March 20th marked the nine month “anniversary” of my arrival to Munich. And on this date, last year, March 28, 2010 I started this blog – Diary of An American Au Pair slash New German Girl. It’s been one year since that first post and nine months since I first arrived and guess what? I’m not so new anymore!
How can I explain to you just how much my life has changed over the last nine months? You’ve been reading this blog (I hope) so you have an idea of how far I’ve come and the things that I’ve seen but how could I really explain it to you in words? I’m not even so sure that I can do that for myself. What I do know, is that the girl that I was when I left California is not the same girl that will return in June. I have changed, my life has changed, and my eyes are wide open. I may not have seen very much of the world but what I have here – I absolutely love and to be quite honest, I wouldn’t ask for a do-over even if you paid me.
The months leading up to my German adventure were busy, busy, busy. Of course I had Germany on my mind but I was so preoccupied. I was trying to finish my Capstone and was looking forward to my college graduation. I was organizing all of my material possessions, moving out of my apartment, walking away from my numerous jobs and co-workers, saying good bye to friends and loved ones, and preparing myself for the unknown. When I first arrived, after nearly 13 hours of travel with swollen feet and a weary smile, it didn’t feel that different. I couldn’t understand how to get through the airport, not because of the language – everything was written in both English and Deutsch – but because Franz Joseph Strauss airport is a ridiculous mess of signs and signals and moving sidewalks. Eventually, I found a taxi in some shady back corner and I gave my address to the driver and although he barely understood me – I was hopeless back then – he managed to finally understand and we were driving away. My adventure was right in front of me. It was about to begin.
Sometimes nostalgia from the moments when I first arrived creeps in and reminds me of how new and exciting those first few days really were. I remember how it felt to be at home but still such a stranger inside of my empty room. I remember the moment when Helen first walked up the stairs – I hadn’t seen her in two years and it was so good to hear her voice. “I missed your accent!” I told her. I remember the smell from when I first arrived – rain and summer all mixed up together. I remember the sleepless nights, lying awake in my bed until 4 or 5 A.M. desperately hoping my jet lag would soon resolve itself. I remember the first moment that I met the girls and how shy they were, hiding from me in a corner eating Duplo candy bars and giggling uncontrollably. It feels so far away yet those days still remain so close to me.
I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the Munich life – Helen was an absolute blessing! Do you remember the story of how I met her? We have a mutual friend, Helena, who went to university with Helen and after mine and Helena’s second summer working at Camp Cayuga in eastern Pennsylvania, Helena came to visit me in California with some of our other co-workers and brought Helen along. This was in September of 2008. Fast forward to June 2010 and Helen and I are sharing the third floor “flat” of our once-mutual employer and she’s welcoming me to her life in Munich. My first ToyTown event set the stage for the next six months (and more!) of my life in Munich because that’s when I met Jessica. Darling, darling Jessica.
It was clear after our first weekend in Munich that things were not going to slow down and that Jessica and I were going to be incredible friends. I couldn’t have made a better friend that first week and even now, I can’t imagine my time here in Germany without her. She’s been there the whole time – even after she left in December. My summer in Munich was unforgettable and not just because of Jessica but because of the wonderful friends that I made along the way. I found Lauren, my fellow California au pair, at ToyTown held at a summer festival. Chris, Clare, and Tomas I met the week before that when Jessica and I showed up drunk to Löwenbräu keller for a weekly ToyTown event. We met Catherine through Lauren and we brought her along with us to the Augustiner beer garden where we drank delicious beer and grooved to a German rock band until we were drunk and sweaty and ridiculously happy. And Tiago and Andre, who became an essential part of my life in Munich a bit later in the year, I met the same night that I met Jessica. But they came and went throughout the summer and into the fall until they were just there, all the time, and Tiago, especially. There was beautiful Elli, Jessica’s co-worker and friend, who was absolutely wonderful. And Eric – dashing, handsome, blessedly perfect Eric – my wonderful, Hogwarts-loving gay boyfriend who I met during our 22-hour adventure to visit Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein castle. I fell in love with him that day and nothing has changed. He still has my heart. I met Jennie during this fateful trip as well and the best part about having Jennie here – her wit and astounding intelligence and now, our blog camaraderie (she’s fabulous!). And she’s returning to Munich, in almost a month! Yes!
And then there was Harry – wonderful Harry – who I met at Clubhouse, an infamous ToyTown venue. I spent the whole summer adoring Harry, with his charming smile and English ways. He knew how much I adored him – German beer became my truth serum whenever I was around him – and despite the numerous times I confessed my adoration, he never made me feel awkward about it. He was (and still is) a wonderful human being. I must think so to give him his own paragraph! He became an essential part of my summer and even through we aren’t getting married and living happily ever after together (damn!), I will always cherish how much better my summer was because of him.
And how could I ever forget Fionnuala? The girl with the fiery red hair who first thought I was just another crazy, loud, and obnoxious American? How could we have known then how much we would mean to each other now – best friends and practically inseparable? I spent six days with her family in London over New Year’s and now, eight months after having met her, we’re still rocking Munich as much as we ever did, maybe even more. My life here in Munich wouldn’t be the same without Fionnuala (or Fio, as we fondly call her). And without Fio, I wouldn’t have met Laura, the sweetest, kindest, most beautiful Dutch girl that you will ever meet. And as the months passed I found so many, many more to light my life: Bria, Mike, Zainab and Sara, Nuno, Ana, Paul (crazy, wonderful Paul!), Benji, Nathan, Stoney, and sweet little Wing. And most recently, Cat, who found me through this blog by way of Google! Of course, there are many more but this blog would go on forever! But how could I forget Brenna – my crazy, psychotic but blessedly wonderful American soul mate. I met her through Lauren, as she took over Lauren’s job, and we hit it off right away – you would have thought we’d been friends forever. I love the girl. A lot. But she knows this. ;) I’ve made incredible and lasting memories with so many of these wonderful friends and if I didn’t have them here with me, this experience wouldn’t be anywhere near as amazing as it’s been thus far.
