In the spring of my senior year of college (which wasn’t all that long ago), I called my mom in tears. Graduation was less than a month away, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
I had accepted an internship with a major news organization in Michigan but was dreading the 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. grind. For as long as I can remember, the plan had been for me to get my degree and find a job writing for a newspaper. However, with my future finally bearing down on me, I couldn’t think of anything less appealing.
Up until that point, my entire life had been mapped out for me, which was both comforting and annoying. Every year was the same. I’d go to school in the fall, play softball in the spring followed by more softball in the summer. Lather, rinse, repeat. That was the annual cycle from the time I was an 11 year-old-girl until I was a 22-year-old woman. With the “real world” nearing, the cycle was about to be broken when I tossed that weird, tassel-y cap into the air.
For the first time in my life, anything was possible. Without the ties of academics and athletics, I was free to do whatever I wanted. No more classes or practices meant I could go anywhere, do anything and be anyone. Nothing was holding me back. I realized I was free.
So, I dried my eyes, took a deep breath and fired up my web browser. Google was going to help me find my new path in life.
I’ve always wanted to live abroad. I could (and still can) vividly imagine myself living in a foreign country, learning a new language and experiencing a different culture. For some reason though, living abroad is something I always pictured myself doing later in life (like maybe after I retired). However, with the discovery of my soon-to-be freedom, I asked myself, “Why not now?”
I started researching various options for young people to live abroad and considered teaching English, working on a yacht and being a tour guide. Taking my skills and financial situation into consideration as well as my desire to really absorb a new culture, I decided the best option for me was to become an au pair.
An au pair is a young person, usually a woman, from a foreign country who lives with a family and helps to care for the children in return for room and board as well as the opportunity to learn the family’s language.
In my case, I am moving to a small village in the suburbs of Madrid, which is the capital of Spain. I will be living with a family, who I connected with via an au pair website and then met in-person earlier this summer while backpacking around Europe. The family consists of a father, mother and two boys (ages seven and nine).
In exchange for room and board along with a weekly allowance of 50 euros (approximately $66), I am expected to watch the boys (Carlos and Pedro) for four hours a day from Monday through Friday. During that time, my primary responsibility will be helping the children learn English, which they already study in school.
Becoming an au pair is a viable option for young people like myself who want to live abroad and experience another culture. During the day while the children are at school, I will be able to take Spanish lessons. On the weekends, I am free to explore Spain.
As I mentioned earlier, I wanted an option that would allow me to really experience a new culture rather than just observing it. I’m looking forward to being a part of a Spanish family. I know living in a foreign country won’t be without its challenges, but I am going into this adventure with an open-mind. I’m prepared to embrace everything about this exciting, new experience.
So, now you know where I’ll be and what I’m going to be up to for the next three months. It’s hard to believe that not so long ago my future was a source of anxiety for me. I’d lie awake at night trying to figure my whole life out only to get out of bed the next morning more unsure of myself. Today, my outlook couldn’t be more different. I’m confident in the direction I’m going even though I haven’t quite yet figured out the ultimate destination. I sleep soundly at night and wake up in the morning genuinely excited about my life.
What I’m doing may not be right for everyone, but it’s definitely right for me. I’m fortunate to have supportive people in my life (family, friends and boyfriend) as well as a financial situation that doesn’t demand I immediately get a job (no student loans). I can’t think of a better way to start off this next chapter in my life than by making one of my lifelong dreams come true.