Liz Gorga - 2013 Program Participant

Graffiti along Hosier Lane, Melbourne, Australia

Hosier Lane in Melbourne, VIC

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I have always been one to seek adventure. As a second semester senior in Boston, I watched my friends become consumed with stress as their final days of college turned into a blur of all-nighters in the library, filling out mountains of job applications, and preparing for interviews at their potential corporate office jobs. It was the expected “next step.” But as I looked around at my friends, I saw more dread than excitement. I didn't know what I wanted, but I knew I didn't want that. It seemed as if I had grown up surrounded by people who went through life in an unconscious state. They lived a life of non-being, following each other in mindless routine, always following society's expectations.

What I wanted more than anything was to break away from that. I wanted to make my life into a work of art. I had always told myself, when I finished school, I would move as fast and as far away as I could, not because I didn’t love the place I called home, but because staying there didn’t make me feel full. I had an itch to travel, a burning desire to see the world. I think it was always there, but in those final days of college, I could feel it more than ever. I felt something inside pulling me in a different direction from my friends, a direction that screamed freedom: new places, new people, new experiences. Moving abroad was the ultimate adventure.

Why did you choose InterExchange?

There is no arguing that some things in life are just meant to be. As my college graduation crept nearer, I anxiously surfed the web, hoping to find something that would inspire my next big adventure. I wanted to travel and explore. I wanted to backpack through Europe or do mission work in South America. I wanted to work on organic farms or couch surf my way across the country. But there was one thing holding me back: money. How could I justify spending every cent of my savings on an extended vacation? That’s when I happened upon InterExchange’s au pair program.

To be honest, I didn’t know much about au pairing, but after reaching out to the InterExchange staff for information, their program seemed too good to be true. They offered me the opportunity to move to a foreign country, where I would be welcomed in by a local family and would help look after the children. It could not have been more perfect for me. I have always loved working with children, after all I am a big kid at heart! And with a working holiday as an au pair, I would get everything I wanted and more, an adventure in a new country, a family, a home, and money to fund my travels, with no bills to pay! And InterExchange would handle all the difficult parts, finding a family and a placement for me, helping with visas and flights, and making sure I got settled into my new home.

With nothing to lose, I submitted an application and almost immediately I had been accepted into the program, my online profile had been created, and I had families contacting me from the other side of the world, asking me to come and join their homes for the next year of my life. Everything fell into place perfectly, and in only a few short weeks, I found myself on a plane headed to the Land Down Under.

Sunset at Cape Byron Lighthouse, Byron Bay, Australia

Beautiful sunset at Cape Byron Lighthouse, Byron Bay, NSW

What was your favorite part about Brisbane?

I spent the best year of my life in Brisbane, Australia. After only a week in, it felt like I belonged there. Even though I was living on nearly the exact opposite side of the world, it was so similar to home that I didn’t experience an extreme culture shock upon arrival. But Australia was different in all the right ways.

I arrived in the middle of Australian winter, which meant I might need a sweatshirt at night, but I could still spend my days lounging by the pool while the kids were at school. I could wander into the city on my weekends and enjoy an Aussie sausage sizzle with some other au pairs at South Bank, just along the river among beautiful archways covered in purple flowers, or relax at the manmade beach overlooking the city. I could drive up or down the coast to find brilliant beaches, mountains, and wineries that were perfect all year round.

The people were a little more flexible and friendly, a little less self-involved. Everywhere I went, I had compliments on my accent, and strangers struck up conversations like they were my best friends. If I walked down the street in the middle of the city, looking completely lost, there’s no doubt that countless Aussies would notice my confusion and try to take care of me, something so refreshing coming from the New York City area. Even the airports were filled with friendly smiles. At home, walking through security I felt like a suspected criminal, constantly met with glares. But in the Brisbane airport, there were smiles all around. It seemed as if everyone was so much more aware of each other and interested in getting to know me, even if I was a stranger.