Through all of this I was still an au pair, too. I sometimes forget to mention that part, don’t I? Even though my job is the reason I am here, it has not been the focal point of my experience here in Germany. Of course, I have much more fun when I’m out with my friends but the time that I do spend with the kids I care for, I love every minute of it. Most of the time. The twins that I care for, Eenie and Vee, are wonderful girls. They’re six so they have their tantrums and moments of unpleasantness but, most of the time, we get along well and co-exist. They’ve grown to love me and I them – but it didn’t take long. I live in their house and see them everyday. It’s inevitable. They call me “Hezzah” and Eenie often shortens it to “Hezzie.” I love it. For all the years I thought my name didn’t come with any nicknames! I don’t do much more than play with them and speak English constantly. They love card games – Rummy, Solitaire, and Go Fish are their favorites, all of which I taught to them. They love to color and draw and do art projects. We’ve painted so many pictures and are always filling up coloring books. In the summer we went swimming and went to the zoo. We went to playgrounds and on bike rides. They’re both so smart. They moved on from kindergarten and started school in September and now, in March, they both know how to read and they just charge through their books. They’re even reading in English! They got unicycles for their birthday in July and they’re getting better with every day that they practice. They cry a lot too, more than six year olds should but the fighting that goes on between them is pretty normal for sisters of that age. I take in stride and do my best. I don’t discipline them… no one really does, actually. They don’t often need disciplining but sometimes they can get a little chaotic. We do what we can with them! Hopefully they turn out to be respectful, kind, and wonderful young women! I’m doing what I can to help them get there.
And now… here I am… caught up with adventures and looking at less than three months to enjoy Munich. And to be honest… I can’t even imagine myself leaving now. How do I walk away from this? Home feels one million miles away. I have changed so much since I first arrived. Emotionally – I feel like a completely different person. My college life and college friends feel so far away. I only speak to a few of them regularly. We’re all growing up and moving on and living completely separate lives. They have their relationships – serious boyfriends and even husbands – and some of them are still finishing school. Will I be able to relate to them still? Will they love me even though I’ll long for this German life for years to come? I wonder how I could ever explain to them how this year has changed me, how much it has affected my life. I wonder if they will recognize me as the same girl who left and I wonder how my life will carry on once I am back in California. And yet I wonder, fearfully, if everything will just go back to the way that it was, as if Munich never existed and it was just a year in my life that only exists inside of my head and my heart. It feels as if nothing could ever be better than this, that nothing I do in the near or distant future could ever be this wonderful. And that California will never compare to this.
Do not, for one minute, think that I am not excited to go home because trust me, I am. But my return has never felt so bittersweet. There were moments over the last few months where I ached with homesickness, where I cried myself to sleep because I wanted to go home, because I just missed home. So yes, I know that things will be different but, at the same time, I anticipate my return. I miss my mom and my family, my closest friends, and the comfort and familiarity and the convenience of living in the United States. I’m looking forward to getting back to real life, to managing my debt and to driving again (God, I miss my car!). But, on the same hand, I just don’t want to leave Munich. I wish I could have the best of both worlds. I will always have Munich in my heart and in photos and memories but it will never be as good as living it, will it?
Regardless of how my life goes on once I am back in the States, I will never forget the time that I spent here in Munich. It has changed me – for the better – and it has opened my eyes. Before I came here I believed myself to be mediocre and unassuming – never destined for a far away adventure. I was a California girl and I didn’t make enough money or have enough initiative or interest to travel or express myself in a different environment. I didn’t think that my life was very interesting or exciting. I did everything that I thought I was supposed to – I went to school and did my homework, got a job, made money, paid my bills, went out with my friends. And then one day, after I’d spent a few weeks in a really rough emotional state, I woke up and I thought, “I want something more.” And so I looked into being an au pair. And over the course of a year and a half, it fell exactly as it was supposed to. It all worked out. And I began to see that I wasn’t boring or mediocre, that I wasn’t giving myself enough credit. I was strong and confident and willing to rise above my own expectations. I knew that I deserved more, that I could make more out of my life. And now, more than ever before, I feel accomplished and proud of everything that I’ve done, for every decision I’ve ever made in my life has led to me to place where I am right now. I have never been happier with my life or who I am. And it took going away to a foreign country to realize just how much I am loved and cherished by all the people in my life who I left behind. It’s true what they say, “How can you be missed if you never go away?” Go away! Get out somewhere! See where the world can take you and how it can change you. You will thank yourself for it later, I promise.
If there were one thing that I’ve learned from this experience so far it would be to never second guess yourself and reach for everything that is laid in front of you. Don’t doubt yourself and don’t let convention or mediocrity set you back from living your life to the fullest extent. I am so grateful for this experience and I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to, or even the interest in traveling and living abroad to DO IT. Get off of your ass, explore your life, and find yourself. Life won’t go on forever and eventually, chances like this will run out. It is extremely likely that once I get home, my life will go back to normal and this experience will seem like a dream, but I’d rather live my life knowing that I did experience it instead of only dreaming about it. I did it. It’s almost over, yes, but I lived it – a dream that I didn’t even know I had until it came true. Sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s absolutely true. Life couldn’t have handed me a better deal. I am eternally grateful for this opportunity and I will never forget the memories or the girl who first arrived here - whoever she is - because without her, I couldn’t appreciate how far I’ve come since last June.