The Struggle And The Growth

I spent yesterday wandering around what has easily become one of my favorite cities. I’ve got two weeks and two days left to say that I’m a resident of the Frankfurt area, so I’m trying to soak up every moment possible. I walked down Kaiserstraße, through the Zeil area, next to the Dom Römer, across the river on the Eiserner Steg (the bridge covered in locks), and along the banks of the Main River. In my opinion, the best part of the city is that it is situated around a body of water, and there’s nothing like being able to sit along the bank of that river and enjoy a sunny day. I also enjoy the face that Frankfurt still isn’t very touristy, but it’s a big international city, so you don’t often have to deal with massive groups of people.

I read an article months ago about the ex-pat life, and how it’s hard to really feel like you completely fit in back home after living in another country. I haven’t even moved back yet, but I’m already starting to feel that way. While the German culture isn’t as different from the American culture as some others might be, there are still many differences. I’ve gotten fond of the language barriers because I feel a strong sense of pride when I understand and can answer questions. My diet has completely changed, and the idea of throwing all of my trash in one big bin seems almost foreign now. Because of the heavy British influences in my friendships, some of the words I use in everyday language is different, and some people have even pointed out that my accent has changed somehow. Even now while I sit writing this, I think I’ll miss the German way of living far more than I would ever miss the American one.

Of course, whenever you go through a big move, you simultaneously go through a big change. If you chose to move back to your original location, it will never the same. You may look the same and you may continue to enjoy the same friendships, but you as a person will have grown and changed. With an international move, that change will inevitably include an expanded worldview.

I’m not looking forward to moving back to Texas (even though I know it’s just a temporary move) for that very reason. I’m excited to see friends and family, but I know I’m not the same person that I was when I moved away. In some ways, I feel like they might be meeting an entirely different person. At the risk of sounding conceited or overly proud or whatever you might call it, I feel like I’ve gained a sort of quiet confidence. I’ve become even more independent than before, and I know that the limits I used to believe were holding me back are now mostly nonexistent. I will have only been gone for nine months, but when you move away like I did, you’re forced to hit the fast forward button on changing and maturing.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “I’m not sure what I’ll do, but — well, I want to go places and see people. I want my mind to grow. I want to live where things happen on a big scale.” This sentiment is one of the biggest reasons I want to travel and live in different places and immerse myself in different cultures- I want to grow. I don’t want to be stuck in some small town and keep a small worldview. It’s been so long since I’ve lived in Alaska that I’m not expecting anything to be as it was when I was a child. I’m excited to be back because I know there will be struggles and lessons to go through. Of course, the gorgeous scenery and a wonderful man are big things to look forward to, but most importantly, it’s a chance for me to grow even more. It’s time for that next chapter.

Frankfurt, Germany- September 2014

Frankfurt, Germany- September 2014

listening to: Jason Mraz

What do you do?

When I started telling people I was moving to Germany to work as an au pair for a year, the most common response was a blank look. It turns out, the term “au pair” isn’t one that many people in the states are familiar with. In simple terms, it’s basically just someone who provides childcare. In a bit more detail, an au pair is someone who helps out around the house and acts as a older sibling figure in the family they work for. Au pairs are most commonly found in Europe, where the job originated. Every country has different restrictions and regulations, so it’s hard to give a ton of specifics. I can, however, give a breakdown of what an au pair position can look like in Germany

  1. It is part-time: German regulations stipulate that an au pair can only work for 30 hours a week and get at least one day off per week (at least once a month, that day should be a Sunday). This means that I only work 5 hours a day during a normal work week, or 6 hours if I happen to get the full weekend off. In all reality, I probably work closer to 40 hours a week, but those hours are pretty difficult to regulate when you’re right in the middle of the week. I also get 4 weeks of paid vacation time for the year, but that’s something to expect for any job in Germany.
  2. The work is not just child care: On top of watching two children under the age of 4, I also take care of laundry for the family and keep the kitchen relatively clean. I don’t have to do any heavy-duty cleaning since the family I work for employs a housekeeper on Fridays, but cleaning dishes after every meal is something that usually falls under my duties. I also occasionally do the grocery shopping and do some photography/computer work for the family.
  3. While the pay is low, the benefits are nice: Au pairs easily make less than minimum wage if you just look at the spending money you receive per month- €260 in Germany, which roughly translates to $355 in the US at time of publication (that’s about $2.95 per hour). However, that money is just spending money. Families are required by law to provide full health care/insurance, and free room and board. My family also pays for my monthly train pass, half of my language class, and makes sure to buy me some special food at the grocery store they wouldn’t normally purchase (we’re talking peanut butter, top quality cheddar cheese, and the most delicious greek yogurt I’ve ever encountered, people!). Overall, a €260 allowance isn’t too shabby if you learn to budget your money properly.
  4. It’s also a cultural exchange program: As I noted in my last point, the family I work for paid for half of my first language class. Part of moving to another country is to be submerged in the culture of that country. This means learning the language, eating the food, practicing the customs (which obviously means beer-tasting in Germany if that’s something you’re into), and meeting locals. This is something my host family has been great about- they’re constantly encouraging me to go out and explore and are always willing to let me take time off to see the friends I’ve made in the city.

There’s no denying that working as an au pair can be very challenging, but I think the pros outweigh the cons any day. I was incredibly lucky to find the family I did, which has been the main reason why this job has been so enjoyable so far, so if you ever consider becoming an au pair, make sure to be pretty selective when it comes to picking a family.

Part of my daily duties is to walk with the baby in the mornings. I never turn down a walk along the river
Part of my daily duties is to walk with the baby in the mornings. I never turn down a walk along the river.

listening to: The Neighbourhood