Business first: today I went to school, found an Aldi on the way home (did you hear that the founder of Aldi recently died? It made national news here – they had a five minute program on him) and brought home some tortellini for lunch.
As I was eating, Anna and Victor came home, and Anna sat down to chat with me while I finished. We got to talking about a couple of my classmates from the language school, Alexandra and Marina. Both girls are from Spain (Alexandra und Marina kommt aus Spanien) and both had come to Germany as aupairs. Apparently, Alexandra’s host family decided that she wasn’t a good fit for them, told her this Monday, and had her on a plane back home by Tuesday morning.
Marina’s family lives out in the middle of nowhere, and she has to walk an hour just to get to the train station, at which point it takes her another 45 minutes to an hour to get to the language school. She said that sometimes, she gets a ride to the station, but then she gets to school four hours early for class. And when she goes home after class, her host family has her basically working like a live-in maid, doing all the housework and laundry. They won’t even let her borrow a bike, (which they never use) because it’s too expensive to trust to an aupair. Marina often can’t get her homework done because the family keeps her busy until late at night, and she has to get up at about 5 or 6 in the morning.
To be perfectly honest, I was just a tiny bit livid at this family. Still am. Marina is a really sweet, kind of shy girl with a hysterical sense of humor. And she works hard enough in class that I would judge her to be a hard-worker in general. It infuriates me that this family would take advantage of her like that. She’s thinking of finishing out this course and then either finding a new family, or going home to Spain.
Anyway, Anna and I got to talking about aupairs and what the usual expectations are from families and the motivations behind becoming an aupair. She says that most aupairs (and I can see this at the playground or the store) are from Eastern block countries like the Ukraine and Russia, and they usually come to Germany with the intent of staying here, because it’s really hard to live in their home countries. So, because they don’t want to go back, they’ll bite through whatever crap their host families throw at them, just to stay in Germany. American aupairs are rare, but Anna says that for most English-speaking aupairs, the motivation is one of three things: they’ve got a boyfriend or family roots here, they’re looking for a job or to study in Germany, or they don’t have much money but they want to travel. (Obviously, I fall into that last category. :D)
On the family’s side, Anna explained that she has a unique perspective compared to most host-moms because she was an aupair herself. She wanted someone to help with her kids, sure, but there was also an added desire to have someone who was culturally different enough that there could be a bit of a cultural exchange. “With most families,” she told me, “The desire to have someone you can show your culture to and help experience your country, and the desire for help with the kids is about 5% of the first and 95% of the second. For me, it’s about 40% and 60%.”
So I got to thinking about my motivation for coming – I’m definitely more on the “I have no money but am desperate to travel” end of the spectrum, but there’s also a strong desire to experience something different – it’s like what one of my professors at school told us. He explained that he often had students want to argue with him about his course material because it contradicted with what they grew up thinking. “I don’t want to necessarily convince you that you’re wrong and I’m right,” he told us, “Because I very well could be wrong. But it’s very difficult to evaluate something if you have nothing to compare it to.”
Or it’s like going to the ice-cream shop, and never having had any flavors but vanilla and chocolate before. You’re pretty sure chocolate is your favorite, but you’ve never had any other kind. So how can you know for sure? So for me, I want to experience a lot of “flavors” of things – settings, foods, people, etc – and decide if what I’ve always thought I liked is really what I actually like.
I’ve already discovered that, though I grew up in the country and small towns, I definitely prefer the city. There’s a life to the city that I find stimulating and exciting (and even oddly restful) in a way that small towns and suburbia never have been. On the other hand, though I’ve tried a lot of new foods the past few weeks, I’m pretty certain that pizza is still my all-time fave. :D
I think my motivations are pretty clear-cut. And I’m lucky that, because I just came from four years at a school where I worked for my education, I’m used to a program of working at a job I may or may not like (though I got ridiculously lucky and got a job that I adored) in order to earn the thing I want – in the case of school = my education, and here = living in a foreign country.
There are a lot of things I don’t like about this job. I don’t like being so confused and awkward all the time because I’m not exactly sure what people are talking about, I don’t like not having my friends and family close, etc. But the good things are far outweighing the bad at this point, and make it worth it. Anna warns that as the year goes on, I may start wondering just what the heck I’m doing here, and that by the time I go home I’ll be more than ready. And maybe she’s right – she was in this boat before me, after all, so she knows. But for now, I’m doing a job I like in a country I’m learning to understand and preparing myself for a future doing what I love.
Not a bad motivation, I suppose.