How I Ended Up in Australia
After I finished school, I had no idea where my place in this world was. I felt the urge to explore the world and thus, explore myself as well. I thought that doing an au pair year would be a great way to really get to know a different culture. But why Australia? Important to me was to go to a place in this world that is far away from my hometown in Germany. So there I was, looking for a host family on the website aupairworld.com, filtering any other continent but Europe. Another key filter was to look for a vegan host family, as I thought that my lifestyle should match with the one of the family that I would live for half a year. Through those filters I found the Eales family. We had a skype call and knew that this was a match straightaway.
Expectations and Goals
What I expected from my year abroad was to live with a host family that fits me and my lifestyle quite well. I expected to become a part of the family and that is exactly what happened.
Before I flew to the other end of the world, I felt a lack of confidence in speaking a foreign language which was surely connected to a lack of confidence in general. I expected the fear of speaking to vanish through daily communication with my English-speaking host family. Especially my host sister Alidia made that possible for me since I did not feel any judgement from her side. It surprised me that when I increased my confidence in speaking, I increased my self confidence as well. It was both connected.
Typical Day of Work and Work Environment
I worked as an au pair, which is basically about caring for a child and helping with household chores. What did that look like? My day started usually very early before the sun rised to enjoy some quiet time with my host parents while Alidia was still asleep. We used to write in our diaries, meditated together, read a few pages in our favorite books, did some yoga and a workout. Alidia woke up at around 7 o’clock in the morning and we all had breakfast together. An hour later, my work time began. My major task for the day was to keep Alidia entertained. She was only three years old and did not attend any child care. So, there I was day in and day out, being a game partner for Alidia. We spent the morning outside at one of the many playgrounds in the area or went to the beach and soaked up the sun. For lunch time, we came back and had a break. Before Alidia had a nap for one to two hours, I read a story for her. While she was asleep, I used the time to do the dishes, to wash some clothes, to wipe the floors etc. Alidia woke up and we spent the last couple of hours of our day together to be creative in any way. That usually included doing arts and craft. My work day ended roughly at 5pm. Soon after that, we enjoyed our family dinner that my host dad prepared most of the times. I often spent the evenings together with my host parents having a chat. From time to time though I needed some time for myself at the end of a long day.
My work environment was the very best that I could have imagined. The place where my host family lived was called Golden Bay, which was a rather small town near the big city Perth in Western Australia. We lived in a nice neighborhood, a 10-minute walk away from the beach. I sometimes wished for a more central location of the house, but it is very common in Australia to live an hour away from the next bigger city and call it “around the corner”.
The social setting was very family-based. We did a lot of family visits so I got to know Alidia’s grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts.
All of this provided me with brilliant conditions for diving into the Australian culture.
What the Australian Culture Had Taught Me
Australia reshaped the view I have on the world and the people I meet. Here is why.
The Role of Nature
The way Australians spend most of their precious time outside inspired me. I felt so much more alive this way. Having dinner at the beach or a picnic at the park watching the sunset, shopping at the diverse markets for fresh fruits and vegetables while listening to live music or having a barbeque with friends on the lawn in the garden. I enjoyed this way of living so much that I promised myself to keep that as soon as I am back in Germany.
In addition to this, my host parents gave me the impression that Australians are not only very keen on traveling and road trips but also not too attached to their place of birth or home towns in general. They have been together for ten years and lived at ten different places during this time. They changed the places they call “home” so often – lived on a yacht, in a van or in a tent. What I noticed is that they see the whole country as their home instead of a house. I really learned from them to appreciate this life on earth so much more and feel more like a citizen on earth than a citizen of a specific town.
Now I know that this was something I picked up from my host parents, not from Australians in general. Later on, I realized that many Australians have not seen any other place in Australia than the area they grew up in.
