Tag Archives: work overseas

Au no Fair!

2 Aug

My 6 week au pairing experience was drastically cut short, ending after just 10 days. If you read my first post about au pairing you would have read what a great time I was having, blissfully unaware of any apparent discomfort I was causing the family. I want to be respectful and not use the family’s real names so for the purpose of this post I’m going to give them all pseudonyms. The Daughter will be ‘Adriana’, Mother – ‘Carla’, Father – ‘Mario’, (I know some of you are bound to imagine him as Nintendo’s Mario with a thick black moustache but so be it), and the son, ‘Fabio’.

Things began taking a bad turn after just a week. A Thursday evening meal ended with me being quite teary and emotional, after being told that things were awkward and there was a ‘problem’, of which I was at the centre of. I sat at the end of the dinner table, as they spoke in vibrant Italian, their foreheads wrinkled. Their body language hinted it was something serious but of course it was completely undecipherable by me. Their expressive sounds were made intelligible, as usual, by their Father, Mario’s, translation. I can’t remember word-for-word what was said and the general dialogue was delivered somewhat fractured due to his wife’s and daughters’ continued interjections and his faltered English. The general message was along the lines of ‘the children don’t understand you, both my wife and daughter feel uncomfortable, it’s not working’.  Adriana and Carla continued to try to add to his translation.  As each bit of information was relayed in slightly broken English it delivered another slight blow to my bubble, in which I had thought everything had being going well.  It’s a little bizarre that the main issue seemed to be communication when they had deliberately sought out an English speaking au pair; it’s not as though I tricked them into thinking I spoke Italian. I couldn’t even if I had wanted to. The daughter’s English was very basic which made conversation challenging but surely that’s the point? I made gestures, drew pictures, and used Google translate to get what I needed across. She had an English textbook that we went through a couple of afternoons but I didn’t want to force her to do it if she didn’t want to, I don’t want to become the enemy. In fact, this was reiterated in the conversation when the father translated that she didn’t want to be doing a textbook like school work. I had brought children’s books with me. So far we had gone through ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ together, I drew the words and looked up translations to aid her, but she seemed exasperated as though it was too challenging. Ideally, the parents would have been understanding, ‘yes it is challenging’, but encouraging – ‘keep trying’.

Instead the Father concluded with, “How can you fix this problem?” It sounded like he was decisively directing all the blame onto me. I wasn’t sure how to answer and the table seemed to stretch out before me as though adding greater distance between ‘me’, the foreigner, and ‘them’, the family. In that moment, I felt very alone. I apologised, but for what? I wasn’t sure. I felt I had tried my best but agreed I would try harder. We had been to the park, painted, had Fifa tournaments, played ‘Guess Who’, I did English homework with Adriana, as well as getting food shopping and preparing a simple lunch. We hashed out a vague plan of how to ‘fix’ things; I was to do more activities with the children and not only talk more, but to be more determined in my approach to talk to Adriana, (i.e. be more repetitive and do whatever possible until Adriana successfully understood my attempts to make conversation). The Mother, Carla, who I had tried and failed to manage simple conversation with due to her minimal response, upon seeing me well-up, tried to comfort me with a hug. Her affection didn’t go unappreciated at the time, but in hindsight it now seems, as harsh as it might sound, a little weird, since it was she, who decided, less than four full days later, that I should leave.

The next day, I had planned to go to the small nearby park again on the advice that I should be doing more activities with the children. However, due to a misunderstanding, the daughter called her Grandparents and arranged for us to go round to play ping-pong as we had done all together, parents included, one afternoon earlier in the week. I didn’t mind of course, the Grandmother, Mother to the children’s Dad was especially nice. Her English wasn’t great but her effort and perseverance in trying to talk to me, made her extremely likable. I only wish the daughter and Mother had tried half as hard as she did. I searched my memory of Italian words so I was able to express my gratitude and tell her how kind I thought she was. It probably didn’t sound all too melodic, to say the least, but I managed to get my message across.

