Ewert and the Two Dragons

Taking a break from trip-related talks to introduce an amazing band to you. Ewert and the Two Dragons is an Estonian band, but it’s easier to catch them live abroad since they have very few gigs in their home country. Check out their tour dates – if you live in Western Europe, I’m pretty sure there’s a gig somewhere near you.

Their music is difficult to describe for me. Music isn’t made for describing, it’s made for listening. So instead of telling you what their genre and style is and other boring details like that, I’ll link a video instead:

I managed to catch one of their rare Estonian gigs in Pärnu yesterday and I was blown away. Can’t remember when I last smiled through the entire gig. The venue was beautiful, there were small kids dancing in front of the stage and having the time of their lives, the audience was singing and clapping along, the band was happy and I was even happier.

In addition to keyboard, guitars, bass and drums, they also had some extra instruments like a xylophone:

Ewert and the Two Dragons

My favourite thing about the stage was the lighting – they had light bulbs hanging in the air and the bulbs switched on and off through the gig.

Ewert and the Two Dragons

Seriously, listen to them on Youtube and then go see a gig. You have my guarantee that they are awesome.

flight planned and bought

I bought my flight ticket! Not straight to Brussels though – I’m going to Nijmegen on August 31st so I could spend a week in the hometown of my Dutchie Matthijs. (The photo is from my first trip to Nijmegen in June 2011.) After pretending that I’m finally living with him for a little bit, I’ll grab my suitcase(s) and take a train to Brussels where my small apartment should already be waiting for me.

Since one of my fears (that has not been added to the hopes&fears list yet) is that I’ll be lonely in Brussels, I’ll have to do my best to find friends there. Otherwise my life would mainly consist of taking care of kids, skyping with my family and visiting Matthijs on weekends. I made an account on couchsurfing.org where it’s possible to find accommodation on someone’s couch, offer yours to a fellow traveller or just meet up with people in your town or somewhere on travels. I’ll try to find friends through that and of course find the local Estonian community as well – there’s a lot of Estonians living in Brussels.

Hopes & Fears

I was taught to use the “hopes and fears” method years ago when I started going to European Youth Parliament events. Since then, it has been a very much used method for me and it really is useful for processing things you want to think through before doing. Since I jumped into this au pair opportunity head-first, I didn’t have much time to think of all the details that have now jumped in my head. As with the previous list, this one can get additions when I think of new things and I’ll take a new look at it at the end of my au pair year to see whether I managed to fulfill my hopes and turn the fears into positive experiences.

I hope I will be able to communicate freely in French. This is especially important when dealing with the kindergarten  – I will be taking the older kid there and back home and if there is any information to give to the parents, it’s pretty likely it will go via me. Not much use if I can only come up with nodding and saying “oui-oui!” and not remember anything later.

I hope I will have enough time and money to travel outside Brussels at least once a month. This year isn’t only about gaining experience with looking after kids and raising them in the best way possible. It’s also about new experiences outside my job and I plan to do as much as possible. If you look at the pile of bought and borrowed books at the beginning of this post, you can see a few travel books I borrowed from the library to mark down interesting places in towns I’d like to visit. This is only the beginning, the library shelves are full and my bag wasn’t able to take much more.

I hope I will have a very positive relationship with my Brussels family. This is what can make or break that job for me. Half of the family is employing me and the other half I have to take care of every week. This really is the key to having an amazing year, so I’ll do my best to get to know them properly and have a blast.

I hope I will be able to see Matthijs more often than now. …so anything more often than once a month would already be a very welcome improvement. The only negative side is that it will be more difficult to have longer trips together, but at least we should be able to see each other most weekends.

I fear that my lack of grammar knowledge and practise in actually speaking in French will hold me back from communicating. I have already taken the first step to turn this fear into something positive. Taking another look at the photo, you may notice a book + CD set from the Teach Yourself series. I have already learned Dutch for 1,5 years with a Dutch book from that series and I will be revising and learning French with my newly purchased book from now on. (In addition, I hope to take French lessons in Brussels as well, at least a conversation course.)

I fear I will find being an au pair too difficult. Ah, the fear of failure, my old friend. I have experience with kids, but not as a paid occupation. If I don’t know something, I google it or turn to the library. This time I picked the latter – the book pile also contains four different books that teach adults to encourage creativity in kids, how to help kids handle their feelings and gain confidence, Q&A with a pediatrician and Q&A with a child psychiatrist. I’ll return those soon and get some new ones. Of course I don’t take everything in those books as rules to live by, but they do offer some food for thought and prepare me mentally for many things I might encounter as an au pair.

I fear that there will be unresolvable conflicts between me and the Brussels parents. I have met the family already and so far it looks like we’re on the same page. There can always be miscommunications and misunderstandings though and then everything depends on how good we all are at talking things through and coming to an acceptable agreement. I know some people who have switched families because they just didn’t “click”, so even though I already like the family, there is always the possibility of things changing. I will do my best to resolve all problems as soon as they appear so there wouldn’t be lasting misunderstandings between us.

I fear I will run out of money long before next payday. Living abroad, lots of delicious quality chocolate around, tempting nearby locations for trips… plenty of things that would lure money out of my wallet while living there. I will try to make this fear disappear by keeping a close eye on my expenses and having a calm (read: inexpensive) weekend with walks in the park and reading books (or cuddling up with Matthijs and watching Doctor Who) after a weekend with intense trips outside Brussels.

