by Megan Rivas
Eight months ago, I was interviewing potential host families, I was finishing my degree and dreaming of what it would be like to live, work and travel in Europe ‘next year’. Four months later, I was boarding a plane on my way to realising that dream. Another four months later, and here I am, well settled into my new life as an au pair. The last four months has been a whirlwind of getting to see new places, meet new people, taste new foods, and getting to know the new me.
The sole reason that I wanted to take a gap year and embrace this au pairing experience, was to travel and see the world. A narrow and slightly selfish approach to the year, because it turns out that it is so much more than what I could have ever anticipated.
Firstly, I have been given the opportunity to live like a Dutch person as part of a Dutch family. What better way to experience the good and not so good aspects of a culture than first hand? A true cultural experience. I get to taste their foods. My host family particularly enjoys cooking something ‘real Dutch’ (as they would call it) for me from time to time. I see how they raise their children. I get to see how free these people live and just how easy it is to get from point A to point B, to name but a few things.
Secondly, I have made friends that may be my friends for a time that extends well past my year as an au pair. Friends that, under normal circumstances would not necessarily have crossed my path. May it be because of an age gap. Living in the Cape rather than in Pretoria or even being in neighbouring schools. The au pair program definitely has a way to bring us together. We explore together, we go to church together, we laugh together, and we maybe even sometimes cry together when things get tough, or we just miss home a little bit more than the week before. There is nothing that bonds people together than knowing that we come from the same place and speak the same language.
Thirdly, easy access to the whole of Europe! Imaging being able to just hop on a train and ride to Germany. Get on a bus, drive through the night and arrive in Paris the next morning. Truly amazing. Within the first month of being here in the Netherlands, the travel bug had already gotten a hold of me. I was already planning a trip to Belgium. Who could have ever imagined that it could be this easy? I fell in love with the absolute freedom that I experienced within my very first week. In this short time that I have been here, I have seen a lot of the Netherlands, I have been to Belgium, Switzerland and to Paris! And I’m already planning my next trip. I just can’t get enough of the thrill.
Lastly, I’m getting to know myself. What I like, and what I don’t. What makes me tick. What to fight about and what to let slide. I am 23 years old, and I am still learning things about myself every day. I am growing as a person and I look forward to seeing the girl that I become within the next 4 months, eight months and eventually one year from now.