-On a side note, another misunderstanding led me to spending an afternoon wandering around the town of Macerata alone despite me believing she would be accompanying me. I’m independent enough to enjoy my own company a while I just hadn’t expected it. However, she did kindly drive me into town, point me in the right direction and even provided me with a guidebook. When I explained the misunderstanding to Mario, it transpired that, (roughly translated), she hadn’t wished to ‘cramp my style’. In actual fact, I had been looking forward to us going around town and even imagined us having lunch together in a cafe, as I would my own Grandma.

– Friday seemed pretty successful. The kids enjoyed playing ping-pong with their Grandad and we ate a nice lunch. On the other hand, the children’s habit of turning on the TV in the kitchen during lunch continued. It seemed like a happy distraction from having to try to engage with the stranger in the room – me. I hated being a killjoy but due to the previous night’s conversation, I suggested to the daughter that maybe we should talk instead, reminding her that her Dad had wanted us to talk more. Unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears. She half-shrugged and told me she hadn’t seen the episode before. I mentioned it to Mario when he was home from work, as I didn’t want it to lead to me feeling ganged up on again. Yet, he said it was fine, let them watch TV.  I was getting mixed messages but didn’t want to push the point. I was led to believe that I was there, primarily, to help Adrianna with her English, however after less than a week, she didn’t seem too enamoured with the idea of learning English whatsoever. When I suggested going through her English textbook again she said ‘no’. Again, I didn’t want to force her. Also, she often gave up quickly when she thought trying to explain something seemed like too much of a challenge or would take too much effort. It’s an entirely different dynamic to what I had done in Korea, I was not there to be a figure of authority like a teacher so didn’t try to be, I tried to be their friend but without conversation it was difficult.

I felt bad for the young boy, Fabio, he was full of energy and enthusiasm. I actually think I could have gotten more success teaching him the odd phrase or the lyrics to an English song than his sister, but the parent’s only wanted me to focus on the daughter’s English. They said I shouldn’t try to teach him, instead leave him to his own devices on his Playstation as he was ‘timido’, shy.  This seemed bizarre to me and entirely contradictory, as Fabio was anything but in my company, he would dance around the living room with more moves and mischief than King Louis, of Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’. He was a little cutie. I made him giggle as we had staring competitions, pulled faces at one another and I’d mess up his hair affectionately.

That’s not to say the girl wasn’t nice, she was, she just wasn’t motivated. When she explained to her Dad the following Monday that she didn’t always understand me, which I think is normal when two people of different languages are talking to one another, it was translated as though it was a fault with me, my personality. I was told I needed to be ‘more friendly’ when I don’t believe I was at all unfriendly. Mario said I needed to ‘smile more’ and that I was ‘too serious’. I was actually much more smiley than usual, but they had seemed to have taken my natural expression and odd furrowing of the brows when I was trying to decipher what was being said in Italian, as some kind of, I don’t know, anger…In fact, I specifically remember the Dad telling me I scared them. I can honestly say I never raised my voice to them once; I never even wag my finger at them.

The only telling off I gave them, if you can call it that, was when I asked them to get dressed before their Father came home for lunch. I didn’t get cross; I asked them once. Adriana bluntly replied ‘NO’.  I asked again five minutes later. I again she flatly replied ‘NO’. Leaving a little more time, (this was all whilst I was in the middle of making lunch.) Again, she replied ‘NO’. The fourth time, I went over to the Playstation and said that if they didn’t go to put their clothes on, (I was pointing at my own clothes and their pyjamas, to demonstrate what I meant), that I would turn the Playstation off. Again, Adriana replied, ‘NO’.  I didn’t want to, but I know from experience with my younger sister, that if you don’t follow-through on your threats then you rarely expect to ever garner any respect or have any co-operation from kids. I counted to five, they looked at me as though they didn’t think I would, but I did – I turned off the Playstation. Little Fabio whaled and they both stomped off to get changed. This was all a big mistake, to my surprise, Mario said I should have left them to stay in their pyjamas all day if they wished. That was a little frustrating, it made me the ‘bad guy’, the enemy.

