Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On the longest day of my life

I will begin this blog entry by noting that, despite the fears that had been going through my mind all day, I am writing this from the safe haven of my bedroom at my new house. My host family has passed all the tests, to mention a few:

  • They did not end up being Somali pirates who had invented this whole au pair charade to sell me into slavery in Mogadishu.
  • They picked me up at the airport successfully. (I had been planning, the entire plane ride, what to do if they weren't there. Wait a couple hours and call their cell phone? Take a cab to their house? Fly back to the US in disgrace?)
  • They did not force me into slavery when we returned home.

And a second word to the wise: this blog entry goes into fairly exhaustive detail about plane flights and luggage hassles, so if that bores you, sorry. Chalk it all up to my utter exhaustion.

So yeah, everything's great!

But I'll come back to that later. The longest day of my life, as promised:

I awoke at, what was for me this morning, 4:45 AM on Tuesday the 30th. A bleary cup of coffee and a half-hearted attempt at some makeup later, my kind and long-suffering sister and I drove to the airport. We made it there by about 5:50, good timing for an 8:20 international flight. I somehow dragged my 50 lb suitcase, 50 lb duffel bag, 30 lb suitcase, 20 lb shoulder bag, and purse (I'll estimate that as 1.5 lbs) into the terminal (after bidding Ellen a not-so-tearful but nonetheless heartfelt goodbye) and made it up to the check-in desk, though several kind strangers had to rescue poles I plowed over with my train of luggage. Apparently 5:50 is the right time to come to LAX, because I was luggage-checked and security-checkpointed by about 6:02.  I then killed the next two hours (and my computer battery) by chatting with my parents and Nate. 

A note: the slight trauma my parents went through with me leaving has by now been totally ameliorated, I'd guess. They talked to me more yesterday than they do when I'm at home. Oh, the wonders of technology.

Flight to Boston was cramped and boring, but otherwise uneventful. I had ended up in a window seat with two people next to me, so I dehydrated myself on the flight so I wouldn't have to ask them to move repeatedly. Upon arrival in Logan International Airport, I headed out of my terminal, down a winding secret passageway to the international terminal, and proceeded yet again through security. My Lufthansa flight left at about 8:20 PM, Boston time. I had been fearing the worst for this flight, due to some bad reports from nobody important and a note on my United itinerary that said this flight wouldn't have meal service. 

My low expectations proved to be a boon to my trip. Lufthansa is, for starters, the first airline I've encountered that boards from the back of the plane up, so I got on almost immediately. I had scored another window seat, but this time with only one seatmate.  A large young dentist from Cyprus whose flight had been rescheduled due to Hurricane Irene, we chatted quite a bit about opera and his interviews with graduate schools in the US; he was returning from an interview with Harvard. He confessed he hated plane flights and thus talked too much, but it was nice to have a friendly fellow next to me.  

The no-meal-service rumor turned out to be just that; I assume it was due to a United/Lufthansa miscommunication. The food was actually quite delicious. I have also never seen so much alcohol on a plane before. The drink cart, which on any American flight would contain various sodas and juices, consisted mostly of sparkling water, safts (juices), and a whole lot of gin, scotch, and whiskey. This cart made its rounds about three times, not to be confused with the wine-with-dinner cart and the it's-time-for-bed-have-some-cognac cart. I passed on most of those, but did accept a cup of Bailey's before falling asleep.

Our flight arrived in Munich at about 9:45 AM, local time (for me at this point, 12:45 AM). Before bothering with any customs nonsense, I hurried to a bathroom to brush teeth, hair, make some attempt at not looking like I'd just not-slept for 13 hours of plane flights. I then went through customs without any trouble. 

At this point, I was really freaking out. The communication with my family was never very specific about meeting places/times/anything, and I was 90% convinced there would be no one there to pick me up.  I had explained to the aforementioned large Cypriote what I was going to be doing in Germany, and he was flabbergasted at the concept and that I would trust someone I'd never met to come fetch at a foreign airport. After customs I headed out to the baggage terminal, hoping to see a familiar-ish (as familiar as anyone can be from pictures and blurry Skype calls) face, but to no avail. At least Franz Joseph Strauss International Airport is kind enough to offer free luggage carts for my mountain of things. I nervously pushed my way towards the Ausgang into a horde of people carrying signs, tripping over luggage. After nervously (and probably somewhat desperately) scanning the crowd as I slowly walked down the path, someone ran up and hugged me--my host mom! Probably the biggest moment of relief I've ever felt. I said hello to the kids and off we went to the car. 

