Is it too late? Am I too old? Can I afford it? Will this make it harder for me to find a job? I asked myself various questions, before I decided to apply for a working holiday visa and set off on my adventure to the land down under. Naturally, I had doubts and concerns, whether or not it was the right thing to do, at the right time.
What was for sure was that after being in school for roughly 22 years and receiving the Master of Arts degree I had been working towards for the past two years, I needed a break. From studying, from the constant pressure produced by deadlines and expected GPA’s, from my living environment, my daily routine, life’s problems. I have had trouble sleeping during recent years and my brain sometimes just felt dead. Empty yet so full of content – content that was forced on me by university curriculums. Do not get me wrong. A lot of the literature I had to “feed” myself as part of seminars and lectures was very interesting, sometimes even entertaining. But it was simply too much. Often, I merely browsed through a book and then ended up reading the synopsis or summary online, hoping it would be a sufficient amount of information to enable me to participate in the next seminar session. Why, you ask? Well, I might still have had several papers waiting to be penned and had to sort out my priorities. The papers were graded, reading the book was not. – Just as a little side note, the ability to sort out your priorities is one of the best soft skills you learn in college and university. It comes in very handy in life! – But the point I want to make here is: my brain was full of content that had to be in there. I did not choose to put it in there. There was no free time left to read the books I wanted to read, which I just happened to discover in the book store or the library and which woke my curiosity. There was no time to write hardly anything except school papers. And while my freelance work for the local newspaper and my gym membership helped give some relief, I was yearning for something else.
The wish to travel to Australia and experience something new and different had been in me for a long time. I had been wanting to realize it right after high school, but gave in to the voices of family members and my own conscience, who urged me to start college right away and not waste any time. In addition, I still lacked the needed confidence to embark on such a big journey all by myself. So during the following ten years (yes, my high school graduation has been THAT long ago!), I received an undergraduate and graduate degree, completed several internships at home and in the United States, studied abroad, and worked in various summer jobs to afford these endeavors. I have made so many good (and bad) experiences, met wonderful people, and made friends that I will hopefully keep for the rest of my life. Many of my dreams have come true and I have grown immensely during this time – not physically of course, as that train seems to have left the station a long time ago! (I am aware this German saying might not translate very well, but it just felt right.) However, ten years later, that wish was still lurking somewhere within me. So when I thought about my post-graduation life, it resurfaced over and over again, and I went for it.
Coming back to those questions from the beginning. I have met many backpackers and au pairs ever since I arrived in Sydney four months ago. Most of them are in their late teens or early twenties. The oldest might have been 25. Approaching 29 with the speed of light, sometimes I feel it would be nice to be around more people my age. It is fine for me to spend time with people younger than myself, but the image of a fun weekend at age 29 just looks a little bit different from that at age 22. I am just not so much into staying out until the early morning at smelly but (considerably) cheap backpacker bars anymore. Waking up to a monster-hangover, because you drank too much cheap tetra-pack wine just does not sound like a good way to start a beautiful Sunday morning. Instead, I prefer spending an evening going out to dinner with good food, good conversation, and a glass of red. (Yes, I recently began preferring red over white wine. I think I’m ready for my thirties now!) An alternative would be a day of “touristing”, followed by a movie and yummy self-cooked food – food is essential, guys! After these activities, I wake up at a reasonable time on Sunday morning, ready to go for a pre-breakfast run, with a full day to spend doing other fun stuff. So it would be nice to be around people who are also past their binge-drinking days. But, essentially, it is not a problem. I can still participate in a pub crawl and leave when I feel like I’m ready to “call it a day” and let the others order their third, fourth, or fifth cheap drink. Sometimes I feel a little bit old doing that, but then, on the next morning, that feeling fades when I run past those terrible looking zombies, on their way home from a rough night involving too much liquor, still in their party outfits and seemingly ready to fall to their death bed.
One of the concerns I heard a lot from other people whom I told about my plans, besides maybe being too old to enjoy being around all those “young kids”, was that it might not look good on my résumé when applying for jobs. It might be better to apply for jobs right away after graduate school, they said. Employers might question why I went away after receiving my degree instead of making myself available to the market right away. Well, all I can say to them is that I simply do not care. Why should I let go of a dream I have had for such a long time, and which I can finally realize, because a potential employer might ask me why? Firstly, I do not have a problem giving my reasons and explaining, why it was the right moment in time to do it. Secondly, I do not think that, after hearing my reasons, an employer would necessarily think of my “gap time” in Australia as something negative that disqualifies me for a position I otherwise would have been considered for. And if, against my solemn belief, that would indeed be the case, I honestly would not want to work for such an employer anyway. I believe that there are many open-minded employers out there, who know about and value the experience one gains and the skills one attains when travelling to, working, and living in another country on another continent. They will know that not only does it take a lot of courage to take that step, but that you also learn to be more open and how to adapt to different cultures and work environments, which in turn makes you a better employee within a global market. So, effectively, my “gap time” should improve my résumé and make me more interesting to potential employers, especially globally operating companies.
So, after roughly four months down under, with two and a half more to go, I do not regret the decision I have made at the end of last year. I look back at the cold, cloudy day in
Göttingen last December, when I visited the Christmas market with my sister to eat Nutella crêpes right after booking my flight to Sydney, and remember the mixed feelings I have had. I had taken my courage and spent a whole lot of money on a 22-hour flight that would take me to a country on the other side of the world, which I had never been to. It was exciting and scary all at once, but I trusted my gut feeling. And once again, as with my past decisions to study a semester at the University of Maryland, intern twice in Washington D.C., and return to my first alma mater, the University of Göttingen, to pursue an advanced degree, my gut was right. It certainly was the right decision to make at the right point in time. It may not have been in compliance with the wishes of some members of my family, but it was the right decision to make for ME – and that’s what this adventure is all about, doing the things I want to do when and with whomever I want.
Everything feels right at the moment. I enjoy working as an au pair four days a week, though not all days are equally enjoyable of course. Taking care of toddlers and school children is hard work and I have gained a newfound respect for my mother’s accomplishments. But it is also a great joy to witness the progress young children make every day and to be the recipient of their unconditional love. It will be very hard to part ways with my loving host family once I head off to my next travel destinations. However, I am also very much looking forward to my trip down the East coast, from Cairns to Brisbane, as well as my stops in Singapore and Dubai on the way back to Germany. Until then, I try to live according to the motto of “carpe diem”. I “seize the day”, every day – whether that means bushwalking through a tropical rainforest in Sydney’s backyard, watching the trains go by with the adorable two-year-old, or sipping on a delicious mocha in my favourite café, writing this post. Life is good, as long as you do what you want and love.