It's been about a month since I got home from Europe and life has felt like a blur since then. Adjusting to the new time zone at the beginning, having some reverse culture shock, and figuring out what I'm going to do next all at the same time hasn't been easy.
Since I got back home I feel like my life picked up almost right where I left it off, which feels strange like no time actually passed while I was away. I definitely don't feel like I'm the same exact person since spending 7 months away in a foreign country, but coming home after that amount of time is a mix of bittersweet feelings.
Although it feels great to be in a familiar place with family and friends, I didn't know it was possible to feel like a foreigner in your own hometown. Living abroad taught me many things, although it didn't quite prepare me for this. However, I'm still taking away a lot from the half a year I spent au pairing that helped me to learn new things about myself and have some incredible experiences.
1. Don't be afraid to speak up
Moving in with a family you've never met before who are practically strangers requires a lot of courage and commitment. It's SO important to ask the right questions and have several Skype calls so you're not left with too many surprises when you get there.
Of course there will be things that you wouldn't know before hand, but things like what hours you're working and what your expectations are is key. Once you get there it can be hard to speak up and say if you need something but you're host family won't know unless you make it clear to them, and they should be more than willing to help you out.
2. Make friends with anyone and everyone
You just got to a new country where you know no one except the family you live with. Making friends can seem hard at first but it was easier than I expected. Facebook groups are what really helped me at the beginning to meet other au pairs in my area. I found a great one through Au Pair Oh Paris that hosted events for au pairs and encouraged meet-ups. Through them I made friends with au pairs from all over Paris and went to several different events.
I also made friends at my language school where I took French classes three days a week. I got lucky with my school which had almost 100 au pairs taking classes there and all living within a close area. Seeing these people several times a week made it easy to meet new people and make some of my closest friends while I was living abroad.
3. Learning French takes time
Although I was living with a French family and taking French classes several days a week, I still struggled to really feel confident in my French. As an au pair it's my job to speak English with the kids so I spend most of my time doing that. While the parents would speak to me in French and try to help me that was only for an hour or two of my day.
To feel fully immersed I think the best thing to do is push yourself to speak French whenever you go out in public and even among friends. It's easy to fall back into speaking English because it's more convenient and many people in Paris even speak it, but I found out you won't improve until you push and challenge yourself no matter how difficult or frustrating it may be.
4. Living away from home isn't as hard as you'd think
Don't get me wrong, I definitely got home sick from time to time but home is always a phone call or video chat away and it's much easier now to stay connected to family and friends. This always helped me to feel better since I was so far away.
Even though as an au pair you generally have a good amount of free time, I found ways to keep myself busy and had plenty of distractions so I wasn't always homesick. There so much to do and explore in a new place, especially somewhere like Paris, that I never ran out of ideas.
5. Get out of your comfort zone more often
This experience is probably one of the most adventurous things I've done and I have no regrets about it. As scary and daunting as it seemed at the beginning, it forced me to get out of my comfort zone completely and experience new things every single day.
I was living with people I'd never met before who became like a second family to me. I was speaking another language and learning the different cultural aspects of living in France from not only my host family but all sorts of people I met in my time there. I made friends with other au pairs and expats from all over the world who I would probably have never met otherwise. I travelled to nearby countries in Europe I had never been to before experiencing new cities and other new cultures.
Even though at times it could be overwhelming and traveling could get very exhausting, being in places that I'm not totally comfortable and don't speak the language forced me to adapt, problem solve, and feel confident in my own abilities doing things I didn't think I could on my own. Navigating foreign airports, public transport, and communicating with someone who doesn't speak your language taught me that I'm more capable than I realized and the world isn't so scary after all.