As a child, I traveled a bit with my family from living in The Netherlands to visiting family in Greece. As I got older, I loved it more and more and during my junior year of college I studied abroad in Florence, Italy where the travel bug really bit me. I traveled quite a bit and after my semester ended I extended my stay and traveled for three weeks. After graduating, I took a solo trip to Australia for a month, had a wonderful experience and fell in love with solo traveling. Upon returning home I couldn't shake the feeling that I wanted to spend more time abroad so I worked a few part-time jobs, lived at home, saved my money and decided to be an Au Pair in Madrid, Spain. I wanted to live abroad for a little and work so that I could integrate myself in the community and lifestyle.
Why did you choose your specific program/organization?
I chose the short-term Au Pair program in Spain for a multitude of reasons. I knew that I wanted a job and a place to live already secured upon arriving in a new county, I did not want to live with a family for as long as ten months or a year and I did not want to go through the visa-application process. As for Spain, I have always wanted to learn Spanish and I had previously spent about a month in Spain and knew that I liked the country and the lifestyle. In addition, my great-grandmother was born in Spain and I wanted to know more about that part of myself.
What was your favorite part about Spain?
My favorite part of my host country was the laid-back lifestyle; the Spanish definitely work to live. I loved being able to have a few drinks with lunch or sitting outside with friends for hours (the free tapas certainly didn't hurt).
What made your experience abroad unique?
I worked to combine my love of solo-travel with my desire to create roots in one place. I used my weeks to explore the city, hang out with friends and carry out my duties as an Au Pair. I then used my weekends to take as many solo trips as possible. I went to Sevilla, Cordoba, Malaga and Portugal.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
I did not end up using any of the local staff, I tend to like figuring things out on my own.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wouldn't have done anything differently. I try to live my life in way in which I don't regret anything because I am so happy with where I am in life.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
My typical day would consist of me sleeping in until around nine o'clock, getting ready for the day and meeting up with a friend around ten-thirty. Together we would explore a section of the city and then search for a cute cafe or an interesting place to have lunch. Through our broken Spanish we would order and enjoy our favorite drink Tinto de Verano or the Wine of Summer. Afterward we would look for street art or try to get lost in the narrow cobblestone streets. I would head home around four and plan the activities for the night. At four forty-five, it was time to pack snacks and go pick up the kids from school. The little boy and I would go to the park behind the school for an hour and then pick his sisters up at six. On our walk home we discussed our days and planned our evening together. While the girls did their homework, the little boy and I would play football, pool, or Wii and when the girls were done, we would play a game all together or watch a movie. Then at eight-thirty it was time to sit down together for dinner as a family.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
I spent my free time reading books, writing in my journal, drawing, exploring the city, hanging out with friends and traveling.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I had a private bathroom and bedroom with lots of closet space and a desk to work at with a large window overlooking a park. I loved living with the family but it was nice to have my own space to go back to, it made me feel as though I could truly make it mine. It was situated in a quiet neighborhood full of locals but I was able to get anywhere in the city within thirty minutes.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
What you put into it is what you get out of it.
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
My time abroad has broadened my horizons and helped me to see things in a new light. I have a newfound appreciation for my hometown and for the people in my life. It helped me figure out what the next step I want to take in life is and that you can change your situation at any time. Your life is shaped by the choices you make and you have total control of those choices. Above all, it made me realize that if you continue to make choices that make you happy, you'll end up exactly where you're supposed to be.
Would you recommend InterExchange to others? Why?
I would absolutely recommend it to others because it was life-changing and everyone was incredibly helpful along the way.
Emma Raymond was born and raised in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and she graduated from Muhlenberg College. She studied abroad in Florence, Italy, where the travel bug really bit her. She has traveled as much as possible since then. Emma works part-time jobs to fund her travels and she has worked as a personal assistant, a teacher’s aide, and most recently, an au pair. She has lived in Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, and New York City.