Kia Ora! My name is Sophie, I am 20 years old and am currently living in Limburgerhof, Germany. Until recently I have worked as an Au Pair in Invercargill, New Zealand but given the current health situation I had to return earlier and was not able to finish my travels. This is my Au Pair story:
It all started when I was 16 years old and received a scholarship from the German government (Parlamentarisches Patenschafts Programm) to live in the United States. I got placed with a lovely host family in a small town called Springtown, Texas. For one year I attended the local high school and lived with two other exchange students on a cow farm. Not only was I part of the soccer and drama club, but I also played flute in the marching band and orchestra as well as saxophone in jazz band. During my exchange year my English skills improved, I embraced new cultures, found myself, got more mature, managed my finances, and made lifelong friends. Most importantly I learned what is significant in life and found joy in traveling and exploring the world. I promised myself that as soon as I would finish high school, I would return to traveling the world and live in a different country.
I have always loved looking after and teaching kids, especially because I grew up as the oldest of nine grandchildren. It was very clear for me that I wanted to be an elementary teacher, so I decided to be an Au Pair in an English-speaking country after graduating high school. The family I found was looking for a German Au Pair, who would help taking care of their three children for 6 or 12 months. The timing could not have been any better. I immediately was interested and sent an application out. We started getting to know each other via email, skyped together and I met one of their previous Au Pair for coffee. We all immediately got along so that I signed the contract, purchased my plane ticket, just after two weeks at the beginning in August 2018. To work in New Zealand, I needed a working holiday visa which was quickly done online. I only had to fill out a form and upload a copy of my passport. Within a day I received my valid visa which I printed out and always carried it with my passport.
Of course, living abroad is not always easy, just like other things it has its ups and downs, but the good always weighs out the bad. You explore new countries, experience the local way of living, discover parts of yourself you never knew existed and create lifelong memories. It changes you in a better way and makes it so worth it. I would consider myself an outgoing person, which is a major advantage when making friends in foreign places.
Fears and doubts are a common part of living aboard, I worried if the kids would have a hard time adapting to a new Au Pair, but that was proven wrong within the first days.
You can imagine it was not hard for me to start speaking English again in fact I missed it so much. Ever since I returned to Germany, I have been only watching English tv shows and reading English books. To this day I still dream in English. Furthermore, I will always chose speaking English over German. Given my English knowledge it was not hard to communicate with my family. The only difference we had was my American accent versus their Kiwi accent (British vocabulary). While I was able to understand their jokes and fire some back, we had misunderstandings and laughter about words like diapers and nappies, pram and stroller, as well as craig day and crate day (Kiwi Holiday). I ended up picking up the Kiwi accent and mostly exchanged my American vocabulary with the British vocabulary. Whenever I talked, people were struggling to figure out where I am from… not one person guessed Germany, it was either American, New Zealand or Australia…Mission accomplished!
My adventure officially started the 11th of April 2019, just a week after graduating High SchooI. My suitcase was packed with clothes, outdoor gear and presents for my new family. I travelled over three days to reach my final destination: Invercargill, New Zealand. Laura, their previous Au Pair picked me up at the airport in Queenstown. During the two hours´ drive to Invercargill, I had the opportunity to see a bit of New Zealand´s beautiful landscape, while Laura told me about her year and how amazing the family is. We arrived late afternoon where I was welcomed my host mom Anneke, and my host dad Jason as well as their three kids Rio, Opi and Zinzan. We enjoyed our first dinner together, I played with the kids and we soon all headed to bed after a long day.
For almost a year I took care of three lovely children, who have a special place in my heart ever since I first met them. Yes, looking after three kids at the age of one, four and six can be stressful but it is also a lot of fun and you learn so much.
Rio is now a 7 years old girl and a year 3 student at the local elementary school. She is a kind-hearted, loving and adventurous girl, who always helped me.
Opi just turned 5 in May and will now start school. During my year he was in his last year of kindergarten, where he loved playing with his friends and learning new things. He was always laughing and loved to play with his siblings.
