I still remember how my legs were shaking when I was saying goodbye to my parents at the airport. A few minutes later my heart went crazy when I was about to check in. There it was – I was about to become an Au Pair. My very first time when I had to count only for myself, left alone between Okęcie and Heathrow. It was an emotional rollercoaster. And it was only the beginning.
I wrote this post almost two years ago. I know that it’s not written in the best way possible but despite it all, I decided to publish it. I still remember things that I’ve learnt during my Au Pair program in Winchester, even though it’s been almost 3 years now! So here it comes…
Many people have told me that Au Pair is a mistake or even foolishness. Luckily, I had a different opinion. When I was coming back to Poland, I was even more sure that my decision was indeed right.
When I was leaving, I left my host family a little gift. The most important was an envelope with “What I know” written on it. Inside, there was a letter with 30 sentences about my experience there and lessons that I’ve learnt. Some of them were more humorous. (“You shouldn’t scream and run away from the crowd of angry cows because they might chase you and it’s not very nice then”). Some of them were more serious… Take a look! It’s not a post only for (future) Au Pairs.
1. TINY AU PAIR IN THE BIG WORLD
My first Au Pair adventure began in 2016. I was only 18 with no previous experience. All my life I was living with my parents. I just graduated high school and basically, I didn’t know much about life.
And then, all the sudden, everything has changed. Just imagine: you are in a foreign country where everyone speaks a foreign language. You go to your new house to live with people you don’t know and take care of their children who don’t even understand you.
It might sound a little uninspiring, but for me, such a deep water jump was one of the best things that I could do. It allowed me to understand that… The civilized world is not actually that scary.
Sometimes you can feel paralyzed when you are abroad in a completely unknown city.
Shit happens… You lose your wallet and you have to go to the police station, settle your bank account or just ask for directions. At first, you will probably have a language barrier, you will be scared and stressed. But that’s fine. I’ve learnt that sometimes when you have a problem you can just… ask for help. Maybe someone won’t give it to you at once, but friendly people are everywhere and thanks to them, a vision of the great world doesn’t seem so scary anymore.
2. YOU DON’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT, BUT YOU MIGHT GET WHAT YOU NEED
I remember the first host family offer that I got. It was from an Asian family of Buddhist doctors who lived in the very heart of Manchester. They had one seven-year-old daughter. My responsibilities would be to take her to school and play a little bit with her after school. Nothing more. Having fun and not doing anything – it seemed perfect! I was pretty excited about this opportunity but just before I was about to book a flight… They moved out to New Zealand and that was it.
In the end, instead of to Manchester, I moved to Winchester. It was a small town… No, wait. I actually lived in a village 6 km away from the city. What’s more, the buses went like four times per day only.
I admit that I chose this family a little bit too quickly. Honestly, vision of an English village wasn’t very convincing for me. I took the offer only because I was quite desperate but…
This choice turned out to be surprisingly accurate!
First of all, Winchester is such a wonderful and friendly city, that visiting it ALWAYS ended up with me having a great humour. I don’t know the antonym of “overwhelming”, but that’s how I would define this city.
Besides this, the place that I used to live in, was just stunning. Typical British village with amazing views and paths. (In which I got lost a few times… #typicalAlicja). I really enjoyed just walking around with headphones in my ears. It was a perfect time for me just to breath, relax and think about how lucky I am.
Sitting on the tree next to the river was also a nice experience.
At least as long as the cows don’t get there.
Conclusion? Well, nothing new that my dreams about metropolitan city didn’t come true. That’s what usually happens in my life. In this case though, I never regretted that I lived in Winchester. And believe me – if you ever visit it, you’ll understand why!
3. COFFEE IS PRETTY COOL
My Au Pair adventure wasn’t perfect.
Not. At. All.
There was a lot of crying and sadness. I didn’t always get along well with the
monsters children. But that’s fine – I think we all know that it’s never gonna be perfect, right?
