One of the most frequent questions people ask me is: “How were you able to afford the cost of living in Europe?”
So I thought I’d take the time to finally answer that question among many others, as well as talk about my personal experience as an Au Pair in Europe.
Ladies and gents, nope, no sugar daddies and hefty bank accounts were harmed nor involved. Also, I’m not the most spiritual human there is, but let’s just say sometime in 2016, I prayed for an escape. I was in dire need to run miles away from the person I was becoming — not just another subpar weekend getaway to the beach. I wanted to be free, live in a foreign country, change my name, and never look back. Heck, I even considered becoming a hobo in the middle of nowhere continents away from home. I swear, that sounded better and less dramatic in my head.
Anyway, I honestly thought that my goals back then were impossible. But, lucky me, the universe delivered and sent some angels in human form my way to make my dreams come true. The universe had better plans for me, after all.
I can vividly remember to this day the glaring sunshine and sparkling blue water and salty breeze and telling my dear friend, “Pammie! I’m officially going to Europe!!!” with utter disbelief and mixed emotions while waiting for breakfast at our humble hostel in Cebu.
“It’s official, I’m going to Europe as an au pair!”
READ: But, what is an au pair?
Now don’t get me wrong and don’t get too excited… The whole process wasn’t as dreamy nor effortless — which, frankly, put my patience (or lack thereof) to the test and prepared me for the life I was about to experience. At least that’s what I thought.
To start off, I had to earn the shiny red badge of courage — which took me five long months, by the way — to quit my reputable job back in the Philippines. I resigned in July, and freakin’ finally got my Schengen Visa in October — the long line just to get an NBI Clearance, nerve-racking medical tests, Skype video calls with my host family, tedious exchanges of documents via DHL from the Philippines to Brussels and vice versa, countless trips to VFS Global in Makati City, the anxiety-ridden effort to pretend that I was confident enough during my Visa interview, waiting games, and more waiting games that definitely had me feel restless and burst of impatience at some point… Everything was well worth it.
That — that was my very first time to travel more than 20 hours by myself. Papa brought me to NAIA and I cried not because I was leaving, but because he was going to be alone. Right there and then I understood what it must’ve felt like whenever he had to leave the country to work as a seaman. But, the show must go on. I took a deep breath and went straight to the check-in counter.
I was terrified. Uhm, should I book an Uber now? I mean, qué horror! I don’t even know any other Filipino Au Pairs!
TIP: Bring all necessary requirements. Fully understand your documents by heart.
Fortunately, the assigned Immigration Officer was in such a good mood so I got to pass through smoothly. Oh, and thank goodness, Filipino Au Pairs don’t have to pay for the Philippine travel tax, and terminal fee. Best believe that my broke AF ass was ecstatic.
My flight to Europe had a long layover in Taipei, Taiwan. Prior my departure, I applied for an e-visa to be able to exit Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and to experience Taipei for a bit — even if it meant staying at a hostel nearby, eating the cheapest Taiwanese noodles and MSG-filled chicken nuggets I could find at such an ungodly hour, and rushing for an early flight the next day.
As luck would have it, I had all three plane chairs to myself and slept like a newborn baby and watched gazillions of movies and ate my way through the whole journey….and well, of course, my anxiety kicked in from time to time.
I arrived in Brussels a little past midnight and wow, I wasn’t exactly prepared for its numbing cold. Winter was right around the corner and I was feeling quite giddy while I was trying to find the exit where my host father & I agreed to meet.
Nicholas picked me up, and then we drove to their three-storey abode on Chaussée de Wavre in Etterbeek — my second home. Oh, I couldn’t stop blabbering. My heart was overflowing with gratitude, and it still is up to now.
So, let me try to cut to the chase….
A glimpse into my very “glamorous” life in Brussels, Belgium as an Au Pair
Note: This was the most “normal” day I had. Please bear in mind that I had two schedules — one for my personal time, and one for my Au Pair duties which I had to act in accordance with.
6:00-ish I wake up to the sounds of the family preparing for school downstairs. Thank god my duty starts at 2PM, so I roll back over because…I CAN.
My host parents prepare their breakfast and bring the kids to the school bus stop two blocks away from home every day.
8:00 I force myself to get out of bed and have petit déjeuner. I go to the kitchen and make some toast, put 4 slices of bacon into the microwave, and brew myself a fresh mug of coffee. While waiting, I help put the dirty dishes into the dishwasher and clean the sink and organize clean dishes from last night.
8:20 I go back to the third floor where my room is and devour my breakfast. Sometimes I read books, most of the time I mindlessly scroll through social media and talk with my friends online.
10:00 Since I don’t feel like working out in my room, I go for a walk to the nearest park and to Carrefour on Cours Saint Michel to buy ingredients for dinner. Oh how I love Carrefour — it’s like Disneyland for adults. And being called mademoiselle.
12:00 I decide that I deserve a huge serving of meaty gyro, some phenomenal Belgian fries, and a can of Coca-Cola after my “work out” and all the information overload A.K.A. French to English translations. Not bad for 6 euros.
1:00 After a not-so-long walk, I arrange all the ingredients on our kitchen counter and organize the dishes from the dishwasher.
1:30 I head to my room and start to research and write.
3:00 Bella, the 9-year old girl I take care of, comes home from school at 3:10. I go to the bus stop to wait for her and pick her up.
3:10 Bella and I talk about her day on our way back home.
3:20 I make sandwiches and chop some apples for Bella and myself. We eat together and talk some more. And now we’re singing our hearts out again.
3:30 Bella does her homework.
3:55 I go to the bus stop to pick up Michael. He arrives, and we run, racing back to the house. (Gosh, I don’t like running very much, but this kid has to love me!)
4:30 Michael prepares the dining table for yet another ping pong match.
Somewhere in between, I try my best to convince Bella to start her piano practice, or to get the two of them to stop fighting with each other.
Bella wants me to watch her play the piano, and Michael wants me to play ping pong with him. This is the most chaotic part of my day almost every day yet the most consistent.
So we play ping pong while I watch Bella play the piano. Am I Superwoman yet? Oh, the things I do for these kids.
5:30 I start cooking our favorite — chicken & broccoli penne in creamy white sauce with some cheese…but who am I kidding? I always put a criminal amount of cheese and we all love it.
6:00 Dinner is served.
6:30 I persuade Michael to do his violin practice. And….. there he goes, finally.
7:00 Bella, Michael & I play Hangman in Bella’s room.
Nick comes home.
7:30 I start preparing Bella’s and Michael’s snack box for school the next day, and the chocolates and apples for later.
8:00 T.V. time for everyone! We love watching Suits.
9:00 onwards Me time A.K.A. bed time A.K.A. I’m going to stay up late and regret it tomorrow….because I CAN.
My weekends were more relaxed — sometimes, I accompany Bella to her ballet practice, or we go to Parc du Cinquantenaire and eat waffles together, or Michael and I play ping pong at Parc Léopold with his friend, or we test-drive their brand new hoverboards (I tried, I sucked, not my thing).
In a nutshell: Thanks to au pairing, I got to live abroad, be more open-minded, make lifelong friends, learn French a bit, experience European life, and explore Paris and Malta — all while earning money.
Above all, it got me where I am today.
CURRENTLY WRITING: Au Pair Pros and Cons: Why should I become an Au Pair?