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.