Thursday, December 22, 2011

Reflections One Year In

Me looking at the view of Liege, Belgium
One year since I arrived in Europe!

And what a year it's been. I spent Christmas in Germany and New Years skiing in Austria, then trained around Belgium, France and Switzerland before trying to sort out a visa and job in Madrid. When that fell apart I moved to Antwerp, Belgium to nanny for a family, which also ended badly, and then arranged to go and nanny for another family in Luxembourg, at which point I wrote this blog post, Reflections Six Months In.

Me with two kiwi friends in London
During the second half of this year, I spent a few weeks hanging out in an empty house in Germany and exploring the surrounding countryside, headed down to Sicily for a week, and then settled down here in Luxembourg. The beginning was tough, it took quite a while for the kids and I to really get in the swing of things with each other, and I still don't feel 100% settled here, but I think that has a lot to do with the nature of Luxembourg itself, people are always coming and going to its hard to have a permanent group of friends. I've gotten out and about in Luxembourg itself quite a bit, but other than a few weekend trips away, including my second visit to London, things have been pretty quiet. You can check out the full list of cities I've visited this year here.

Me on the ski lift at Rauris, Austria
Working out what the highlights of the year have been is difficult, there is simply so much that's been amazing. Spending last Christmas in snow-covered Germany, discovering different villages and castles and experiencing the Christmas market with Hauke and his friends was awesome. Learning how to ski during a week on holiday with two German families too. My week in Paris - the clubbing, the people, the food, the sights - which is surprizing because I went there expecting it to be overrated. My trip down to Sicily.

Ollie and I in his first snow in Luxembourg
And then all of the things like the moments when Pepi tells me he loves me, when Ollie first shouted my name, and when either of them runs up to me for a spontaneous kiss or hug - its taken us a long time to reach this stage, so I really appreciate it! The moments where I manage to navigate long train journeys, or find my way to someone's house in a strange city, and remember how lost I was when I first came to Europe! The moments when people's generosity and kindness just blow me away, the moments when I first discover something that you wouldn't dream of back in New Zealand, and the moments that make me accutely aware of how lucky I am to have grown up in New Zealand, with the family that I have and the opportunities I have had.

Me with Alice and Arin, the kids I looked after in Antwerp
Thinking about the lowlights of the year is also difficult. I guess, a lot has not gone to plan, and while I'm pretty adaptable, it has been disappointing. Not being able to stay in Spain and so far not having learnt much of a third language has disappointed me. My time as a nanny in Belgium was a pretty big lowlight! While I did learn a lot there, overall I wasn't happy with the experience. Visiting friends and realising that time and distance has changed our relationship for the worse has been a lowlight too.

Me at the Eifel Tower, Paris, France
I've learnt that I'm not your average tourist, I'm not happy just dashing from city to city partying and checking out the major attractions. I've gained a lot from spending as much time with locals as possible, doing small things like going to buy bread at the local french bakery with my host, and visiting small towns and villages. I've also learnt that, while flexibility and making decisions about where to go and when to go at the very last minute seems to be the typical approach to backpacking, you can save a lot of money buy booking in advance! I had to do a bit of research about how the train ticketing systems work in each country in order to get cheap deals, but in the end I saved a lot and don't feel like I missed out on anything but sticking to a itinerary.

Me out partying with a bunch of Latinos here in Luxembourg
Would I do anything differently? Not much. I would think twice before getting a Working Holiday Visa for a country that is new to the scheme! But overall, I think I'm happy with everything that I've done.  How has this year changed me? I don't think I'll be able to answer that for a few more years! I'm definitely more worldly and knowledgeable. I've gained a lot of confidence in dealing with children, and I've become a lot more certain about having my own someday. In some ways, I've gained confidence, but in other ways, I've lost it - I'm no longer as certain about myself and where I'm going in life, I feel like I've lost a lot of my sense of self here, as many of the things that I would identify myself by, like my work, my community projects and my achievements aren't part of my life over here.

Me in front of Vianden Castle, Luxembourg
The year has been both fantastic and hard. I've seen and done so many truly amazing things, but living in brand-new countries has a lot of challenges. I miss just understanding everything, like the way things work if you want to post a parcel or buy a cellphone, or when the supermarkets will be closed due to public holidays. Everything being in a different language means that Google is not your best friend like it was back home, and finding simple objects can turn into huge missions when they aren't sold in the shops you expect them to be in. Not speaking the language means that its harder to go over and introduce yourself to the neighbours, its harder to ask questions when you're unsure of something, and its harder to make friends. As I said, I've also found the loss of identity quite hard. Going from someone who had done well both academically and professionally and had quite a few achievements to my name, to being just another illegal immigrant wiping kids' butts for a living has been tougher than I expected.

Me at an ancient theatre above the sea in Taormina, Sicily, Italy
And where to from here? One thing I have definitely learnt is that being on an OE means you can never truthfully answer that! Yesterday I would have said that I was going to be in Luxembourg for another six months before moving to Germany. Today, things beyond my control have changed and that no longer seems likely. However, I'm not ready to go home yet - I haven't achieved my goal of learning another language, there is still many countries to discover, and I'm terrified of going back to a country where I am an expensive flight away from anywhere else, especially considering almost all of my friends are either from overseas, or currently living overseas too.

So, bring on another year here in Europe!

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