Nevertheless, no matter if they have seen more of Australia or not, all of them seemed to be extremely proud of the outstanding and diverse nature of the country. No matter where I have been, people were always eager to tell me about “must see places”. The appreciation of the beauty of nature is indeed an inherent part of the community. And it makes sense to me that due to the diversity of nature in the whole of the country, Australians do not feel the need to travel far away. Most of the citizens have not been outside of Australia because the country already provides many spots to delight in. That is especially why I am grateful to say that I got the chance to travel all around the country.
What caught my attention was that on the other side, the appreciation of nature did not seem to go past the point of seeing the beauty nature provides. When it comes to the bush fires in the northwest that happen every year, Australians share the view that nature will regulate itself. When I asked my host parents what the situation was like at the beginning of 2020 when the media in Germany showed horrible pictures of the fires in Australia, they just told me that this was normal. This might be connected to their laid-back attitude towards life.
Social People with a Laid-Back Outlook towards Life
What really distinguishes an Aussie from a German is the easy-going, relaxed attitude they carry around. “No worries!” is a phrase I heard each and everyday not only from my host parents, but also from strangers on the street. It is all about putting aside stress to appreciate the good things in life right in front of you.
Their attitude towards money goes along with their general relaxed way of life; They are anything but miserly. A look at the most liked activities in the country such as surfing, camping, fishing, eating out and having barbeques with friends also reflect their laid-back attitude.
It seems obvious that this goes along with a simple way of life, but I do understand people who criticize that some Australians tend to look away when it comes to serious topics such as politics and economics. This can be seen when hearing the news – It seems more interesting to talk about the last football game.
Moreover, Australians are very social people who greet everyone, even though they do not know you. It does not matter if it is the busdriver, a shop assistant or people behind a market stall who will likely call you “Honey” or “Darling”. Surrounded by such a friendly atmosphere, I felt very welcomed.
A typical conversation between my host dad and a random person on the street would go like this: “G’day Mate! How ya going?” “Yeah, living the dream man”. Sometimes these conversations ended up in a personal exchange but most of the time, it did not and the other person just ignored the answer. These situations showed me that greeting every stranger and asking how they are could have a fairly superficial touch. The greeting “G’day Mate! How ya going?” for example, which I used to hear countless times during my stay, seems very caring at a first glance. But situations come to my mind when strangers walked by and said those words, not even waiting for my answer to come. I was just about to say “Thanks, I am good! How are you?” but the persons already passed by.
Normality of Hosting an Au Pair
Due to the fact that Australians are generally very open-minded and friendly people, who seem to be interested in the people surrounding them, they usually just find their au pairs online, have a skype call and invite them to their home. In Germany, this would be a bigger deal. It is not a surprise that it is a quite common thing that many families who are located in Australia like the idea of hosting au pairs. This can be seen by the huge amount of au pairs that live there, but also by the fact that the majority of people are not surprised when you tell them that you are working for a family and living with them for half a year.
I understand why Australians like the idea of having an au pair. It is not only a cheap way for them to have someone who cares for their child, as child care is way more expensive in their country. Families also do not have any problems in finding an au pair as there are so many interested people from all over the world who would like to visit Australia. In addition to this, it is very practical for the parents as it allows them both to work full days. It is also such an intense cultural exchange and, in some ways, very beneficial for the development of the child when it comes to open-mindedness and tolerance.
But there is a downside from my point of view. For one, the host family could end up taking advantage of the au pair or the other way around. I am grateful to say that none of this became a problem for me. But my experience with Alidia showed me, that it can be extremely hard for a child to have another person of reference every now and then. When I arrived at my host parents’ place, Alidia was three years old and already got to know three au pairs. I was the fourth. And it was not a miracle that I did not have an easy start with her. She developed a fear of loss through having the experience that her most important play partner and care giver changed every few months. It took a few weeks for her to build trust in our relationship and to be willing to spend time with me. Thus, I had several tough moments with her, in which she yelled at me and wanted me to go away. This was hard in the beginning but I got more and more used to the thought that this was not about me, but about her fear of losing an important person again. Thankfully I spent more months with her than the former au pairs and after I left, there has not been another au pair for Alidia. Only another former au pair and I came for another visit and that might have increased her trust again.