I would describe the parents as quite lenient, very loving, but very lenient. The kids went to bed the same time as their parents and they watched kids TV until 10.30 most nights. They weren’t made to eat vegetables if they didn’t want to. I’m not criticising their parenting it just meant that the daughter knew that she only had to do what she felt like doing, and speaking in English, by the end of the first week, was NOT something she felt like doing. At least, that’s the impression she gave. Of course, as far as she and her parents were concerned, that was my fault.

Pretty much every conversation with the parents, (mainly the Dad, since he was the only one who spoke in English), about how things were going was a re-hashing of the same conversation of the first the one, on the Thursday previous, and with each conversation it made a small issue bigger. What can make an uncomfortable situation worse is talking about how uncomfortable it is. I think it’s reasonable to expect a certain level of awkwardness if you invite a stranger who doesn’t speak your own language to live with you into your home to take care of your kids, but it takes time.  Usually the awkwardness would go unmentioned. Instead it was discussed at length turning it into a much bigger issue. Mario kept bringing it up, probably out of concern – I don’t doubt that he had good intentions, but it just made things worse. I was determined to not let it get me down, I reassured him that I was happy, I hadn’t given up if they hadn’t, and that I was genuinely doing my best to make it work.

Despite me treating each day as a new day, putting their concerns out of my mind and pulling all my usual kids repertoire out of the bag: playing frisbee, football, making silly faces, singing songs, telling jokes, drawing numerous cartoons, showing them how to do origami and performing many magic tricks, (I can literally make a handkerchief disappear – what’s not to love about that?), it all went to pieces.

One day, which turned out to be my last day, I was playing volleyball with the kids on the beach at our usual spot, by the rented sun loungers when a woman from the cafe a few meters away, called the daughter’s name. It was usual for Carla or Mario to call the daughter and check in every 45 minutes or so to see how things were going. However, this time Adriana hadn’t heard her phone ringing whilst we were playing. She missed her Mother’s call. Anyway, she spoke to the Mum via the cafe phone and reassured her that everything was fine. However, when we returned to the apartment, after I set the table for lunch and the kids played FIFA on Playstation whilst we waited for their Dad to join us, things went from bad to worse. First, the Dad dived into yet another conversation about his concerns, all pretty much the same as before. Then his mobile rang. It was his wife, Carla. She crying, saying she was beside herself with worry he told me, she said she “couldn’t trust me and wanted me to leave as soon as possible”. Some painfully awkward hours later, (I hid in my room the best part of it), I was on a plane back to the sunny UK.

And so that’s it. My au pairing experience came to a sudden end. Would I au pair again? Probably not. Not because of that particular experience, every family is different and I know people who have had great au pairing experiences. However, in September I’ll be training to be a teacher. My summer holidays will be precious and I’ll have money to spend making it count. There are still so many places I want to see and things I want to do. I have four weeks left before I have to commit completely to my PGCE and write off my social life for around ten months. In the meantime, I plan to enjoy myself.

Macerata

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I’m sorry about these au pairing titles but for some reason, as cringe-worthy as they are, they really tickle me.

Oh No Pair!

2 Aug

My au pairing experience turned into a bit of a disaster. I’ve ‘ummed’ and ‘arred’ about whether or not to write a post about it. I told the Father of the family about my blog and he’d visited the page. He even thanked me for the nice things I had said about his family in my first post about au pairing. When things started falling apart, he told me he had checked to see if I had wrote about it online, which left me in two-minds about whether or not I should.

I’ve tried to be as accurate and honest as possible about the experience, but ‘at the end of the day’, (Jeremy Kyle contestants have ruined this phrase for ever!), I don’t feel I have done anything wrong. By excluding it from my blog, and leaving my previous post without an ending, it would feel to me as though I am ashamed, when in fact I have nothing to be ashamed of. I think it’s only fair to be honest about my experience.