After all, I used to think that despite the bad moments, life there is just easier and I’m happier. Probably because I was getting a weekly cash, which I didn’t have to spend on rent or food. Primark has become my second home and clothes, cosmetics or food I was buying like crazy. I started to drink coffee in fancy coffee shops, although I never did it in Poland. I was naive enough to convince myself that material things make me feel happy. For that reason, Au Pair seemed like a paradise.
Coming back to the reality wasn’t easy. During first days or even weeks at home, I was pretty sure that my life will never be as great as it was in the UK. However, I quickly remembered that my mood and my city don’t really affect each other. And since I was able to appreciate the life then, why can’t do it I now?
The coffee tastes just great – whether it’s England or my hometown.
4. IT’S GOOD TO TRAVEL ALONE BUT SOMETIMES IT’S BETTER TO HAVE SOMEONE ON YOUR SIDE
During my first weeks in England, I was afraid of lonely journeys. Once I wanted to visit Oxford but none of my friends could accompany me at that time. I wanted to give up this idea at all, but fortunately, my host mom convinced me to go alone.
Many of my travels around England were lonely. For example, during bank holiday I went to the seaside (Bournemouth & Swanage) all alone. I had to deal with several problems and adventures there. Typically for me, I forgot two very important things: the pin for my credit card and an adapter. So I had only 15Ł in cash for three days and a phone with almost dead battery, preventing me from contacting my host family. I had a dilemma: make beautiful photos or save the battery in case something bad happens.
(Well… Photos are actually quite nice).
If I had a friend next to me, I’d be calmer for sure. However, thanks to this experience, I was forced to take care of myself and deal with everything on my own. And somehow, I managed to do it. I got home with a charged phone, and even I saved a pound.
In addition, I had the opportunity to sit alone on a high cliff and the view was… Well, see it by yourself:
But sometimes I felt lonely
Mainly because I lived outside the city, where the average age of the residents was about 50+.
As I mentioned before, I really liked going for walks around my village. Although I didn’t mind spending time alone, sometimes I had the feeling that I’d like to have someone next to me. I enjoyed these views, thinking that I’d like to be with someone right now… Just a friend who would watch that stupid flowers and sunset with me.
So when it comes to travelling, you need to figure it out by yourself whether you feel better spending time alone or with someone else. In my case? Organizing a trip, looking for accommodation, connections, and later tours around the city was a valuable experience that taught me… Well, not being a loser in life.
Besides, I also came to the conclusion that loneliness is sometimes needed. Just to experience everything around you by yourself. However, I can’t deny that some things are worth to share with another person.
5. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE
Like I said, I visited the city only on the weekends. Due to that, I had fewer opportunities to meet other Au Pair. It doesn’t mean, of course, that I didn’t meet with them at all. They were nice girls, but they aren’t the main reason for this note.
People that I met in Winchester were from all over the world. I befriended with several Spanish guys, Germans, Italians and, of course, British. Some of my friends were also from Brazil, the Philippines, Nepal, Pakistan and even Syria.
Naturally, not all of them were close to me. However, it doesn’t change the fact that I could learn a lot from them. Well, think about how much you really know about, for example, the Philippines or Nepal? I didn’t know that much and I’m really happy that I could get to know their country a little.
Most of them were much older than me.
Back then, I didn’t really like it. Now I appreciate the fact that I met more people who were not necessarily my age. For example, Heliana, who is probably the most positive person I have ever met. So far, I am surprised that a woman who is 48 years old, behaves like a twenty-year-old. I consider this as a great thing, of course! She even went shopping with me on my penultimate day in the UK.
There were more amazing people. My host dad’s mother whose husband fought in the Warsaw Uprising. My neighbour from Philipines, who was telling me about their political situation. Parents of my host mom – a former diplomat and an author of over a dozen books about gardening. An elderly gentleman whose hobby was to learn languages – so I helped him with Polish. And many others, sometimes ordinary, but extremely warm people, thanks to whom this adventure was also “educational”.
To sum up
I can’t believe that it’s been almost 3 years since I took a part in the Au Pair program. Looking at this post right now, I feel like so many things have changed. Something that used to scare me back then is quite natural right. Thanks to Au Pair I could manage a lot. Incredible, huh?