Traveling, whether a good or bad experience, changes us. Before this grand adventure in Europe commenced, I was full of ideas of how perfect the whole trip would be. My host family has four darling children and two loving parents who will show me the ropes of life in Italy. Flash forward: man, was I wrong!
Do not get me wrong. Italy is an incredible country filled with beautiful rolling countrysides, depths of history, and hospitable personalities. Working as an au pair is similar to working as a nanny but quite different. The au pair experience is supposed to be a cultural exchange. It's a mutually beneficial situation that allows the au pair to explore a new culture while the host family receives childcare assistance. The word "au pair" means "on par," an equal to the family. Au pair work typically includes light housekeeping (like changing the dishwasher, keeping the kids' rooms clean, etc), teaching English, and keeping the kids entertained.
What I experiences with my first host family in Italy was absolutely nuts. I honestly still can't believe that it happened to me. I think the best way for me to share what happened is to give you a look inside my journal.
"My heart breaks for these kids because they can be cute sometimes and they're very intelligent. Their parents are raising them to be useless, rude, and elitist I can't even begin to understand why someone would want to hinder their child's ability to be an independent individual. I wish I had it in me to stay but I refuse to be treated the way this family treats me. I refuse to be a part of this vicious cycle of spoiling these kids to the point of complete dependency." - November 19, one week after arriving in Rome
Rather than typical au pair duties, I was spoon-feeding the 9 and 10 year old kids their breakfasts in bed every morning (insert jaw drop here), putting toothpaste on their tooth brushes, bathing them, blowdrying their hair, and picking up their dirty Kleenex's off the floor (never mind a please or thank you). This is only half of it all while these kids called me "au pair" or "ragazzi" (meaning "girl" in Italian) often refusing to call me by my real name. After only one week, I had already felt completely degraded and worthless.
"Today the kids told me they liked me. I asked them why. Their response: "Because you don't cry." - November 22
"I'm not here for the family and the kids. I'm here to have the time of my life. I'm here to see sights and have experiences unique to Italy. I'm here to unlock a part of me I've never known before. I'm here for me and this family cannot take that away." - November 22
During this time I was battling with the idea of staying. I had yet to truly experience the reason I chose to begin my travels: Rome. Even though I was living in the city, I felt as though I was giving up too soon perhaps. I still had so many things to do and see in Rome, how could I leave so soon after arriving? I tried to remember why I came to Europe in the first place and that gave me some hope to continue on, at least for a few days and despite the children's tempers.
Yeah that hope thing didn't last too long. The breaking point was dinnertime. The kids had gotten up on their chairs and were screaming profanities in English and Italian at me (F*** You, You're a B**** W****, etc). I asked them to stop and they continued. I looked at the parents for help and they continued their conversation like nothing was happening. I had enough.
Later that evening, I had to babysit for the family until around midnight. Once the parents returned home, my host father guided me to the door. As I exited, I turned around, extended my arm, and dropped my house key into his hands. "Thanks for everything, hah, but I'm leaving. Goodnight." I ran to my room and dragging my suitcase and backpack, I ran to the nearest bus station, never looking back.
While some au pairs have a similar experience to mine, a lot of au pairs truly enjoy the job and their host family. Among my Roman au pairs friends, my story was definitely an odd one. Most of their families had them doing far less chores, paid better, and the children and parents respected the au pair so both parties could be good representatives of their home countries. If you're looking to au pair, please do not chicken out because of this blog post. I am now happily living in Germany, a country that I wouldn't otherwise appreciate as much as I do had the Italian experience not happened.
I learned a lot about myself in Italy. I learned to stand up for myself and that my path of happiness is up to me. I learned that while my trust in people can sometimes lead me to trouble, it is my optimism and desire to learn from experience that will guide me through the tough times. For every cruel person in the world, there are at least double that in nice people. I learned that kindness goes a long way. If I wasn't nice before, I am overly conscious of how I treat others now.
All in all, while the Italian experience was difficult, it was an eyeopening experience that I think God wanted me to have.