All too often people have an online persona, especially on Facebook, which shows their life to be one amazing party or delicious Pizza Express meal to the next. I’m not saying I don’t have an online persona to some extent, (we all pick profile pictures that make us look the best etc), I just wanted to be honest in my blog and show the good and the bad. Life has moments that kick you in the metaphorical balls sometimes; its how you roll with it that counts. As it happens, I think I’ve rolled quite well. I turned being sacked and deported (excuse the hyperbole, poetic license, INNIT BIATCHES!) into a lovely family trip between my Dad’s place and my Aunties, catching up with my adorable cousins and siblings in what happened to be even better weather than I’d had in Italy. Us, English, have been uniquely treated to some amazing weather lately. I feel dead lucky to have a lovely family that picked me up, both in the metaphorical sense and literally, in the case of my auntie, from the Stansted airport. My boyfriend was ever-dependable in his support and my Mam, who I’m eternally grateful – let me know that she would have no problems bailing me out and handing me a get-out-of-jail-free-card in the form of a plane ticket if it all went pear-shaped. Luckily, the family was just-to-say reasonable enough in purchasing the flight home instead. So my next post about how it all went wrong is written and ready to post. It will be up tomorrow.

Sun in London with my Dad

Sun in London with my Dad

Oh Au pair!

5 Jul

My Mam was an Au Pair in Canada for a short time until I, a foetus at the time, rudely made my presence known. You could, on this basis, say that this is my second time experiencing life as an Au Pair. This time, roughly twenty-four years later, I am in Italy. Here’s a bit of a run-down on things:

My host family live in Macerata 25 kilometres from the mid-east coast  or half way up the calf muscle. This is day 4 of of 44 of my au pairing experience. So far I have had sole care of the children for one half-day, spent a day with the father and two children on the beach, taken part in a family ping-pong tournament, eaten out with three generations of the family (on both sides), had a brief tour of the town, watched a couple of world-cup football matches, been to the hairdressers, learnt a few very basic phrases to get by and eaten numerous nice meals. With all that and I still managed to squeeze in one or two naps, typical!

I have so much to write about already, I don’t know where to begin. So far it’s been great, I couldn’t have hoped for a nicer family. They’ve been so welcoming. The two children are gorgeous; a delightfully mischievous eight-year-old little boy and a lovely, kind girl, aged eleven. Fortunately, the father’s conversational English is very good. The mother is very friendly too.

I found my host family on a site called aupair-world.co.uk. I wish I had found the site sooner, it was brilliant. If anyone reading this is thinking about becoming an Au Pair then obviously take care choosing the right family. I read all the profiles pages of all the host families carefully and spoke to several families via Skype before deciding on this one.

I chose to come to Italy because I love Italian food – who doesn’t? It’s not too expensive to fly here/I could hop on a plane home fairly easily if anything went disastrously wrong, I have enjoyed previous visits to Italy and I don’t know…there’s just something about Italy. Even ‘Sopranos’, the popular HBO drama series of an American-Italian mobster family is so...hmm maybe ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ is a better example. Either way, the principle values of both shows are very similar actually: Family, good food, loyalty and humour. These of course, are just stereotypes, but so far they have rung true. It’s bravissimo! I’m loving it. Home-sickness is bound to hit me at some point, I miss having Lawson with me immensely, but the experience is priceless.

Life After ‘Tefling’

19 Apr

‘Tefling’ obviously isn’t really a word, but you know what I mean, so just go with it. (Life afteyayr Teaching English as a Foreign Language.)

If I was sitting down about six months ago to write this post it would have been quite miserable.  It probably wouldn’t have even been a post, just a series of sighs, grunts, huffs and puffs. I, perhaps quite naively, thought coming home with a years solid graft under my belt, (employers don’t know teaching English in a Hagwon in Korea is one of the easiest jobs in the world), added with the fact that I’ve lived and travelled abroad, giving me some kind of worldly edge or ‘soft skills’ as they’re sometimes known, combined with my English degree, would mean I’d get snapped up quicker than a slapper at a night club at the end of the night. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. It was more like I was trying to entice a vegetarian into eating meat with a bag of pork scratchings.

It might be the economical climate, the area in which I live, the fact I can’t drive – it could be any number of things. The fact was, apart from the odd telephone interview, nobody was interested. I quickly reassessed my target for a graduate job and down- graded it to just any job, AT ALL. I finally got a little shop job in a supermarket over Christmas. It was temporary and part time, did I mention it was in a supermarket!? This was a long way down for my aspirations for a graduate job within a large company with quick career growth. Who was I kidding?

