along my journey.
5. I became more independent
As an Au Pair, you are responsible for your host children and you significantly learn how to become more independent. You need to be the adult and your action reflects on how those children grow up. You literally grow up with them! In both of my host families, I have experienced amazing children, which taught me a lot more about myself than I ever could. I learned patience, unleashing my inner child and that what it is like to care for another child like it is your own. You take care of these children by giving them your attention, care, you feed them, educate them and take care of the household. You basically get a taste of your mom skills.
6. I practiced more self-care
k Flying to America was the first decision I made for myself. I made it for me. I was selfish to find myself. And I loved every second of it. I found a sense of style there, took care of my body by regular exercise and nourished it with healthy foods over the day while enjoying drinks and dinners with friends. I treated my skin with care, enjoyed some alone time at the beach when needed it and hung out with friends when I wanted. Up until the last months of my journey, I kept an Au Pair blog going, functioning as a source of information for other Au Pairs, keeping my family and friends updated and helping me to put my thoughts, feelings, and experiences in words. I still love looking at the posts I wrote, as it reminds me right back when I wrote them. I learned that being selfish sometimes for your own greater good is completely ok and sometimes even necessary. I learned my worth and how I could take care of my body and soul.
7. I made friends from all around the world
Making friends from all around the world has probably been the most rewarding part of being an Au Pair. Whether it was locals, other Au Pairs or travelers you randomly met in a hostel – there are so many great people that taught me so much about different cultures. This is another reason why I decided to study at an international university – I wanted to keep experiencing the different cultures, opinions, and personalities around me. There are probably a lot more reasons I can name which contributed to who I am today.
If you are still not convinced if you should follow your dream, I am telling you now: Go for it. There will always be times I struggle, but I would just keep reminding myself of who I am and who I was back then. I did not come so far, to come only so far. 😉
For those of you who are interested in the Au Pair program, have questions or would like to talk about tips & tricks on becoming an Au Pair, feel free to message me. In addition, I am currently working on a free guide which will give you checklists, possible skype interview questions, and tips for your Au Pair journey. Stay tuned!
If you are already traveling the US, check out my travel guides at: karolinejagel.com/USA