I'll go into more detail about my Munich and family impressions later, but just so you get the idea, a brief bit about my host family:

Anne, the mom, is a 40-year-old Irishwoman, with the bright red hair and freckles to prove it. She was very welcoming and kind and a lot of fun, and made me feel right at home the whole day. 

Michael, my host dad, is very typical German. He's very cute in a German dad sort of way, even down to the socks-with-Birkenstocks look. I approve. 

Kilian is 5, and he is adorable. He felt at home with me right away, and spent the ride home telling me about aliens and playgrounds. 

And Cliona, who's 2, is even more adorable than her brother. She was exhausted from their late night (the family flew in from Ireland last night and so were all rather tired), but she was so sweet and we had a lot of fun. Kilian and Cliona made me sit in between them at dinner so they could both be next to me, much to the amusement of their parents. 

My room ad bathroom are in the basement (so will be quiet!!), and both are pretty huge. At this point, my bed is made, my clothes are unpacked, and I'm amazed at myself for having stayed up this late. 

I apologize for the ridiculous length of this post. Ouch. I'll work on that. 

And now, it's been 32 hours since I woke up at about 40 since my last shower. Time to go take care of both of those problems. Gute nacht!

Monday, August 29, 2011

On why I'm here, the nature of blogging, and the annoyance of packing

          au pair [o pɛʀ] : a domestic assistant from a foreign country working for, and living
          as part of, a
host family. Typically, au pairs take on a share of the family's
          responsibility for childcare as well 
as some housework, and receive a small monetary
          allowance for personal use. 
The title comes from the French term au pair, meaning 

          "on a par" or "equal to," indicating that the relationship is intended to be one of 
          equals: the au pair is intended to become a member of the family, albeit a temporary 
          one, rather than a domestic servant.  (Thanks, Wikipedia!)
                  -->And see, I told you I wasn't a nanny. 

To jump right into some background for those who may have been unaware/uninformed/ignorant, this whole au pair thing basically came out of nowhere. A combination of having nothing better to do post-graduation and my boyfriend, Nate (visit his blog at (you're welcome, Nate)), getting a Fulbright scholarship to study in Bulgaria for the year (okay, the latter was what really pushed it!) led me to join, largely to see if it looked interesting, and with a very minimal degree of seriousness. About two weeks after I joined the website, a family in Munich asked me to come and be their au pair for the year. I stopped, blinked, wondered what the hell I was doing, contemplated actually letting my parents in on this intriguing and spontaneous plan of mine, and accepted.

Five months later, I'm T-33 hours from boarding a plane to Boston, and from there on to Munich, arriving at my final destination (hopefully) at around 9:45 AM Wednesday morning, local time. I suppose I should be posting this on my actual night-before-departure, but this is my last night at home (staying at a closer-to-airport location tomorrow with my aunt and uncle) and Tuesday's wake-up time of around 5 AM make tonight rather more optimal for frivolous pursuits like blog writing.  The family I'm headed to are an Irish-German family with two children, aged 2 and 5, who live in the Ramersdorf-Perlach district in the east of Munich.

I'm Laura, by the way. I trust if you're reading this, you'd know that, but I'm pretty sure I didn't make this Google-unsearchable, so just to be on the safe side...

I've never kept a blog before, and though the solipsist in me likes the idea, the rather more unassuming realist has always wondered why people would care to read about me? I hope I have some (positive) adventures to make your time worth while.  I don't promise this will be entirely on-topic, but we'll see how I do.

Okay, enough pondering the philosophy behind human selfishness. To stick to my above list of topics, I'm currently lying on my bed in my childhood room surrounded by drying clothing, random books, numerous cords and electronic devices, and a lot of pointless memorabilia. A large suitcase and duffel bag have finally made it out of the mess that is my bedroom and downstairs, weighing a cumulative 96 pounds (I'm praying that weight stays true until my bags are checked).  I love the neatness and order of packing for a trip, but when leaving for a year things become rather less cut-and-dry. How many books does one bring? Are 20 pairs of underwear sufficient? Are you positive I can't wear heels on cobblestones? More than anything I'm surprised at how efficiently I've managed to cram the important parts of my life into a suitcase. I even had room for less important things: the fake flowers in an iced tea bottle that followed me throughout every college abode, the drink coaster I bought at Salisbury Cathedral as a fifteen-year-old, a melted candle that brings back some of the happiest times in my recent life. Throw in a framed pictures and there you have it: the necessary ingredients to take a life across a continent, an ocean, and another continent.

I won't be able to tell until I post this if I sound sufficiently "blog-y." I should probably put something about the beauty of starting a new chapter of my life, the tragedy of leaving my home town, the anticipation of starting over...but really, I'm just ready to get this show on the road. Let's go have an adventure.