I moved to Germany for one year to be an Au Pair in Berlin in March 2019. One of the biggest reasons I chose the Au Pair option to live abroad was so that I could truly experience the culture by living with a German family (Parents: Jessi & Max, Kids: Nicki & Ella). As I talked about in my 5 Ways to Travel on a Budget post, there are a few options I was looking into when I decided I wanted to live abroad for the year. Ultimately, I am so glad that I chose to be an Au Pair. I could go on forever talking about why this was the right decision for me, but I will save us all some time, and just hit on some of the highlights:
- Cultural Immersion
- One thing I did not know about Berlin before moving here was how many expats I would meet. I have met friends from all over the world (like really…Hungary, Holland, South Africa, Australia, USA, Scotland, Ukraine). Honestly, if I was not living with Jessi and Max, I think it would have been totally possible to live in Berlin for the year and have friends from everywhere except Germany. When I see the people my friends hangout with, they are also expats from all over the world. While it is super cool to have such a diverse network of friends, I would have been really upset with myself if, at the end of my year in Berlin, I did not get to experience German culture. Living with Jessi and Max, I had people to tell me about events, festivals, and places that I needed to be a part of while I was here. They also gave me tips on how to avoid looking like a tourist (like how long my Dirndl should be or how to properly hold a beer at Oktoberfest). Finally, as you all know, I love exploring new cultures through food and drinks. Living with a German family meant that I was able to eat more German food than I would have been able to on my own. Aside from the actual food, I was able to learn to appreciate a German breakfast. Not just what we ate for breakfast (seriously though, Americans are missing out…breakfast is a true meal, not just pancakes and a yogurt), but also the experience of being together. In Germany, sitting down for breakfast is a special time to be together, and can be a two-hour event. While Jessi and Max will tell you, I am not a big breakfast person, and am not the best at sitting down for too long before wanting to clear the table, this is something that I would love to do with my family one day.
- Learning German
- When I was in school, I took the bare minimum requirements for my foreign language. Now that I am older, this is something I definitely regret, so I knew when I moved abroad I wanted to move to a non-English speaking country. Learning a new language is definitely something I have struggled with. Not only the language, but putting in the time outside of class practicing that language. As an Au Pair, I was forced to practice my German with Nicki and Ella. On top of that, I had access to two people who could clarify things that did not make sense to me or correct me when I wasn’t pronouncing things correctly. A lot of my classmates would talk about how lucky I was that I had people in my daily life to practice my German with. I also think this served as a motivation to keep up with my German courses. If I had been living on my own, it would have been so easy to quit when the courses were too hard (which, to be honest, I thought about A LOT). I was lucky to have a family to constantly reassure me that I was getting better, and encourage me to keep up with my courses (who also threatened to only speak to me in German if I quit).
- Less Stress
- As I mentioned, there are so many expats living in Berlin. This causes a major issue as it relates to housing. There are more people looking for housing than there are apartments in the city. This is true for people with money, who can afford to pay more. I can only imagine the stress I would have gone through trying to find a place to live for the year (all before even moving here and knowing the different neighborhoods). I also would have had to find a job that would have allowed me to sign a one-year contract (many of my friends living abroad are on two-year contracts and would be penalized for leaving early). I know me, and I know that I would not have been able to do two years away from home. The biggest stress relief was having someone else to help me with the visa process. I honestly do not think I would have been able to have such a stress-free visa application if it wasn’t for Jessi’s help.
- My Second Family
- The biggest benefit of going the Au Pair route is the family I gained. Jessi, Max, Nicki, and Ella helped Berlin feel like home. I am not going to pretend that moving abroad is all sunshine and butterflies. It’s not. It can be really hard. Especially in the beginning when you are alone in a new place, missing family, and have no friends. If I was not living with people who really cared about me, I think it would have taken a lot longer to adjust. I should clarify that some Au Pairs are working with families who do not have interest in them becoming part of the family, but that has not been my experience. Jessi and Max wanted someone who would become a part of their family, who they could maintain contact with, even after they are gone. After my year in Germany, I know that I have a second family and a second place to call my home forever.
In my time in Germany, I tried to make the most of my experience by exploring as much as possible. To see some of my favorite things to do in Berlin, check out my Berlin Fast Facts.