To sum up the three main aspects regarding the Australian culture, it elucidates the impression that the way Australians appreciate nature leads to a higher appreciation of life itself. Thus, they tend to have a more relaxed outlook towards life and this again is highly connected to their sociality and open-mindedness towards other people from all over the world.
Reflecting on my expectations, I must say that they were met far beyond what I have expected. I definitely enhanced my language proficiency and developed a better understanding of the target language and its communicative practices. I got to know the Australian culture in depth by being part of an Australian family for half a year.
In the final analysis, I realized though that the expectations I had were not what this journey was about in the first place. The most important thing was that I really got to know myself and questioned my way of seeing the world.
I got clear about what I want from life. I now know that I see myself as a teacher, working with children on a daily basis. I now know that I want to see much more of the world. I learned to lose the attachment of a single place and to feel more home at any place on earth. I learned so much more about myself during the process of being in a foreign country far away from an environment I knew. My host mum Candice actually found the perfect words to describe my au pair adventure with them: “You were having a cultural experience and personal development at the same time!”
I met so many different people with their personal stories and this really made me think about how huge this world is, what population really means and especially how tiny each and everyone of us is. We all take ourselves so seriously and forget that we are a part of something so much bigger. Everyone lives in their own small world and gets lost in their thoughts. At the end of the day, we all share the same worries and nothing of that will be of such a high importance as we think.
What I have to add at the end is that Australia and its citizens surely made me change my perspective on the world but mostly by my host parents and especially my host sister Alidia. Seeing this world through the eyes of a child again made me look at life in a totally different way, no matter if I am in Australia or back in Germany.
Furthermore, I attached a small interview. It is about a conversation between me and a dear friend from Germany who I got to know while traveling the east coast of Australia. I decided to add her words as I am persuaded that by talking about her experiences she sums up very well what the Australian culture taught me and many other European travelers over there.
What comes to your mind when you think of Australia and the role of nature there?
Hell yeah, that’s a big one! My personal perspective on the role of nature is that while I was traveling through those ancient landscapes, hiked through sacred rainforests, dived into those historical birthing pools – I felt this huge reconnection process kicking off. It was like a reminder where I truly come from and what I am made of. In this realization process I found even more than a deeper connection to Mother Earth and my roots, I also started to lean into my own truth, healed wounds from past experiences, found forgiveness for many and foremost myself. In my opinion (indigenous and non-indigenous) Australians got a deeper understanding and connection to the wild than we (normally) do. This might be rooted in the aborigine history, but also be a result of that knowing and understanding nature in a country like Australia is a survival skill.
What do you think of the attitude that most Australians carry around?
That’s one of the things I miss the most about living in Australia. Everyone is talking to each other, you’re not a stranger but right away a „mate“. You do not only say „hey“, you say „how are you“, which at least gives you the opportunity to start a conversation with anyone. Even if it’s „just“ the woman behind the counter. Back here in Germany most people take life really seriously. Even the small situations which are not even important for anything seem like serious life decisions. We are strongly attached to conservative values we‘ve been taught, values we often aren’t even aware of. But we act according to them each day of our lives. I think that’s a collective topic as it seems like a serious and conservative life attitude to life is „normal“ as most of the people are embodying it. It‘s crucial for us to see through the veil and realize that the moment someone accuses you to be „way too dreamy“ or that your desires are „far off from the imaginable“ you are exactly where you need to be. So that’s important: Breaking collective patterns that do not serve you.
Did you also have the feeling that in Australia it is actually normal to host an au pair from foreign countries?
For me it’s more about hosting a couchsurfer or workawayer. I think this topic is strongly connected to the one before as if you’ve got an open-minded attitude towards life as it’s common in Australia, you also desire to extend your horizon and learn more about other cultures and their people. Whereas with a conservative perspective on life you’d prefer to live life in your ways and try to avoid anything that could be disturbing or different. As you might realize that there is not only your reality, but a whole heap of different ones.