Tea Talk 6: Hayden Wahlman | World Traveler

Hayden and I have known of each other practically our whole lives. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration…but our moms were both homeschool moms/friends and so we’ve been connected in the same homeschool circles since we were pretty young.

Hayden had the awesome opportunity to live in Germany, recently, and I’ve been following along on her adventures ever since our mutual friend suggested it! I love how so many of my homeschool friends have taken up their passports and traveled the world. It takes me back to that fact that homeschoolers are the best travelers. Meet Hayden!

1. What started your passion for traveling? 

I always wanted to travel, just like anyone. But I think it was joining the air force reserves that really got me motivated to see the world.

I had been at a minimum wage job for 3 years before joining the reserves and didn’t have many qualms about it. But once I signed the contract for the military I started getting anxious about being “stuck” in a contract. I took a trip to san francisco right before I left for bootcamp.

Once I was in the military my desire for traveling really caught on fire. I felt a little bit like a bird in a cage, which is something I never felt before I joined.

The day after my full-time training ended and I was going to just one weekend per month, I put a sleeping bag in my car and drove to the grand canyon. After that I planned my first eurotrip. I had 5 months to kill before school started and I had been waiting ever since I signed my contract to see the world. So I really felt like I needed to do it immediately.

It’s been 3 years since my first eurotrip and I haven’t been able to kick the habit of spontaneously traveling whenever I get the chance!


2. What’s one travel tip you think the world should know? 

Packing light has been said over and over again, so I’ll skip that one.

One big one that people might overlook is your choice of hostel. You should choose one that is social and has a pub crawl or tours throughout the day, and also one that is in the city center (the price difference should only be a few dollars per night, and well worth it).

I highly recommend going on the free tours they offer and the pub crawl the first night you get there. That way you meet the people and see the highlights of the city. After that, you can kinda make your own way. But skipping the day tours in order to figure out the city for yourself can sometimes leave you missing out on some gem of the city you never would have found on your own.


3. What’s your favorite cultural habit you’ve picked up (ex. food dishes, lifestyle changes etc.)

Opening my widows. In Germany (and I’ve heard the rest of the….world..?) they open their windows daily, 365 days per year. I hated it at first, since I was there during the FREEZING winter. But once I got home I started leaving the windows a crack open in my bedroom and I swear it makes a huge difference. I actually hate being in a house with no window open now. I never thought I would get to that point.


4. What would you suggest for other women who are thinking about traveling? 

FOLLOW YOUR GUT! Seriously.

I have definitely done some things during my travels that a lot of people would consider dangerous, but I followed my gut and ended up having the best times of my life. I have also avoided situations that some people would deem perfectly safe, because my gut was just not having it.

Have an open mind and listen to your gut.

5. What’s one failure that you learned a lot from, when it comes to travel? 

Not being organized. I have finally perfected backpack and am very comfortable with the items I choose to travel with and the placement of everything.

I lost my entire backpack while in Switzerland once because I had shoved so much stuff inside grocery bags and jumped off the train before realizing my backpack was not on my back! I blame having so many random bags to account for.

6. What’s one fear that you overcame, while traveling? 

Talking to people! I am pretty shy, but getting lost in multiple cities around the world will definitely pry you out of your comfort zone and get you talking to whatever stranger is in sight!

7. What is your favorite way to travel (ex. plane, train, automobile?) and why?

I’d say train. The scenery is nice and they usually are really comfortable. I still travel by bus mostly, since it’s cheaper. But if there is a cheap train to somewhere I want to go, I’d take a train over everything.


8. What is one piece of advice that you wish you could give your past self? 

To meet more people during my first Eurotrip. I was still pretty quiet my first time abroad.

9. What is one place at the top of your bucket list that you’d like to visit? 

I got a small taste of Turkey a few months ago and I’m aching to go back and see the rest of it…all of it!

10. Let’s talk about your most recent trip! What was your inspiration for your adventure? 

I got an internship at a company in Germany, it was arranged through my University. I minored in German because it seemed like the most logical language to learn for traveling Europe, which in turn got me this internship.

11. What has been the best/toughest part of your most recent trip? 

The toughest part was definitely making friends while trying to learn the language. I was not in the best state of mind when I moved to Germany and all I wanted was to talk to family and friends. But when you are meeting new people everyday, the only appropriate things to talk about are pretty small. A lot of my conversations revolved around the weather and politics, as my language skills were not advanced enough to speak of anything else.

