Sunday, June 30, 2013

Au please

Bittersweet as it is, my time at both Hofstra University and Condé Nast Traveler has come to an end. I am no longer a student or an intern... I am a college graduate, and, well, unemployed--but hopefully not for long! The experiences I had at Traveler, as well as my other internships, have left me prepared and excited for my future career.

Global Studies department graduates, May 2013
I also have Traveler to thank (or as my parents see it: blame) for further increasing my wanderlust. Not only did working at this magazine solidify my desire to be involved in travel journalism, it confirmed my suspicion that I need to travel more.

I unfortunately never had the opportunity to study abroad (one of my biggest collegiate regrets), and have always wanted to know what it would be like to live in a foreign country. Not long enough to be considered an expatriate, but enough time to really experience the land and its people. I figured now that I am out of school, and not yet committed to a full-time job, this was the perfect (if not only) time to pick up and live somewhere else. I didn't have much money to work with, so I figured out two options that would be most affordable: teach English overseas, or become an au pair.

Teaching English seemed like the more honorable route, so I looked into that first. I spent time researching how much it would cost to rent/sublet an apartment in various cities and countries, versus how much I could potentially make as an independent teacher. That idea got complicated quickly, and I moved my sights in the direction of an organized program. I went to informational meetings about the Fulbright and other academic fellowships, but those required a LOT of hard work and preparation, for no guaranteed teaching position. I spoke to many people about teaching in Israel, a more obtainable fellowship position that interested me, but the required 10-month time period (an entire school year) ultimately felt too long. Though I wanted to travel, I was wary about starting my career a full year later than originally planned.

Intrigued by the flexibility of being able to work for as long or as little as I wanted, I switched my sights to becoming an au pair. I wasn't interested in paying an agency to match me, especially since my plans were still so uncertain, so I looked into finding a family on my own. I found several different websites designed to match prospective au pairs with potential families. I selected three to make profiles on (TheBestAupairAupair World, and and started viewing and communicating with families. The sites were set up similar to an online dating site. You put in your stats, a bio, and pictures, and were sent "matches" based on your preferences (location, length of stay, number of children, etc.). Families and au pairs could message each other through the sites, or send generic "I'm interested" notes. 

One of my several au pair profiles
I had families from all over the world contact me. So many, in fact, that I had to narrow down my responses to those who met my preferred criteria; location (I wanted to be in or near a big city), expenses (the amount I would earn vs. the costs I would have), and generally how cool the families seemed. Most of the people I talked to wanted an au pair for 6 months to 1 year. Though I spoke with some pretty great families, I was still uncomfortable with making that long of a time commitment. Plus, I was keeping an eye out for job openings in New York, in case a 'perfect opportunity' came along.

With summer approaching, more and more profiles started popping up online of families who wanted an au pair for just the three months their children were out of school. This seemed like it would be the perfect amount of time for me. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got, but the expectation everyone had of me (including myself) to get a professional job after graduation was making me hesitant. How could I commit to leaving the country if my dream job was just around the corner? It wasn't until such a job opportunity appeared that I was able to make my decision. I found a listing online for a job I knew I was qualified for and would really enjoy. Two of my editors even mentioned it to me, telling me they had also seen it and thought I should apply. I had every reason to expedite my resume, but I resisted. I couldn't figure out why, until it hit me: I wanted to go abroad. I had to go abroad.

Knowing I had the rest of my life to work in my field, I told my friends and family I was committed to spending my summer as an au pair. I narrowed down my choices to three families (I was all of their first choice); two in Italy, and one in Spain. Spending the summer with any of these three families would have been amazing. Both of the Italian families planned to travel for most of the summer, and would bring me with them. I would spend a month by the Ligurian Sea and  a month in the Northern Italian moiuntains. With one family I would also get to experience living in Milan; with the other, I would sail to Croatia. The Spanish family lived in Madrid, and though I wouldn't get to travel with them, the stationary location (and large amount of free time provided) would allow me to really explore the area and get to know the city and country.

I video chatted with the three families. One of the Italian families, I discovered, did not know English as well as they had implied... honestly, they didn't know much English at all. Although I'm sure we would've gotten along well regardless, I was worried about our ability to communicate. I studied the Italian language in high school, but to date have only retained a rudimentary vocabulary. I told the family I would not be joining them this summer.

I was unable to decide between the remaining two families. Though very different living situations, each had the same amount of positive qualities. I asked friends and coworkers for their opinions, but received different answers each time. My parents were out of the country themselves at the time and unable to give me advice. It got to the point where I needed to give the families an answer, so they would have enough time to find a replacement au pair if said answer was "no." The night before my deadline, I prayed for a sign; something--anything--that would tell me if I should spend my summer under the Spanish or Italian sun. The next morning, I woke up to an email from Spain, saying once again that they enjoyed chatting with me and hoped I would join their family. As insignificant as that email might seem, I took it as the sign I had asked for, and decided to go to Spain.

One of the things I liked best about the Spanish family was that they required significantly less hours of childcare than other families, giving me a lot of free time. However, this also meant I would be paid less. I told the mother, Patricia, that I was interested in doing some extra work during my free afternoons; specifically, I wanted to embrace my original idea of teaching English. With Patricia's help, I found several families in Madrid who said they would love to hire me to teach their children English. It was set! All I had to do was book a plane ticket and I was good to go.

Danielle and me in high school--long time friends!
But, of course, simply going to Spain wasn't good enough for me. I had never been to Europe before, and really wanted to travel to other places as much as I could while I was there. Another thing I had liked about the Spanish family was that they needed someone for a shorter amount of time. Instead of working for the entire season, I was free to go in the middle of August. My friend Danielle had been bitten by the travel bug after a recent study abroad program in Scotland, so I reached out to her to join me in spending the end of summer on the road.  

Somewhat to my surprise, she agreed, and we got together to brainstorm different cities and countries to visit. We threw around a lot of ideas (incl. but not limited to Portugal, Morocco, Poland, and Holland), but the finally decided that we would meet in Prague (Czech Republic), and from there, travel to Vienna (Austria), Zurich (Switzerland), and Paris (France). Though the amount of time we choose to spend in each city still still open-ended, the entire trip will last 16 days.

I cannot wait to have an amazing summer working as an au pair and English teacher in Madrid, and traveling around Europe with one of my best friends. Be sure to check out my new blog, Life as a Bullfighter, to keep updated with my adventures. ¡Hasta luego!