However, I realised all this time I’d missed not just working, (and the general feeling of being valuable and productive), but teaching itself. I think going into teaching long-term is probably quite a common route after ‘Tefling’, and it makes sense really. I, personally, really enjoyed teaching. If your thinking of being a teacher but aren’t completely sure I would definitely advise teaching TEFL first. It gives you an idea of the basic principles needed for teaching without having to commit too much. You don’t have to pay tonnes for an expensive course to end up deciding it’s not for you. Yes, you do have to uproot for at least a year, but hey if you hate it after a few months you’ll have earned enough to buy a ticket home again.

Having said that, in my case, I didn’t get into TEFL with any intention to teach long-term. I have friends who’ve wanted to be teachers for years, they did placements and work experience but I thought it wasn’t for me. Things change. I’ve now been accepted onto a teaching training course beginning in September so I’m feeling much chirpier about the future and my career prospects.

Nearly all my other TEFL friends found jobs pretty quickly, which is hopeful. Makes me feel a bit sh*t because it wasn’t the case for me, but still, it means there’s hope for the rest of you! There’s an Estate Agent, an Apprentice Property Surveyor, Flight Attendant, Private Tutor, Educational Administrator and a Business Management Assistant. Impressive stuff. Although, some of those jobs are loosely linked to teaching and travelling, it shows that Tefling really need not have any baring on your chosen career. I’m certain none of them would have left it off their CV either. It’s like any job; you need to make sure it’s tailored to the job your going for. If  it’s a office job then focus on the organisational skills you gained and the use of computer aided things you did. On the other hand, if it’s a client based or customer facing role then focus on how teaching, especially in a foreign country, made you more personable and a better communicator.


chance

Basically, the overall message is do not give up and do not despair. The worst case scenario is that you are back where you were before you left and honestly, did you pack up your bags and travel to new lands to increase your career prospects or did you do it for the adventure? Would you trade in all the new experiences and new friends for a well-paid graduate job? I wouldn’t. I don’t even need to think about that one, and for someone who over-thinks everything, that’s a big deal.

 

Life after TEFLING

3 Apr

It’s coming up to a year since I have finished my contract teaching in South Korea. For anyone curious on the career prospects for an ex-TEFL teacher my upcoming post might give you an insight.

I need to publicly declare my intention to write a post to spur me on to write one.

Quite a few people have tried to encourage me to get my blog up and running again and to continue to write posts on my day to day life. However, as things have been, I simply don’t deem my life interesting enough. I’m pretty sure even my friends see me as a bit of a bore since I regularly decline drunken nights out.* Plus, there’s a spectrum of other reasons, such as the fact that I live with my Grandparent’s. That’s not inherently an issue as such, I’m very fortunate, however, besides from the fact I live with them they also happen to be the most avid readers of my blog. I guess what I’m saying goes along the lines of “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”. They are lovely, they really are but if I’m to have a blog I want it to be a warts and all kind of blog so to limit the risk of offending them I’m going to keep the internet, and more importantly my Grandparents, from reading my whining.

I want to write about life after teaching TEFL because as my contract was coming to an end I started to get quite anxious about what the future held. I can get a bit panicked about these things sometimes. I started franticly looking up articles and blogs that could console me. Instead, I came across this. The article, published by The Telegraph, is probably the most depressing article about TFEL teaching ever written. My heart sank and my level of panic went through the roof when I read it. I can be very dramatic. A cup of tea later and some words of reassurance from my fella’, Lawson, and I was hunky dorey again. However, months of unemployment confirmed my worst fears. However, it really isn’t all doom and gloom. I’m feeling way more optimistic about the future and I want to write a post of reassurance. Within the next week I intend to write a post about where my life has gone since TEFL, where it is going and where it could go for you. Plus it will be all wrapped in with the usual ramblings of a slightly weird, arguably unstable, twenty something like me!

I’m going to end on a quote from my favourite hottie on TV lately.