As for the best part. I think learning how to LIVE in another country. Living and traveling to another country are very different things.

 

12. What’s one thing you’ve learned from your most recent trip? 

To be ready. I was NOT ready to leave for Germany, not by a longshot. Even with my constant desire to travel. I left very reluctantly.

In hindsight, I wish I would have spent the summer (I left for Germany in September) with more friends and got my life in the States more organized before I left.

13. What’s one thing you’ve learned about yourself from your most recent trip? 

I learned how quickly I shut down when I’m overwhelmed. I never knew this about myself at all. I think when you are in your own country, speaking your own language, it is easier to work through problems. I always felt like I was pretty resilient and could tackle most problems.

But man, I think living in a foreign country has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t know how quickly I would give up on it. I think I cried daily while I was there, the smallest task could turn into such a chore. Everyone told me I would be homesick, which I scoffed at. But it was true, it was not the type of homesick you have as a child. It’s different. I can’t even explain it. But I really learned I need to go into my next move much more prepared.

If you are an American, keep in mind that there are a lot of people who have an opinion on America and American citizens (whether it be positive or negative). I had no idea how much Europeans knew about America and was not ready for all the questions they had for me concerning our politics and other things.

I highly recommend reading travel forums and learning about how the citizens of that specific country feel about americans. It’ll help you navigate some pretty common conversations you’ll be bound to have with the people you meet.

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Your Questions Answered: Becoming An Au Pair

au pair 101
I’ve been getting a lot of questions, lately, from various sources about my au pair experience and I thought I would do a kind of “post au pair year” post to answer a few of your questions! So here it is, the good the bad and the ugly.

One of the questions I get the most is whether or not I “liked” my experience. First off, this is a broad question because asking if I “liked” an entire year of my life is about as easy to answer as if you asked a five year old if they liked the last 24 hours of their life – they probably don’t remember, there were probably good and bad things that happened, but they’re still alive so it’s all good.

The thing is, being an au pair is the same as being in any other work profession – there are good days and there are bad days. The thing that is different, is that you don’t get to leave work when you’re having a bad day. You can’t walk away from your boss, you can’t fake sick days (or even take sick days, in general – I knew several au pairs (myself included) who worked through colds, the flu, and even the chicken pox. That’s right – she didn’t get off from work when she had chicken pox). While being romaticized mentally by many, I would say the most accurate/closest portrayal I’ve ever seen is The Nanny Diaries. It’s no piece of cake, that’s for sure.

The best parts of being an au pair would probably be the same as when you’re working as a nanny – you have A LOT of free time. While some families require for you to work in the morning (taking the kids to school) as well as the afternoon, my au pair family only required that I worked after school, meaning I started work every day at about 3pm (NOTE: Except Wednesdays – which, in France, is a no/half school day – depending on the age of your children). Which means I had time during the day to go out and do things, or just stay in my house and work on projects. This also meant that I was able to come back a little bit later from (the many) weekend trips that I made.

This brings up another really great fact and that is: All au pair families are not the same. These differences can include, but are not limited to:

  • Whether you work mornings or just afternoons
  • Whether you have a room in the house or separate
  • Whether your transportation (public transportation card/card/etc) is paid for
  • Whether your communication is paid for – some families will pay for your phone
  • Whether your au pair family will have you babysit on weekends
  • Whether the family will pay you for working additional days/nights (some don’t)
  • Whether your language classes/lessons are paid for
  • How much you get paid and how you get paid (direct deposit/cash each week/monthly)

Most of these things didn’t work in my favor with my au pair situation. While I did have weekend freedom, as well as no need to babysit (generally, since there were older kids who could), I didn’t have any additional resources paid for, which did make living a little bit harder, overall (since actual pay only came to 80 euro/week). This is something to REALLY think about/ask about when you’re finding an au pair family. Look at your own personal finances and make sure that things align with what your  income will be for the next year of living in a foreign country and make sure that you fill in gaps with your own savings, before the move.

My biggest piece of advice, in general, would be for you to check, double check, Skype, phone call, email and talk to your potential family as much as possible. I would also highly suggest talking to past nannies or au pairs that they’ve had. While I wouldn’t recommend the family that I worked with, I have been asked by other au pairs who were thinking about working for them, and I was able to let them know. Communication is key! This is also a great indicator of how you will be able to communicate once you move there – if your au pair family isn’t willing to communicate with you while you’re abroad that might be an indicator of other underlying problems with the position, which will come up once you actually get there.

