South African au pair Kat shares her thoughts on how to deal with homesickness as an au pair.
Let’s discuss homesickness…homesickness is a real thing, let’s acknowledge it and learn how to better cope with it.
Many Au Pairs that embark on this new exciting adventure have just finished high school and for many this is the first time they will be away from home for such an extended period of time. We are choosing this program because firstly, we have a love of children and then secondly, we want to experience a new country/culture/lifestyle etc. Before you commit yourself to a year abroad, you need to really sit down and consider whether or not this is for you. You need to remember that as scary as this feels for you and the fears you may have, the family taking you in feel it too and it’s just as much of a challenge for them and it will take them a while to adjust to the new situation.
If you were to decide after 1 week that you wanted to go home and this isn’t for you it would be very disruptive for all involved, especially the children…so, you need to be willing to stick it out for at least 2 months. I think a month is the minimum amount of time you need to get settled, (it may be easier if the family have previously had an au pair and the kids are used to having a live-in person but in my case I was the first and it does take time for everything to get settled into a routine).
When the day finally arrives for you to leave your family in your home country and step onto that airplane, you’ll have tears in your eyes, butterflies in your stomach and an ache in your heart for the loved ones that are staying behind. For others, such as myself, you are too excited to even think about homesickness… both sides of the spectrum are normal.
You will arrive in New York at Orientation and immediately you’ll bond with your roommates. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll make friends at Orientation, so much so that you forget how homesick you were feeling on that first day. Then comes the day you have to say goodbye to all your new friends and you’ll be heart broken all over again, but don’t worry, you will be able to stay in touch with your new friends throughout your year!
Au Pair in America has taken away the hard part out of finding friends as you will join a cluster in your area. Within the first 2 weeks of having arrived at your host family, your cluster counselor will come to the house and visit with you and discuss the rules and then speak to you privately to make sure you are doing okay. You will also receive an email with the contact information of all the girls in your cluster. Reach out to all the au pairs – they all know what it feels like to be new and everyone can always do with another friend – some au pairs extend too, so there is a constant flow of friends leaving and new ones arriving.
The greatest lesson you will ever learn about living abroad is that feelings and emotions will ebb and flow throughout your year. Last year in August I got onto a plane and signed up for a 5 month internship in China to teach English as a Foreign language. I loved my time there so much that I decided to stay for an entire year, but there were days that I was totally over being in a foreign country with a language barrier and food that I just wasn’t used to and then the next day I would wake up and again love the fact that everything is brand new and different.
A year abroad is a time to grow as an individual and it is such an eye-opening time of your life where you realise how much you are capable of handling. Skype is a great way to stay in touch. As I am in Seattle, I am 10 hours behind my family in South Africa so I’m either ready for bed or have just woken up and vice versa for my family, but we make it work. Facebook is a great help too.
Other tips for dealing with homesickness are:
* Having a comfort from home – special teddy/ pillow case/ photo etc. Whatever it is, bring it if it helps.
* I personally carry a gratitude journal and every day I write down 10 things that I am grateful for, so even on bad days I am forced to find 10 blessings to be thankful for.