The youngest of the three children is Zinzan also called Zinny and he was just 7 months old when I arrived. Throughout the year he learned how to crawl, then took his first steps and is now running around brabbling more German words than English and is trying to catch up with his older siblings. We were an unbeatable team, always made the most out of things and nothing was ever a problem.
I started my day with a 5km run around Queens Park or went to a group gym with my host mom at 6 am. My host parents headed to work at 8:30 am and dropped Rio and Opi off at school and kindergarten. My host mom Anneke owns a real estate business while my host dad Jason works part time as a rugby coach for the local rugby team. During the off season from January until June he renovates houses and resells them. While everyone else was out of the house, Zinzan and I stayed at home. Each morning we had breakfast together and then tackled the housework like laundry, cleaning the house every Friday, buying groceries or cooking dinner. Afterwards we went for a walk to the park and petting zoo, ran around the playground, met other Au Pair friends at the pool or café with their kids, attended the baby gym or went on adventures like going to the beach or hiking with Zinny in a backpack.
Taking care of a 7 months year old baby comes with great responsibility, since he constantly needs to be watched and has shown me what it takes to be a mom. My daily routine involved nap time, changing nappies, giving him his bottle, feeding him enough veggies and fruits as well as going outside as much as possible. Whenever, we went somewhere I always brought my Zinny-bag along, which was filled with nappies, milk powder, food, toys as well as a spare clothes and wipes. My car, Carlo, turned into a true nanny car since it was equipped with books, nappies, baby wipes and a self-made crib mobile for Zinny´s car seat. If this year has taught me one thing it is to always be prepared. It suddenly was totally normal to be mistaken for the mom, the fact that we are each blond was not helping. Plus, whom has the time to explain, what I do at the grocery store, to elderly woman?
Around 2.15 pm Zinny and I had to get going to pick up Opi. Kindergarten and school were not far away so I walked the 15 minutes with Zinny in the pram. I always brought the kids scooters and helmets as well as snacks and water. Opi always ran in my arms when I picked him up and loved scootering to Rio´s school, especially through big puddles. The boys enjoyed their picnic and ran around the playground, while we waited for Rio. Whenever we had time the kids spent hours running around the playground, playing tag before we scootered back home.
Back at home the kids knew their jobs and loved ticking off the boxes. Rio and Opi put their shoes, jackets, and bags away and put their lunchboxes on the counter, so I could make new lunches, while they enjoyed their afternoon tea. After everyone was happy and fed, I helped Rio with her homework, while Opi and Zinny played with cars or build Lego together.
Most of our days were always filled with after school activities like swim and dance practice, soccer, athletics, ukulele lessons or touch rugby.
However we always made time to run around the garden, jump on the trampoline, go to the pool, bake cakes, explore the beach, bike to the park or simply relax in the hammock, read a book or have a dance party. You can imagine that we never got bored and were always busy.
I usually worked 40 hours a week on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday while I had most Wednesdays and weekends off. While I explored the country during the weekend, I started my Wednesday by going to the gym at 9.30 and headed to my favourite café afterwards, where I spent hours working on my blog. I used my free time to plan trips, stay in touch with family, ran errands and finished the day with soccer practice at the local woman´s team.
To be honest there was nothing I did not like about my experience. I had the opportunity to travel most of the weekends, with other Au Pair friends, which were always adventurous and never boring. There was not one weekend were something crazy did not happen. New Zealand is a country, with a variety of breath-taking landscapes, scenic roads, adrenaline activities. Of course, I had to try them out. From Bungee jumping, being on a speed boat, jumping out of a plane at 12ft., diving with great white sharks, flying over glaciers with a helicopter, swimming with dolphins at sunrise, hiking to the summit to take in the beautiful view or simply exploring a city. New Zealand has it all.
Being an Au Pair for a year also means, to have four weeks of paid vacation throughout the year. This made it possible for me to visit Fiji for a week as well as seeing my family in Singapore for Christmas, which is not something I will never take for granted. Picking a top 5 is not as easy as thought, especially since every weekend has its own story.
