Expat Journal: Facing my fears
This week in a guest editorial, we invite a novice young expat, Louise Osborne, 22, to detail her experiences moving to Germany as an au pair.
This is not the first time that I have lived abroad, actually. During my third year studying English and linguistics at Roehampton University in London, I was required to do a year at a Spanish University.
I'll admit that year wasn't such a great success.
I partied too much, spent too much time in a drunken haze and found myself depressed, home sick and eager to go home to my boyfriend, friends and family.
That came as a shock -- I had always wanted to travel, experience new cultures and learn new languages. I realized, though, how difficult it was to be alone and far away from home. So you can imagine I wasn't eager to do it again.
You would be wrong.
After university ended in June, I had itchy feet. I couldn't help it. I had dreams of becoming a journalist, and an empty and uncertain future lay before me. I also had a German friend I had made in Spain, who was always there for me to talk to and comfort me -- in my language. Maybe it was time to return the favour -- in hers.
And besides, with some maybe heavily filtered retrospection, I realized that while my time in Spain included some of the worst times in my life, they also included some of the best.
I struggled with the decision. But in the end, I decided to try and overcome my fears. The best way to begin was to find a job that let me live rent-free. I had a friend that had had a great experience living with a family as an au pair so I decided to register onto the website, aupairworld.net. I received many offers from families and finally chose one that I felt would suit me.
I arranged an initial visit with the family to meet them and see where they lived. I arrived in Mainz and made my way by bus to their home. The first day was great, as I got to know the family: a Canadian-German couple with two children. The mum and I quickly learned that we shared a love of American TV shows -- we would watch them once the children were in bed.
And still, things started to go wrong.
For example, even though I had studied German at school, I found communicating with the children tough: the eldest, at 3, preferred to speak German.
And when I went to the language school to sign up for German classes, they wanted to test my written and spoken German in order to place me in the appropriate class. A hard-looking German woman came in to listen to me speak. I blanked.
I started thinking about what it would mean to actually live in Germany and be away from home again. Contracts for au pairs in Germany dictate that one can only work 30 hours a week, which is a dream to many. But I started to panic that in my free time, I would get bored and not know what to do with myself. In truth, I was scared that I would get in the same situation that I had found myself in Spain. My fears resurfaced.
When I returned to the UK, I debated returning to Germany -- I thought it might be a mistake. But the thought of letting down my friend and the family who wanted to take me into their home stopped me.
Reluctantly, I packed my bags, said goodbye to my world once again and made the journey to my new home.
Two months later, I can’t believe I was scared and reluctant to move to Germany. I love living with the family and being integrated into the German community. The eldest child has developed her English but even when she speaks in German, I can finally understand her.
At the beginning of the experience I couldn’t wait to go home. But now, I know that when it comes time to leave, I won’t want to go. Even though it can be difficult living with a family that is not your own, it is so rewarding watching the family and children grow. It has also been great to see how everything functions in Germany and learning to adapt myself. Facing my initial fears has made them disappear completely and now all I want to do is travel and experience even more.
Louise Osborne / Expatica
19th December 2007
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