I fear I will get homesick. This one is pretty much a given – despite all my travels I have never been away from home / my family for longer than a few weeks at a time. This will be my first longer separation from a familiar environment, friends and family. I will try to reduce homesickness by blogging, skyping and hopefully flying home two-three times during that year. Also, I’ll try to persuade friends and family to visit me whenever possible – that way I can be a tour guide as well, showing them around in Brussels and nearby towns which I should know pretty well by the time first visitors would appear.

Why an au pair? And why in Belgium?

Why be an au pair in Belgium? I’ve been asked that a few times already. First, people usually try being an au pair after graduating from high school if they don’t know what to do next / just want to see the world. Second, most Estonians would probably pick some place like the USA, the UK… or any country that offers enough sun for a lifetime in one year.

I’m 22, just got my BA in politics and could be looking for an office job where I could use that education or go and get a Master’s degree in international relations or EU studies or… you get my drift. Why on earth would I be an au pair then? The answer is fairly simple. Even though I’ve travelled quite a lot already, it’s not enough for me; I’ve been wanting to live abroad for at least a year for as long as I can remember. This is the time to finally do that.

For years I thought I’d go to England. I have always loved England and London is the city of my dreams. Then something changed. I fell in love with a Dutchman and suddenly I found I wouldn’t be against moving to The Netherlands. There were a few obstacles though – I had no money for moving and we were both still studying, so just packing everything up and going to a different country was not the most sensible option.

This June I discovered something. I was done with university, I had no idea what I wanted to do next (Master’s degree? In what? What job? In which country???), my eyes were not taking my current office job very well and I felt like I needed a break from everything. I had already had half a week where I could barely see anything with one eye and the other one hurt like mad as well, so I knew I had to make a change. I went through all job offers and put up a profile on an au pair website and the first results came from the aur pair site.

Within 1.5 weeks from the moment I had started searching for a new job, I had an agreement with a lovely Estonian-French family in Brussels and could quit the office job. Being an au pair seemed like the furthest thing from archiving invoices. It seemed perfect. I have always loved children and gotten along well with them, so changing from computers to two lovely small kids… was there even a question?

Of course, one factor in picking that particular family (besides the fact they seemed the best fit from everyone who had contacted me so far) was that Brussels is only a 3h train ride away from Nijmegen. What about Nijmegen? Well, it’s a lovely Dutch town near the German border… and my lovely Dutchman Matthijs happens to live there. We have been flying back&forth between the Netherlands and Estonia for more than 15 months, so being closer to him was such a lovely bonus to everything else. No more asking in January whether he would be able to see me at the end of June or planning the New Year’s meet-up in the middle of the summer. Just jump on a train and go.

The List

I like planning. I like taking a piece of paper and writing down things I need to pack, things I need to do next week, books I want to read, places I want to visit (and exact opening times and prices so I could make a vague day plan and an approximate budget) and of course bus times for next morning so I wouldn’t be late for work / meeting up with someone.

Knowing this, it’s probably not surprising that I have written down a list of things I want to do during my time in Brussels. I like having clear goals and I definitely do not want to go there to kill time. I want to go there to experience as much as possible and know in a year’s time that I have had an amazing year and I’m wiser and happier than before.

This list is not complete in any way, I’ll be adding things during my time there as well.

  1. Write down everything I spend. (So I’d learn not to spend so much money on ridiculously expensive cake and sweets.)
  2. Go to a French-speaking town and use only French to get by, no English allowed.
  3. Make a blog post in French. (Preferably without grammar mistakes…)
  4. Spend a weekend in London. (Just because I love London.)
  5. Take a cheap flight with just hand luggage to a random location. (Open Ryanair.com, close your eyes, point to a random destination.)
  6. Try ridiculously expensive chocolate of five different chocolatiers. (I know, this slightly clashes with #1.)
  7. Hop on a random train to take a trip to a random location. Try to get by in the local language, be it French or Dutch.
  8. Have a computer-free weekend. Not even a sneaky peek to check e-mails or Facebook!
  9. Find the local Estonians’ community and attend at least one event.
  10. Learn how to properly ride a bike. (I know, “You’re 22 and still can’t ride a bike!?”, no need to say it…)
  11. Learn how to swim properly. (I nearly drowned as a kid, okay? I’ll learn not to fear deeper water one day.)
  12. Write the dystopian story I’ve had in my head for three years by now. Or at least a few chapters!
  13. Go to at least three gigs. (Now this should be an easy one.)
  14. Go to the centre to have coffee during sunrise and enjoy the view. (Or tea, since my body doesn’t handle coffee all too well.)
  15. Take a tour in the European Parliament. Or two.
  16. Visit Waterloo. (It’s really close, would be silly not to go.)
  17. Party in Brussels’ “Gay Village”. (Brussels is supposed to be the gay capital of Europe and the parties are amazing, as I’ve heard.)
  18. Learn a new skill. (Or at least join a choir to develop an old skill.)
  19. Read more history books. Perhaps even in French.
  20. Learn enough about architecture to be able to properly admire the amazing historical buildings in Brussels and distinguish between different styles.
  21. Visit Willemijn in Gent.
  22. Visit Antwerpen and take a walk in the Diamond Quartier.
  23. Visit Brugge. (And perhaps do a boat tour on the canals.)