During my first month I travelled to Wanaka, with three German Au Pair friends. Lena and I decided to jump out of a plane at 12ft., and I never felt more alive. The next morning, I woke up at 3 am to hike five hours to watch the sunrise from the famous mountain Roy´s peak. The hike was exhausting but seeing the first rays of sunshine was worth it.
My second favourite adventure happened at the end of August. Mt. Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand and one of the most visited places. Of course, we had to see it, and travelled there in winter to see the mountain covered in snow. Just half an hour away from Mt. Cook is Lake Pukakhi which is a giant lake with crystal blue water. You have to see it yourself, it was breath-taking.
My overnight cruise in Milford Sound took place in September. Milford Sound is situated in the magical Fjordland and is the most known attraction of New Zealand. For two days we had the whole Sound to ourselves, where we kayaked through sky-high, breath-taking fjords, jumped into ice cold water, stood under massive waterfalls, slept on a boat, ate delicious food and saw seals, penguins, a whale and dolphins.
We headed to Stewart island at the end of January. Stewart Island is beautiful nature island, just an hour away by ferry from where I lived. The island has only 300 residents and is simply stunning. We hiked to beautiful places, relaxed at the beach, went fishing with locals and kayaked while the sun set peacefully. Stewart Island is also known for its Kiwi population. Kiwis are flightless birds who are night active. Equipped with red flashlight and jandals, we headed out each night for two hours to spot our little friends, under a stunning sky full of stars.
My last adventure was in Kaikoura where I lived in a van with a friend. We were able to swim with over hundreds of dusky and hector dolphins while the sun was rising and went whale watching the next day. An encounter like no other, which I will forever cherish.
Upon arrival I felt welcomed and loved which is one of the many reasons I never got homesick in the first place. Being their Au Pair, never felt like a job, it was an invitation to be part of their family. Most evening, when the kids would be asleep, we would sit together, talk about all the things in life, had debates, drank the traditional milo, and simply enjoyed each other’s company.
I see Rio, Opi and Zinzan, as my younger siblings, who I will always protect at all costs and who will forever have a special place in my heart. They are my family, my whanau and it broke my heart saying goodbye to them.
Kiwis are known for their friendly, generous, kind, supportive, positive, and open-minded attitude. For example, at the grocery store they pack your bags at the cashier and load them into your trunk. Sometimes they even fill your car up at the gas station. The relaxed and laid-back atmosphere makes you feel welcomed wherever you go. What contributes to the atmosphere is that none of the locals seem to care about anyone's clothes or how they dress themselves. However, that does not mean that you leave your dirty gumboots on when you enter a store. In fact, friendly signs remind you to take your dirty boots off! So, do not be surprised if you see someone weary fuzzy socks at the pub! Moreover, it seems to be a trend to walk around with shorts and gumboots or sandals! Some kiwis even drive with socks or sandals.
Apparently, Kiwis have not heard of resting on Sunday since most of the stores and restaurants are open 7 days a week, some stores like Night n Day are even open 24/7. Kiwis love their coffee, especially the outing where you meet your friends whilst enjoying a good scone or a blueberry muffin. However, if you want to grab a coffee after 4 pm you are out of luck. Who needs coffee anyways?
It seems that New Zealand is not big on safety after all, since there is no security check for inland flights, short traffic light crossing periods, cars with no airbags, uneven surfaces, gravel roads, no foot rest on ski lifts as well as no gates when you enter the chair lift. Why would you lock your house if your next neighbour lived 10k away from you? As far as I know, sheeps are not able to open doors yet. You would be surprised how fast you get used to the Kiwi way of living. In fact, I would be more than happy if Germany picked up a few things…
A year full of opportunities, which I will never take for granted. Moreover, living abroad has helped me find myself, improve my English knowledge, meet new people, and learn about my strengths and weaknesses. Not only was being an Au Pair the cheapest way to live abroad, it also gave me the opportunity to be part of a local family and learn more about different cultures. Being responsible for young children, educating and raising them has played a major role for me to become more mature and independent.
Be brave, be kind, be you!
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