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.

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.)