Five years ago, I graduated from the College of William and Mary. I spent a summer hanging out with my cousins, and then I left for Germany to work as an Au Pair. I had decided to become an au pair because I frankly didn’t know what I really wanted to do (Newsflash: Five years later the story is the same.) I put my profile on an au pair website in the fall and made contact with my AuPairFamily that December. By Christmas 2004, I had agreed to come work for their family! It was an exciting decision and something that relieved the “what are you going to do next year?” pressure that a lot of college seniors feel.
I have always been a conscientious student. I worked hard and got good grades and frankly did everything right, but I put a lot of pressure on myself. I went to a university where I was surrounded by people like me. We all strived to be perfect, and as I got caught up in the whirlwind, I started to feel like I was going to crack. I had quit Spanish my first year of college because I wasn’t passionate about it in the same way I was passionate about history or English, plus, despite the fact that my mom studied abroad twice in college (Spain and Germany), I knew I wasn’t going to leave William and Mary. I loved it there to much.
Fast forward less than a year, and 18 credits, an RA position, an office in my sorority, part-time jobs at the Writing Center and teaching aerobics at the rec center combined with a personal religious conviction that left very little room for failure (this was my personal—and faulty—belief, not the religion) plus a tangle with an eating disorder convinced me that maybe leaving W&M would be a good move. I spent a trimester studying at Oxford and then got a Eurrail pass and traveled with my cousin Kate.
When I got back to Williamsburg and had to think about what I wanted to do, I thought, “Europe was fun. I’ll go there.” Seriously. That’s what I thought. There are a variety of ways to become an Au Pair, but I did it through AuPair World. I liked this website because it’s simple and basic. My friend Tara came through Great AuPair, which is a much prettier website! (I found it too crazy to weed through, but that’s just me.) There are lots of services and agencies that match people up, but the result is the same. In Germany, Au Pairs watch the children in exchange for 260euros/month and German lessons and housing with a family. No one is going to get rich being an au pair, but it’s an awesome experience if you are interested in getting to know another culture better. I didn’t speak German before I came, and I almost wish I could come back now that I know the language. I was always a little self-conscious and stressed that I couldn’t speak German well (it’s the perfectionist in me), so I think I personally would get more out of it with more language ability. (Again, I write as I think about moving to another place where I don’t speak the language. Deep breath.) However, anyone can profit from being an au pair! I don’t think it’s the only way to grow into adulthood (which one of my colleagues laughingly accused me of believing) but especially for students who have gone through their education crossing every t and dotting every i and putting tons of pressure on themselves, it can be a great way to get out of that grind and experience something different.
Because I couldn’t speak any European language except for Spanish, I decided to choose a country based on stereotypes. I know myself. I am punctual, uptight, and type A. I couldn’t see myself hanging out with the Italians or Spanish—they were way too relaxed and their countries seemed too disorganized, so I decided to focus on Northern Europe, and I ended up in a place that suited me perfectly.
When I landed in Frankfurt five years ago, I had no idea how Germany worked. The escalators turn off to save energy, but thinking they were broken I dragged my suitcase down the stairs and groaned when I saw a German businessman step casually onto the escalator. I got a ticket from the Frankfurt airport to Hannover, but I didn’t get a reserved seat and I didn’t know how to check if a seat was reserved. I spent the train ride leaning on my suitcase and trying not to fall asleep. But luckily, when I arrived in Hannover five years ago, a lovely family was there at the train station to welcome me!
And there they were again! (sorry for the blurriness, we were all moving!)
We had a nice, relaxing, just-like-old-times weekend.
We watched Little House on the Prairie (or Unsere Kleine Farm)
They loaned me Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen so I could finish it! I did!!
We went on a family run/bike through the woods, through the old arm fields, and around the Silbersee! No pics, but I got to run my old favorite route twice (Saturday and Sunday). It was fantastic. On Saturday we went to party, but Sunday was a nice family day that started with a gorgeous Sunday breakfast.
Truth. My AuPairFamily was the first German family I ever got to know, and therefore everything they do is the way it should be. We always had cool bread boards for Sunday breakfast and abendbrot, so when I eat with families that don’t have the cool boards, I’m always a little disappointed. Like they aren’t German enough or something.
Ina baked our Sonntagsbroetchen.
Henrik made the eggs.
Kathi provided the ambience. 😉
Lars made his famous lattes, and I took pictures of everything!
Afterward, we went to the zoo. i adore this about the Germans. They know how awful their weather can be, so when it’s nice everyone is outside enjoying the sunshine!
We met two of their grandmas for lunch afterward, and after a little more Unsere Kleine Farm, another perfect run, and some abendbrot, Ina and I made our way to a lecture! It actually happened to be at my old church. Crazy. A Palestinian woman was there talking about her experiences working with a group of Palestinians and Israelis who want to bring about peace in their region. She said a lot of things that stuck with me, but what I found most fascinating was the way she framed the issues. She said it’s not Palestinians vs. Israelis but rather those who want peace vs. those who don’t. Good stuff.