Au pairs biggest fear is obviously the return back home. I’ve been there and it wasn’t easy. I’ve gained weight, I felt disconnected, misunderstood. And almost three years after I wished I would be prepared, that ‘s why I’ve decided to interview former au pairs and write an article about it. I’m really thankful because Siddiqa, Romain and Maeva have been very honest about it. Get ready for a rollercoaster. You may be scared at the beginning but at the end you’ll be thankful as well 🙂
How did you feel when you went back home?
Siddiqa: When I left America in fall 2015, my heart broke. It was the hardest goodbye I’ve ever had to say to a family I learned to love. When I returned to the UK, I was very emotional. All I kept thinking about were my host kids that I left behind to a new nanny who didn’t know their eating, pooping or sleeping schedules.
Maeva: When I first came back to France after my two years in America, I honestly felt lost and upset. It’s like you’ve moved on, took a huge step back from your old life, you’ve grown so much, and then suddenly, you’re back home.
Did you feel like coming home or did you feel like you did not have a choice?
Romain: I didn’t have the opportunity to come across a family that made me feel like a part of their family. I worked for two families and in both cases I had no contact with the parents, no discussions about how I felt, they had no interest in me and in these conditions I could not open myself to them. I had to undergo senseless situations with my host mom about everything: the way the toys were stowed, what I cooked, even when I was sweeping the floor. The best moment of my au pair year was the last day of work. At 5pm I went out into the street. I planted myself in the middle of the road in front of the house. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and imagined the scenery of the American West. And the kilometers I would put between this horrible family and myself.
Siddiqa: I didn’t want to return to the UK but I had no other option as I made my decision six months ago to only extend for a shorter period. Although I regretted that decision at the time of departure, now I am eternally grateful for it. If I didn’t leave America in 2015, I wouldn’t be a writer right now. I wouldn’t have been able to attend my childhood best friend’s wedding. I wouldn’t have experienced the different opportunities in England if I stayed longer in America.
Maeva: I couldn’t see myself not traveling or living in the US anymore. To be honest, I couldn’t get over the fact of this amazing adventure being over. It’s always fun to see your friends and family after a while, everybody is so excited to see you, and it’s exciting to be the center of attention. Everybody asks about your travels, your experience, your thoughts. It’s fun, it’s usual but most of all.. it’s temporary. Of course, life goes on for everyone and it’s a big slap on your face when you see people going back to their lives, their routine, their occupations.. but what about you?
Once you returned home what did you do?And how did you experience your return?
Romain: Before I decided to be an au pair, I was done with school. I had my MBA. So when I came back, I started this great step in life to look for work for the first time! And when I thought about this period in the USA, I imagined I would wait for a month or two and then find the perfect job (I have an urban master) that will make me work with a prince of Dubai and big American firms …I had even purchased the mug that would serve me to drink my tea on the 23rd floor of a building where I would have my office. Anyway, I looked for
a work of an urban planner for an exhausting twelve months! I was answering about 20 ads a week. I traveled to see employers, participated in job fairs. In a year of research, I managed to get a job interview for a mediocre job that paid 1100 Euros (SMIC= Minimum wage in France) which I didn’t get in the end.
And here I must say that the return to reality takes on its full meaning! This is a difficult situation to accept. Because going as an au pair is like standing on top of Mount Everest. We’ve accomplished your goal with hard work, determination, commitment and the world is now your oyster. Our friends and family watch us take flight, we become a model whether we like it or not. We live in another country, we are expatriates, we speak another language, we are bilingual! We can imagine a bright future. And when we come home we are unemployed! To take up the metaphor of the office tower, it is as if each year of study took me upstairs. And on the way back we fall from cloud nine! Landing in the trash, dear friends resume your ascent.
The return is the starting place of the Monopoly. When one round ends, we start a new one. And it will be different from the last one.
Siddiqa: I felt unsure about what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be but one thing was for sure, I needed to earn money. For months I searched for that ideal job where my traveling experience and child-caring skills could benefit me in the long run but it didn’t. Instead, I decided to travel back to America earlier this year to visit my host family for two weeks. My second trip to America was more important than the first. I realized that I should continue to pursue something I enjoy doing and that is, writing. Since then, I’ve been blessed to write for my host mom’s business and care related agencies and now, I am a full-time journalist.
Maeva: You need to keep yourself together and start a new chapter of your life. Yes, but what? How? Why? You don’t want to. You don’t know how to. You don’t even know what you want, and how you want it. And this is when you start freaking out.
I did freak out, I didn’t have a plan B. All I knew was I didn’t want a job, a stable life, my old life and my old routine. Something had changed in me, something deep something strong, something that was keeping me away from my country, from my entourage. I wanted to discover, to travel more.
This is when I sat down and started to look for another trip. As an au pair or as an expat? This question came into my mind for a second but then I realized that being an au pair was by far a safer solution. I was young and traveling was already a big thing for me. I finally decided to leave and go to Australia. I stayed there one year and went to London afterwards for 6 months where I worked for an agency of au pairs and helped them to communicate about the system. I came back to Australia for another year, where I decided to travel more and go on a road trip. I also had the chance to visit the Bahamas, Thailand, Bali and Abu Dhabi on my way back to France. After that, I took two months off to travel to the South of France and explore Italy with a friend.
