Last Friday I, laden with my backpack and some food poisoning, took to the skies from Jakarta and landed 19 hours later in Auckland, New Zealand. The little flight from Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was relatively painless, as sleepy Josie conked out folded like a taco against the seat-back tray table. But from Malaysia to Gold Coast, Australia was a 7-hour feverish vomit-y nightmare. And again, the 6 hours from Gold Coast to Auckland.
I’d never thrown up on an airplane before, so it would have been sort of exciting (something to tell the grandchildren, eh?) if it hadn’t been such horrific timing.
We spent 25 minutes on the runway, waiting for a chance to shoot out into the night, and I had been dozing a bit, trying to ignore the tightness at the bottom of my throat. We began to taxi, a slow bump-bump-bump in the darkness, when suddenly I shot straight out of my seat and shoved my finger against the attendant call button. Something was going to happen soon.
The Air Asia flight attendant came over in perfect form and knelt down beside me. I fought to keep out the panic in my voice as I expressed my predicament and asked to be an exception to the seat belt sign. She offered me a little white bag and told me to just go about my business here, but I could see the looks of horror on those around me and knew I would not have much of a chance to make friends if I vomited with an audience. I shook my head and pointed towards the bathroom, assuring her I’d be as quick as possible.
She agreed and I stumbled out of my seat belt, lumbering towards the bathroom, feeling like both a hero and the victim of a raging internal civil war.
After I had relieved myself in the less-preferred manner, I felt better. As it usually happens. The fever didn’t go away, though, and my body-wracking chills kept me from eating or drinking for the next day. It’s an odd situation you can find yourself in, when you’re frigid because you’re quite sick, but the skin is so hot from fever that you can take comfort from the chills by curling yourself up. It’s like being your own heater in the midst of a winter snowstorm.
It was a great first impression, I would say, a frizzy-haired sleep deprived pale American stepping off the plane alongside cheery Kiwis.
I’ve gotten questions about “what are you doing” in various shades of curiosity, panic, and horror. And I would like to explain.
At University, for my undergraduate degree, I studied English Education. Kansas requires at least 12 weeks of student teaching for licensure, in the final semester of studies, but the typical semester goes for 16 weeks. For those extra 4 weeks a student teacher has some options; they can, first, continue at the school they’ve been at and do a full 16-week placement. Or they could do 4 weeks with a National Teacher of the Year (as my university is the one who houses the Teachers Hall of Fame and therefore has connections with them). Finally, a student teacher could do an internship in the location of one of the four global partnerships; Finland, Paraguay, Germany, or Indonesia.
As I had no desire to stick around in Kansas (or the United States) after graduation, I took the final option. But with a twist: I would go to Indonesia and instead of just 4 weeks teaching and zipping back for graduation, I would extend my internship to 8 weeks and use Indonesia as a launching point for world exploration.
I packed up my life in an Osprey hiking backpack and a little pink daypack and took to the skies.
I purposefully didn’t plan anything after Indonesia. I wanted the maximum amount of flexibility and spontaneity possible. I had options—stay in Indonesia and teach for a while, au pair somewhere, use HelpX to get around for a while—but no plan.
Indonesia was exotic and the coffee was great and I loved my English teaching colleagues, but there were things I identified myself with that were not allotted to me in Indonesia. These were mainly climate and geographical. Most of it was just I couldn’t be outside very much. So after the first few weeks I found I didn’t have the desire to pursue a career teaching in Indonesia, and I wanted to go elsewhere after the internship.
Actually, I realized that I don’t want to pursue a career in teaching at all. Maybe not ever, because I do love the teacher-student connection and the creativity of teaching, but not for a while.
I had made an au pair account on aupairworld.com just to open a door for myself (I had met a few au pairs in Austria who had given good reviews). An au pair is sort of like a live-in nanny; you are given room and board and a paycheck in exchange for childcare, household chores, odds and ends sort of duties. But it’s more personal than being a hired nanny, in most cases you become part of the family.
