Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How It All Began

Everyone keeps asking me.... What made you do it? Why are you going? How did you do it?

I'm here to tell it from the beginning.

The Moment

Back in late January of 2011, I had my Elizabeth Gilbert/Frances Mayes moment. That moment that you just knew that you were unhappy with your current situation overall, where you just felt like you needed a permanent change in your life. I'm 24, I'm single, I have no kids, I have no significant other. I craved adventure into the unknown, I had dreams of getting immersed in a completely different culture. One restless night, my fingertips casually typed in "jobs that travel internationally". Among the international MBA programs, teaching English jobs, and Peace Corps results, popped up a website about becoming an Au Pair.

Become an Au Pair

For those unfamiliar with the term "Au Pair", Wikipedia states that "the title comes from the French term au pair, meaning "on a par" or "equal to", indicating that the relationship is intended to be one of equals: the au pair is intended to become a member of the family, albeit a temporary one, rather than a domestic servant. Typically, au pairs take on a share of the family's responsibility for childcare as well as some housework, and receive a small monetary allowance for personal use."

The lightbulb went off in my head. Why didn't I think of it before? I've known girls that have done it here in Jacksonville and they enjoyed it. In exchange for watching and teaching children, I have the ability to live in another country, immerse myself completely into the life of a family abroad. For those that know me... I love children. I've been babysitting since I was 12, I worked in daycares and summer camps, this would be a perfect opportunity to put that experience to good use.

So the first weekend in February, I posted my profile on Au Pair World. I quickly learned the main things that families were looking for.... a driver's license (many young adults in Europe don't get them until their 20's) previous experience with working with children, and some sort of basic knowledge of a foreign language. My profile had some background information on me, my hobbies, my experiences, what countries I'd like to work in, how long I want to stay, what languages I can speak, what age groups I'd like to watch after. The beauty of Au Pair World is that they have an "Easy Match" system, where they display matches for families that match your profile.

The Search Begins

My heart skipped a beat when I got my first contact from a family. I thought to myself "Wow. This is it. It's beginning. Am I really doing this?" Quickly, one after another, I was getting e-mails from across Europe. Italy, Spain, the UK, Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, Switzerland.... cities like Lyon, Nice, Barcelona, Rome, Geneva, Berlin, Edinburgh, and finally Paris. I knew deep down that I wanted to end up in France. I took 2 years of High School French and I've kept up with it ever since. I've been to France 3 times. It was meant to be. Every day, I'd get emails and I would begin corresponding with certain families I liked. Once it got into serious talks with a family, we set up a interview session via Skype. Of the few families I spoke with, one seemed like a good fit, but they offered the position to the girl before me (that they didn't think would accept their offer), I also had a mother of 13 year old triplets that only wanted me there to do her ironing and laundry and housework. A few interviews later, I was starting to wonder when I'd find my perfect match.

A Match, Finally

One day, at the end of March, I received an email from a family that came up as one of my EasyMatches. Right from the first initial emails we sent back and forth I had a really good feeling about this family. We had a lot in common, the mother had previously been an Au Pair in London, and they were located in the suburbs of Paris. It was clear what the family expected of me, and what they wished for me to experience as a member of their extended family. After two weeks of emails, we set up a time for a Skype session for a Friday afternoon in April. Once we began our Skype session, conversation flowed quite easily. I was introduced to the children, I'll call them O (boy, 3 years old) and M (girl, 1 year old). I spoke with the Husband, got a tour of the house, talked about some family things. At the end of our two hour conversation... it came to the point where she asked me if I would be able to give her an answer that day if I would become their au pair. And my answer was "YES." Finally, a yes. It felt so good to say it. Two months of searching and it had come to an end. I had found my host family.

Next up.... the Visa process.

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