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“Au Pair in The Netherlands” they said, “it would be fun” they said.

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

I was a scared 18-year-old, brave enough not to shed a tear as my mom hugged me close.

“Don’t look back”, she whispered – and that’s exactly what I did. I imagined this year as a time to grow more independent and comfortable within my own skin. Never would I have known that my worst fears would come true and that I would overcome them in a whim.

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol welcomed me with a gust of humid, crisp air. I was met with blue skies and 4 little green eyes staring up at me. Looking down at the 2 little people that would be my responsibility for the next year, I remember nothing else but a concoction of fear and excitement.

My first encounter with Amsterdam was probably what I consider the best day of my life. I had a very adventurous host dad who (on my first weekend in the Netherlands) didn’t allow me to stay inside the house. I was left to my own resources and climbed the metro out of the very quiet suburbia into the busy City Center. I remember having feelings of being completely lost, confused and most importantly – excitement. Upon my arrival at Amsterdam Central Station, I bought a very touristy map of the city. I walked with the map in hand and explored, I met face to face with the Anne Frank Museum, Dam square, The Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum.

I stood in awe, staring at street musicians whilst snacking on a Belgian Waffle smothered in Nutella. The city breathed me in and spat me out late at night. Giving me a small glimpse of what the year would have prepared for me – beautiful buildings, friendly people and many stories that I will forever cherish.

Upon my first working day I was scared to the bone. The thought of “What on earth did you do?” kept running through my head as I was trying to decipher the map of where the children’s schools are. I perfected the route to the schools, but got miserably lost on my way back home. So much so – I ended up on the highway… with a bicycle. As I got used to the routine and my surroundings, things got a whole lot better!

The next few months of my life would be spent on taking my host children to and from school, preparing lunchboxes, do grocery shopping, run errands, cook meals and tidying up after them. Some days were hard, others were bittersweet and most of my days were spent with laughter and fun with these children. On sick days we would build a fort and on happy summer days we’d have a picnic or water balloon fights.

I made fond memories with my host children – from riding bike in the rain and laughing about it to introducing them to Frozen. I experienced some days as organized chaos, but looking back those are the days that I remember fondly.

My free time was spent with friends, going to museums and riding our bicycles through the busy streets of Amsterdam. My friends and I were fortunate enough to create lasting bonds whilst exploring a new city almost every weekend. I was able to travel to the most Northern and the most Southern point of the Netherlands, go from West to East and I learned to love everything else in the middle.

On homesick days, we’d join other expats at Coco’s Outback – an Australian pub that the South Africans claimed as their own. During that time, it was the Rugby World Cup and South Africa had a very unpopular loss against Japan. We were met with people crying and the management of Coco’s handing out “Boereworsrolle” to make it hurt a little bit less. When South Africa did win, Nkosi Sikelel'iAfrika and Shosholoza was howled into the streets of Amsterdam.

Nearing the holiday season, the streets were decorated with Christmas lights and the smell of pumpkin spice filled the air. It was windy, rainy and cold – but a deep warmth of belonging filled me. It was then when I realized my time is coming to an end and I actually do not want to leave this amazing country.

I left the Netherlands on a cold, rainy morning in December – how fitting of the weather. A deep sadness dawned on me of not knowing when I will be able to return because there is so much that has yet to be explored.

It has been 6 years since my arrival in the Netherlands and I can still remember the smell of the fabric softener that my host mom used, the excitement and emotions that I felt when departing from South Africa and the absolute fear on my first working day. I cherish the memories that I made with my friends, the fun I had with my host children and the deep late-night conversations I had with my host parents. Two people who helped sculpting me into the individual that I am today.

In the end, this truly was a time in my life that I wish I could have over. My only regrets are the things that I did not manage to do.

“Au Pair in The Netherlands” they said, “it would be fun” they said.

They were right.

Author: Cheney Collins

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