Everything was so much more relaxed, not only the people, but the overall lifestyle. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle I left at home. It seemed like there were more important things than getting sucked into a mindless routine. The people I met seemed to take pleasure in the little things, immersing themselves in nature and taking more holidays. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was that made me fall in love with Brisbane, the endless summer, the awesome people with awesome accents, the laidback attitude, the meat pies and Tim Tams. It was all of that and none of it, because it was more.

From the moment I arrived, I simply felt home. There is no doubt, I was born to be Aussie.

What made your time abroad extraordinary?

There is nothing like being an au pair. While living abroad, I met so many new friends from around the world who were on their working holiday visas in Australia. So many people had similar stories: they flew over to Australia, booked a few nights in a hostel while they searched for an apartment and a job, spent half the year working, half traveling up or down the coast. Some days, I was jealous, wishing I had my own place, a different job that was separate from home, or that I had left more time to travel and explore the country. But working as an au pair was such a unique experience I would never trade.

Moving across the world was so much easier knowing that when I walked off the plane in Brisbane, I would walk into the arms of a family who would give me a home and a job. I had people to take care of me when I felt homesick, people to make sure I never felt lost, to show me what it meant to be Australian. It took away so much of the fear. Some days, I was disappointed with the small stipend we received, but then I would remember that I had no bills to pay and the money I was given would be spent only on fun. I was getting paid to be a part of a family where I spent my mornings and afternoons hanging out with the sweetest kids who became my best friends, and while they were at school, I had the whole day to myself. I had plenty of time to travel on my own over school holidays, unless I wanted to join my family in their holiday travels and celebrations. I had a community of other au pairs who became my family outside of work.

I got everything I wanted out of a working holiday and more, because I immersed myself completely into Australian culture.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

InterExchange helped me with the placement process before I left for Brisbane. Once I arrived, their partner agency, Smart Au Pairs, was my liaison for my time abroad. They were available to help with anything I might need while abroad. My host family greeted me with a welcome pack from Smart Au Pairs that helped give me more clarity on what daily life would look like as an au pair. They were available whenever I had questions. After six months, they assisted in finding me a second host family and helped with the transition. I am thankful to say I ran into very few bumps in the road, but any time I needed something, the local staff was there to help and support me.

Girl swimming with a sea turtle in Queensland, Australia

Swimming with sea turtles in the Whitsundays

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

When I first arrived in Brisbane, I made a bucket list of things I wanted to do while I was in Australia. I read the list recently, and it filled me with regret for all the things I didn’t do, all the things I ran out of time for. I was overly optimistic with how much I thought I could pack into my year abroad. I didn’t take surfing lessons or master my Australian accent. I didn’t visit the West Coast or Tasmania or Ayer’s Rock. For a split second, I thought I’d wasted time. But I immediately pushed that out of my head because the year I spent in Australia was the greatest adventure, and I shouldn’t doubt that ever.

Near the beginning of my year abroad, I had a conversation with a friend I met in Cairns, during which I told him all the things I hoped I would do and see while in Australia. He told me he hated lists like that, because when you look back on them all you can think about are the things you missed out on; they undermine all the amazing things you’ve done. I don’t want to think about what I would have done differently because when I look back, I focus on the fullness of that year.

I moved to a foreign country and lived with two different host families in Brisbane. I cuddled koalas and kangaroos, and pet a rhino at the Australian Zoo. I went to countless cricket, soccer, and Aussie footy games. I explored the mountains, beaches, and wineries on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts. I snorkeled and scuba dived at the Great Barrier Reef, swam with a sea turtle, and spent Christmas on a catamaran overlooking Whitehaven Beach. I went bungy jumping, sky diving, and climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I visited Melbourne and drove along the Great Ocean Road. I camped in Byron Bay. I went to music festivals. I took short holidays to Bali and New Zealand. I fell in love with a new city, new friends, and life itself.

What would I have done differently? Not a single thing, because the year I spent Down Under was the most full and incredible year of my life.