Did you feel disconnected from your loved ones or you felt like you had never left?
Romain: I didn’t feel disconnected from my loved ones. With Facebook and e-mails I had not lost contact so I didn’t feel shifted with my family or friends.
Siddiqa: I felt different when I returned to England. The cars, streets, houses, stores and restaurants felt smaller in size. So did the people (including myself). But it was like I never even left. Most of my friends and family members had moved on – bought houses, got married, had kids, started to launch their careers in business, law and other generic jobs. I felt distant from my friends. I traveled and experienced so much on a wider scale that they could never comprehend. I felt different, more unique. Not superior, but just different – as if something else, something bigger was out there waiting for me whilst they were tied down to their responsibilities and obligations.
Maeva: People kept asking me “Why don’t you start something new here?” “Why don’t you stay here?” “Are you not worried about your future?” I understand people worry (or they pretend to) when they see you going back and forth to different countries with different visas, not knowing what’s next. But I answer the same way every single time for the past 5 years: “I love what I do, what I see. I love my life the way it is, and as long as it will keep me happy, I will keep on doing it every single day of my life, until I’m tired of this kind of happiness and need a change.“
When you don’t have ties, it’s easier to leave. I love my entourage, and I feel so lucky and thankful for having them by my side, besides of the fact that they’re so supportive and understanding of what I do. But I, and we all need to think about ourselves. The only thing I worry about is to wake up one morning and not feel happy with my job, my city, my situation, my life anymore and not being able to do anything because my routine has already been built up and I can’t change anything or I’ll loose everything. I don’t want to be in that position, ever. This is why I do what I do.
How do you see things in retrospect? What are you doing now?
Romain: If you give me the option of “You can relive your return” I do not think I will do things differently. Because on my return I traveled, saw a lot of friends, I got involved in associations, sports clubs and I was actively looking for work. I lived the things thoroughly, airy head. The worst would be to shut oneself up at home and live through the au pair experience in your head thinking that it will never be the same again. Never finding work in town was a gift from heaven. I was clearly not made for that. The nice story is that during my job search what I thought was an unimportant hobby made me find my way! I was participating in an associative television where everyone was welcome to work as an apprentice journalist. I made a good impression and I felt good, one of the volunteers then recommended me to test with a socio-cultural association as “video editor”. This was the beginning of liberation! What till then was my passion brought me money (a sacred SMIC sounding and stumbling, ladies and gentlemen) I realized at this time that we are not doomed to do a hilarious job for the rest of our lives! Very seriously, I did not think it was possible. Can I make videos and get paid for it too? It’s been two years since this experience and now, I am my own boss! I work for myself, I make photos and films for companies, weddings and since the beginning of the school year I even give classes in a post-bac school! I have three classes of students at Jaelys school where I run courses on image photo and video.
Maeva: I’ve studied psychology for a while and then have decided to turn myself into what I love the most, journalism. I am so passionate about it, and I wanted to do everything I could just to stick to my ambitions. One day, I asked myself if the prices of the schools in California and Sydney were going to stop me from doing what I am passionate about? My answer was a huge “NO WAY,” so I thought about buying my own camera, microphone, a good computer and start a new project. I did create a Facebook and YouTube page “Maeva’s adventures” and a website: www.maevasadventures.com and I started to write, share stories and traveling tips and interviewing people on the street about everything and nothing. I am starting a journalist formation at the beginning of 2017 and will see where this will take me to. I’ll do it as long as I love it. No matter what will happen, I’ll fight for it.
What advice would you give to au pairs who fear the return?
Romain: Fear the return back home! If you underestimate it, things could get worse. I have known among my friends to be depressed or gain weight. Precisely by taking it as a real step not to be neglected, the adjustment can be done smoothly. By experience, my best advice is to stay active! Occupy this brain that asks only to tell you “It was better before,” set up business projects, continue to travel, go out to see friends, engage in interesting things. Stay curious.
Siddiqa: If I wasn’t an au pair, I wouldn’t be where I am now, I wouldn’t be a writer writing this. To all au pairs out there, I urge you to take your time in finding yourself, be patient and remain hopeful. If you don’t know what you want to do when you get home, it’s perfectly okay not knowing. Or, in other words, “Hakuna Matata!” (No worries). You can’t plan your entire life and expect it to go according to plan. Some things are better left unknown.
Maeva: My advice for those who travel and don’t feel like going back home. I’d say to ask yourself what do you really need? What do you really want? If you need to study, many countries offers the student visa, if you want to work you have working visas, and if you want to travel you also have tourist visa (from 3 up to 9 months). If you do want to leave but can’t because of your ties, your job, your ambitions, I’d say even though it’s a tough situation, to keep on doing what you’re doing and save the travels for later. It’s only a matter of time. And finally, for those who came back after a great trip but want to settle, then I totally support that.
Knowing what we really want to do, or to be, is a huge thorn taken out of the foot. I mean, the most important thing is to know what we want in life, no matter what it is. Everyone is different so of course we all have different perceptions of life. And it’s totally okay to be different. If we all were the same, life would probably be boring. Whether your dream is to work at the coffee shop of your home town or to travel the world, I’d say just listen to your mind and follow your heart. As we all say: “Home is where your heart is.“