This time, a good friend of mine is willing to share a story of her life. A great travel life as an Au pair. Asri Zefanya, a brave young woman, who decided to stop working for a large multinational IT company and followed her dreams to travel to Europe and work in the Netherlands as an Au pair.
1. So, can you start by telling me exactly what you are doing for a job?
I’m an Au pair. The program I’m on is a kinda cultural exchange program where I have to take care of kids and do the light household work. In exchange for this I get accommodation, food and pocket money. I usually just take care of the children until the parents return home. The parents of the family who I am working for are really busy, so most of my time is spent with the kids.
2. Tell me, where did you come up with the idea to work overseas as an Au Pair?
I saw my friend’s post on facebook about an au pair program, and it interested me because you just had to pay a bit of money (Agency fee, paperworks, etc) and you get to stay abroad for a year. It’s been my dream to be able to travel and explore europe, and being an au pair is the cheapest way to do so.
3. A lot of people go abroad to travel and visit a different country. Can you tell me what it’s like to actually live in another country? What have you found most difficult and what has surprised you the most?
Well, it’s a whole new experience, everything is so different, the way people act, how things work, the weather, the language, everything. It’s a great experience actually. I really enjoyed my first year being an au pair, true sometimes the kids acted crazy and makes you re-think the reason I am here, but overall it’s a great experience.
What I found quite difficult about moving to Europe is getting used to the food. In Indonesia we usually eat three warm meals a day. In the Netherlands they only have bread for breakfast and lunch, and only cook something for dinner. Also I really missed Indonesian food, which means I have to cook every time I want to eat Indonesian food. There are also cultural differences. The Dutch are well-known as being direct people, so at the beginning it was quite hard for me to express my opinion.
4. Have you tried to learn Dutch? Is it a difficult language to learn?
Yup, I actually took a course before I came here. One of the reasons why I’m here is to learn the language, so I thought it would be smart if I knew something about the language before I came here rather than just coming here and not knowing anything and have to start from zero.
Dutch is quite difficult, the grammar and pronunciation, because we’re used to English as a second language, and the Dutch grammar is the other way around from English. Sometimes I end up talking English with Dutch grammar, or talking Dutch with English pronunciation, but either way I survived. Now I can understand pretty much understand most things people say when they talk Dutch and I can make small talk.
5. How did you find this job? Did you use an agency or did you find the job by yourself?
I found this job through an agency (Smiling Faces). It’s easier with the agency, and with the new rules you can’t come to the Netherlands to be an au pair without the help of agency. I just have to pay the agency fee Rp 6.000.000,- and spend quite a lot of money for the paper work (translating document, medcheck, etc), and then the agency took care of the rest. It’s also safer with agency, because you will have someone to go to if you have a problem.
6. How many children are you looking after and how old are they? Oh, do you have any photos of them?
I have to take care of 4 children, they are 3, 5, 7, and 9. It’s really heavy work, because they are super active kids and the parents are really busy, so I have to stay with them the whole day.
7. Lots of people think that if you get a job overseas you get paid lots of money. In your experience is this true?
Well, you don’t get lots of money by being an au pair, because the program is cultural exchange, so you just get a bit of pocket money, just enough for a little bit of shopping, daily needs, and some traveling. If you want to get lots of money, being an au pair is not the answer :p
8. Besides learning about different cultures, what other life lessons have you gained from living as an Au pair for a year in the Netherlands?
We, that is au pairs’, always say that what we deal with here is karma for what we always did back home. I have got really difficult kids, which sometimes makes me wants to drown them in the swimming pool, but then I realized I was also quite hard to handle when I was little. Living abroad has also made me more independent. You are doing everything by yourself and learning how not to depend on someone else, because when you’re here, you’re own your own. I have also become a lot more organized and more patient. Sometimes the au pairs make a joke about our job; it’s training to be a mom.
9. Have you met any other au pairs since you’ve been living in the Netherlands?
Yes, that’s one of the benefits of coming here with the agency, because then you can meet au pairs from all around the world. I spent most of my time hanging out with au pairs from Indonesia, and we have become a family. We’re like sisters and it’s a good thing, because when you’re live abroad all alone, sometimes you will feel lonely, so having your own support group makes it a little bit easier.
10. Do you enjoy your job and how much longer are you planning to do it?
I really enjoy my job being an au pair, which is why I’m doing a second year. After this I still don’t know what to do, I’m quite interested of being an au pair again in a Scandinavian country, but I still don’t know yet.
11. You are living in the same house as the family that you are working for. Do you think this makes it easier to integrate and learn about Dutch culture?
Yes, because you become a part of the family and it makes it easier to integrate and interact with them.
12. Do you have any tips or tricks to share with other Indonesians that want to work abroad like you are?
Well, the first step is to contact the agency. After this they will tell you what to do, but keep in mind that it’s not the way to get lots of money, but for you if you want to travel around Europe the cheap way then this is a great option.
13. Some people think negatively about this job. Have you ever had any unpleasant experiences?
Yes, well my second year here is not easy, my host family is as not as nice as the first one, and sometimes I feel like I can’t handle it anymore, but then I go back to the reason why I’m here. This is because I want to travel europe, so being tortured from Monday-Friday is quite worth it when you can travel around Europe on the weekend
14. Where have you traveled since you became an Au pair?
Since I became an Au pair I’ve travelled to 10 European countries; Spain (Barcelona), Greece (Athens), Italy (Milan, Verona, Venice, Pisa, Florence, Naples and Rome), Czech Republic (Prague, I went here twice), Germany (Cologne, Dusseldorf, Kaiserslautern), Hungary (Budapest), Belgium (Antwerpen, Hasselt, and Brussels), Luxembourg, France (Paris), and of course I also travel around Netherlands. Some of my Dutch friends even said that I’ve seen more of Netherlands than they have done!
15. Last, what are the most amazing travel experiences that you’ve ever had since you started working as an Au pair?
The most amazing travel experience is my 18 days summer trip. I went to Italy with my au pair friend (mariella), and then continued my journey alone to Athens and Prague. I only spent around 1000euro for 18 days trip, all told. Well it’s true sometimes I have to suffer and only eat bread the whole day because I’m running out of money, but it was worth it (check my blog for detailed story)
16. One more question, what are your plans once you finished this contract, working as an Au pair?
Well, that’s the question I kept asking myself right now. To be honest I still don’t know yet, maybe I’ll go home, back to Indonesia and go back to work or maybe I’ll go to Scandinavian country to continue exploring Europe 🙂