Describe a day in the life of an au pair in Australia.

A day in the life of an au pair depends highly on the family. I split up my time abroad between two host families, and my experiences with each were very different. With my first host family, I felt like a part of the family. I didn’t have distinct work hours, instead I became a part of the household and my duties were evenly split with the parents. I woke up in the morning, had breakfast with my family, and helped the kids get ready for school. My host mom and I took turns taking the kids to school in the morning. During the day, I was free to hang out with friends, explore the city, or lounge by the pool. In the afternoons, I picked the kids up from school with snacks and a change of clothes, and I would drive them to their many after-school activities, gymnastics, swimming, and dance classes. At the end of the night, I ate dinner with my host family, helped Mom clean up, and put the kids to bed, and I would end most nights sitting with my host parents in the living room, chatting and watching our favorite TV shows.

My experience with my second host family was very different. I had specific work hours and was paid hourly, rather than weekly. Both of my host parents had very busy work schedules, so I was much more hands-on with the kids. I woke up every morning and got the kids ready for school, drove them every day, and returned home to clean up breakfast, do the family’s laundry, clean bedrooms, grocery shop, and prepare dinner each night. I had several hours during the day free, after finishing my chores, where I could hang out with friends and walk into the city. In the afternoons, I picked the kids up from school, took them to sports lessons, helped with homework, and got them fed, showered, and ready for bed by the time Mom and Dad got home. It was a lot more work, and my personal life was much more separate from the family’s in those last six months.

What did you enjoy doing on your free time?

I was surprised to find there was a huge community of au pairs in Brisbane, and it was easy to meet other girls through a “Brisbane Au Pairs” Facebook group. One of my favorite things outside of the normal day-to-day life was the meetups we would plan in the city. Some weekends, girls would plan barbeques at South Bank. Everyone would bring food, and we would cook sausages and burgers on the free barbeques along the river, and go for a dip at Streets Beach after lunch. It was a great way to meet people.

Other weekends, girls would plan trips up or down the coast, or nights out in the city with an open invitation to all au pairs. We even planned a big Thanksgiving party in November, where some of the American au pairs shared their traditions with new friends; we gathered at an Aussie friend’s house and everyone cooked and drank, and talked about how thankful we were to be sharing that wonderful experience together.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

I was lucky enough to live with two host families who both had beautiful homes. In both, I had my own bedroom and bathroom that was slightly separated from the rest of the family, which meant plenty of privacy. My first house was farther outside of the city, so the family provided me with my own car to use whenever I wanted. Their house was big with lots of land, but my favorite part was the pool, where I spent most days hanging out, reading, and swimming while the kids were at school.

The second house was located much closer to the city. They didn’t have a lot of outside space, but they had an incredible porch that overlooked the city. I didn’t have a car, but the location was perfect; I was right down the road from lots of cute little shops, cafes, and bars that were very lively at night. I could walk into the city, or take a short bus trip into South Bank.

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life? 

My year in Australia has changed me into a completely different person. I was always an adventure seeker, but living abroad sparked a wanderlust that I haven’t been able to shake. I left Australia a year and a half ago, but I haven’t stopped moving since. I spent several months backpacking through Southeast Asia after I left Brisbane. When I got back to the United States, I took my time getting back to the east coast, stopping to visit old friends and new cities. When I finally arrived back in my hometown in New Jersey, I felt an itch to leave again, and in only a few short months, I returned to Australia, visiting friends, catching up with my old host family, exploring more of the country.

I feel like I can’t settle in anywhere because there is so much I want to do and see, and I don’t want to stop moving yet. I have learned so much about myself in the past couple years. I am a person who seizes life, who wants to grow fat with experiences. I am someone who thrives and grows with every person I meet and every new place I explore. I have always struggled with figuring out exactly what it is I want out of life, but my time abroad has taught me that there is one thing I am sure of: there is nothing I am more passionate about than travel.

I only have one life, and the world is a huge, amazing, beautiful place. How can I not see every inch of it?