It’s a great way to travel, because you get the opportunity to immerse yourself in a local community. Your family takes you to various events around town, introduces you to people you might want to know, gives you advice on where you could go.
But you get the chance to be independent, too, it’s not like a constant family vacation.
The cost of living in some really splendid places is high as it regards room and board. The lack of opportunity for employment prevents the chance to live there for a time.
As an au pair, you don’t have to worry about any of those three things. Room and board is covered, and you have the chance for employment. In some cases, the duties with your family are only part time and you can find a second part time job on top of it (to both save up some money and make some friends).
Three weeks into Indonesia a family from Auckland, New Zealand contacted me, asking if I might be interested in au pairing with them for a time.
At this point, I had decided I wanted to go on somewhere after Indonesia, and since I had nothing on the docket otherwise, the family and I set up a Skype call to see if we would be good for each other. It took ten minutes of chatting with Max and Barbara and meeting their dog for me to see that this family was really cool and people I would want to set up shop with for a few months.
The feeling was apparently mutual, and we created a contract. In exchange for ~20 hours/week of childcare, household chores, and evening babysitting, they would provide room and board, a bike, all weekends (and most evenings) off, and pocket money each week. I agreed to be with them from the start of June until Christmas.
To work as an au pair you need an employment visa, and it’s easier to get one in certain countries than others. Places like Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand offer Americans work holiday visas at an almost unlimited basis.
There are a few requirements: you’ve got to be between 18 – 30 years old, you can’t accept a permanent job, you can’t bring kiddos or a partner with you on your visa (they’d have to apply for their own), you’ve got to have enough money in the bank to be able to leave New Zealand, and you must be of good character.
My New Zealand visa experience was delightful, which is not the usual adjective associated with bureaucratic processes.
If you’d be interested in the visa further, check out the New Zealand immigration website for details. If you’ve got specific questions, shoot me an email over on my contact page. I’d be happy to answer anything.
The visa is guaranteed if you’re from the U.S., U.K., and most European countries. For the rest of the European countries (Czech Republic, Austria) there is a quota. There are South American countries listed too, and some from Asia. Here’s the complete list.
As an American I didn’t have to pay the $60 application fee. It took 15 minutes to fill out the online application for the visa, and only four days before I received an approval and an official electronic work holiday visa.
It was free, guaranteed, fast, and easy. I don’t think that applies to any other bureaucratic situation.
So I’m snuggled in the hills of west Auckland for the next six months.
I haven’t a plan for what to do after Christmas, and it doesn’t matter anyways. Why do I need a plan? I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next set of months, I don’t want to put obstacles in the way. All I know is that I’ve got start paying a manageable amount of student loans in December and my work holiday visa lasts until June 2019. I’ve also got a list of goals and directions I’d like my life to take.
I don’t want anything else. I don’t care about building a bank account. I don’t care about owning a car, insurance, pets, a retirement plan. At the moment I’ve got a little basic phone that can call and text.
It’s not the most common sort of start to life after graduation, and I’ve been met with some resistance and confusion. It’s hard for some that I don’t have a ten-year plan, and I don’t understand why it’s so bothersome. How does it affect anyone but me? Is it because I can’t be categorized, fitted neatly into the slot of “long term teaching” and cast into the drawer of predictable?
I’ve been told I’m being selfish for leaving my parents and friends behind to go “do me”.
Okay, then I’m selfish.
I’m as selfish as possible.
There is a world of things I want to inhale and use to enhance my perspective, perception, personality. I want to improve my writing, I want to practice telling stories. I want to learn more about sustainability, both environmentally and as it regards lifestyle. I want to understand myself, why I think the things I think, why I react the way I do.
I’m learning to judge myself less. I’m learning how to comfort myself. I’m learning what bothers me, what I stand up for, what motivates me. In the process, I am learning how to judge others less, how to comfort others better, what it is that bothers people, what motivates them. I’ve got to fill myself up before I can do the same for others. It starts by being “selfish”.
I’m favoring a life resume over a career CV at the moment. That’s what I’m doing over here.
Peace and blessings,