I would also say make sure you have a really great support system. The only reason I was able to come out sane, after my time in France was because I had such an amazing support system back at home that was encouraging me, sending me snail mail and Skyping me. Asking your au pair family about whether they know other au pair families in their city, s also a really great way to connect with other au pairs.

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When it comes down to it, being in a foreign country is really isolating and can be incredibly lonely (like a whole different level of lonely than I had ever experienced before). Having this support system really CAN make or break your experience. Also – if you know you enjoy living in a city and being active socially don’t take a position in a small town. I know it might seem adventurous, but overall it probably isn’t going to be a good decision. Keep true to yourself, even if the “perfect” family doesn’t come around right away, it’s worth making sure they’re the right family for you, before making the leap.

Maneuvering the realm of being an au pair is an adventure that isn’t for everyone. There are benefits to leaving your comfort zone and striking out in the world, but make sure that you look before you leap. As I always say with any kind of travel, don’t take on something in order to escape something else. Make sure you do your research, and make sure you aren’t settling.

And, as always: If you ever have questions or comments, or find yourself in an au pair position that just doesn’t seem right email me at morehouseemilee@gmail.com Blog Signature

Boldly Going Where No Man Has Gone Before

The window view from where I stayed in London.
The window view from where I stayed in London.

Have you ever done one of those trust fall exercises, where someone stands behind you and you roll back on your heels, hoping they’ll catch you before you meet the floor? Me neither. Because I think they’re mildly pointless and dangerous.

But, I think they happen to be the best illustration for how I feel this week. Yesterday was an extremely exciting day because I sent in my application for a French university. Hopefully, I would be attending the school starting this fall and throughout the time I’m living in France (fingers crossed!).

Initially, when I got my au pair position, I hadn’t thought about going to a university. It wasn’t in my budget, and I thought I’d probably just look for a short and sweet 10 weeklong program instead. Taking some kind of French language/culture courses, as an au pair, are required by law – but they don’t have to be at a university.

When the family I’ll be living with suggested the University of Orleans, I started to question my strategic “easy button” on educating myself while I was there.

There are two options at the Universitaire D’Orleans. You can either attend for one semester and stop, or you can attend for two and then graduate with a French certificate stating you are qualified for whatever a French language certificate qualifies you for.

At first I thought, “Cheaper option – duh.” And started filling out my application for one semester. But then, as the deadline got closer, I started to feel uneasy. It didn’t feel right taking the “easy way” out and not completing the program. And that little inner voice wouldn’t give me peace about it AT ALL.

So, instead, I changed my application over to the one-year program. Instantly I felt better. Having made the insane decision, I started looking at the numbers, because that’s what I always do. They don’t add up. Like I said before, attending college wasn’t in my plan when I decided to move to France.

But, then again, moving to France wasn’t in my plan when I decided to move to France, either.

While I was visiting my grandparents this Easter my grandma stopped me on the stairs, as I was leaving, and asked me, “Have you prayed about this [moving to France]? Do you have peace about it?”

Like most of my family members, she’s worried. I will be the first girl in my family to live abroad, and one of the first to have been to Europe. It’s foreign territory, and scary to think about, when I ask my family for their blessing.

But, when my grandma asked me that question, I was able to stand there, smiling slightly, and answer with confidence, “Yes.” I have total peace. Total confidence in where I’m going and what I’m doing. Does that mean I’m not terrified? No.

But, amidst the chaotic feelings to dig a hole and hide, I have a “peace that surpasses understanding”(Phil 4:7) aka peace that makes absolutely no logical sense.

I have no idea how I’m going to afford living in France for a year. How I’m going to pay student loans, and other expenses, when my living stipend is less than a quarter of what I make right now. I don’t know how I’m going to afford going to college for a year, when it would be smarter to go for a semester and call it good.

All I know is that I’m called to risk greatly. To step out into unknown territory. To boldly go where no man has gone before – kidding (Trekkie nerd alert).

Right now, I’m stepping out into something that could turn out to be crazy. I am risking greatly, following an inner guide who has never failed me before.

It doesn’t make sense. Maybe nothing worth succeeding at ever does. But right now I just have to fall, trusting that, seconds before I hit the floor, I’ll be reminded that someone had my back the entire time.

London, England
London, England