My Mad Fat Diary

Finn

*I like dancing, I like drinking, I obviously like my friends. So what’s the problem then? I ask myself this question – because I’m a walking contradiction and I have constant internal arguments with myself. The answer is I just much prefer a select group of close friends in a pub than the whole typical night out package with all the extra rubbish: the sick, alcohol stains on my favourite dress, girls crying in the loos, the drunken idiots that barge into you, regretful casual smoking and greasy calorific fast food…the list is endless.

It’s The Final Countdown – reflecting on almost a year in Korea.

13 Apr

I and Lawson began our 12 months contracts as TEFL teachers on the 21st of May 2012. Now it’s almost mid April 2013 and we are not renewing our contracts, so I guess you could say that it’s the countdown to the beginning of the end, or an end, at least on this chapter of our lives, anyway. So now is a good time to reflect on my time in Korea. Did we make the right decision coming here? What have a learnt and gained from it? 

I’ve missed home more than I expected. Not the place, but the people. When I was first looked into teaching in Korea I was just incredibly excited about the whole notion of living and working abroad. It was only the last couple of weeks before leaving that it dawned on me that it was actually quite frightening. I realised how much I was going to miss everyone. I even made a specific effort not to have any kind of sad drawn-out goodbye with one of the people I knew would miss most, my Grandma, because I didn’t want to think about it. I guess I’m a ‘Grandma’s girl’ through and through.

I feel lucky enough to have lived a fairly sheltered life. Maybe even, very sheltered, but I am only beginning to realise that now. I think being away from my family and friends for such a sustained period of time has really helped me value them. Sometimes you’re too close to see…that sounds incredibly corny but I really feel like it’s true. Maybe being away has given me rose-tinted spectacles. I haven’t forgotten how they drove me crazy sometimes, (as well as I do them),  but I think being away can really renew your appreciation. I would advise everyone to do this at least once in their lives if they have the opportunity. To take time away and recharge your gratitude for your family, especially. I think that is one of the most valuable things I’ve gained from being in Korea, appreciation. Similarly, in an odd kind of way, I’m also really looking forward to being apart from my boyfriend when I return home. I’m only looking forward for some time apart purely so we can miss each other again and renew our appreciation of each other.

Despite the occasional sharp pangs of homesickness I don’t regret it at all. I’m quite proud of myself for sticking it out. I doubted my ability to commit before now. I have never stuck a job out for more than six months before this. I also think, or at least hope, that it has made me a more accepting, more tolerant person. I’ve made some lovely friends here and met the odd person who has inspired me. My intention is to take away the things I admire most about the people I’ve met and implement those things in my own life, if I can. I’ve met the odd person whose inspired me and made me question some of my stubborn opinions too. I feel inspired to push myself more challenge myself mentally – I don’t intend to be ambiguous here – I simply want to learn more. I have met a few people who I’ve felt are far more intellectually aware and knowledgeable than me. Initially,  I hated that because it made me feel dumb-struck and frankly, plain stupid. But actually, I shouldn’t resign myself to what I refer to as my ‘lazy-brain’, as though it’s a character flaw I should learn to accept; I ought to push myself. The information is out there for the taking. Until just under two years ago, I’d been in education nearly all my life and learning felt like a chore that had to be done merely for exam results, now I have free reign to learn whatever I like.

I still don’t know what I want to do. People have finally stopped asking me the age-old, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, I guess that’s because I am a ‘grown-up’. It always felt like there was a deadline when people asked me that question but now the deadlines been reached the question seems irrelevant, we are constantly growing  aren’t we? I don’t feel under pressure anymore to make any final decisions. I want to take my time and think thoughtfully and openly about any opportunities that come my way and simply enjoy myself as much as possible beyond any outside constraints, whatever they may be.

Overall, this has been a far more valuable experience than the money I’ve saved. Which is good because my savings happen to be a lot less than the delusional estimations I made before coming here! I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to do this and if anyone else has the chance I would give you my own personal recommendation to do so. This blogging malarkey has been incredibly self indulgent and cathartic at times too. When our contract is up, before finally returning home, we have planned 6-7 weeks travelling Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam so we have a lot to look forward to plus a 3 day weekend on Jeju Island. I can’t wait to have sand between my toes, a cold Thai lager in my hand and some sun of my face. When I’m doing that, and when I return home, that’s when I know it has been worth it.

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