We visited Nina and her Australian husband Tom in the Sunshine Coast town of Maroochydore, where they with their two kelpie dogs Isabelle and Travis.
The town is sunscreen scented and clearly an up and coming place, courtesy the nearby University of the Sunshine Coast, which was only founded twenty years ago, but quickly grew from 500 to 12,000 students in that time period. The ‘uni’ now attracts 40% international students with a slogan ‘Rise, and shine’ referring to the ability to combine studies with a surfer lifestyle. It is also the only university where you have to share the campus with a mob of resident ‘roos’ (kangaroos).
Nina took us to a busy main street, where restaurants and bars now rub shoulders and where a lively evening market is hosted twice a month, but she explained the street didn’t have a single establishment just a short eighteen months ago. Anywhere in Maroochydore, you can stroll a few, short blocks to beach or the river. As you can tell, we were quite taken by the place and Eleven was already starting to make plans to study here.
Nina was our second au pair. The au pair program is licensed by the department of state as a culture exchange program. Au pairs can only engage in childcare, no other household duties, work no more than forty hours a week, have to also take courses at a local college (paid for by the host family) and participate in all aspects of American family life. We always took the cultural exchange aspect of the program seriously, but only after visiting three of our former au pairs in their (adopted) home countries recently, have I come to fully appreciate the impact the program has had both on us as well as on our au pairs.
By definition the men and women who sign up for the au pair program are brave and adventurous. Having such a young adult in your house will keep you young and inspire you. After my first sabbatical, five years ago, my daughter said: “Mom, are you going back to work now?” I was surprised: “Don’t you like having me around?” She explained: “I love having au pairs. I learn so much from them, like … about music, make up, boyfriends …”, she replied. I have written about the life lessons we learnt from our au pairs Maria (Denmark) and Lenka (Check Republic) in prior blogs.
Here’s five life lessons that Nina has taught me:
1. Choose to make each day great
“It is going to be such a great day, today.”, Nina said on our first morning in Maroochydore. Nina did not have an easy childhood and often helped her single mother take care of her younger sisters, but if you want to study optimism: meet Nina. From the day we met her, she was upbeat, enthusiastic and always full of plans for new activities. She never seemed to care for material possessions, instead spending the little money she earned on travel experiences. She is a great role model for our children, and for me!
2. Assume that ‘everything will be ok’
After her au pair year in the United States, Nina went back to her home in Denmark to complete her high school credentials to be able to enter college. She met her Australian husband Tom teaching snow boarding in Canada, and the pair moved to Maroochydore together. Nina fits right in, in Australia. Frommer’s EasyGuide to Australia says: “Perhaps it’s to do with the weather, or the wide-open spaces, or the quality of the light, but Australians are generally an optimistic, positive lot. Phrases like “It’s a lucky country, mate” and “She’ll be right” (meaning everything will be okay) may have become cliches, but they sum up the attitude held by most Australians.” These phrases also sum up Nina, who is Danish.
3. Do good in the world
The pair now both study at the University of the Sunshine Coast: Nina psychology and Tom [environmental conservatism]. “One day I hope to be able to help foster children, professionally and perhaps in our own home.”, Nina explained the mark she hopes to make in the world. My career so far has given me opportunities to travel and live abroad, to combine work and family, and to support my current lifestyle of taking a sabbatical year every five years, so I’m very grateful. Still, meeting Nina again, reminded me of my younger self, and I was wondering if I shouldn’t put more effort into finding my own calling, find a way to do more good in the world, through my day job, hobby or volunteering.
4. Eat healthy
When we walked into Nina’s house in Maroochydore, on the Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane, Australia, the first book we saw was “I Quit Sugar” by [name]. It was an uncanny coincidence, because my husband and I had been speculating just days prior that sugar had a big, negative impact on (one of) our kids’ behavior. Nina and Tom themselves have recently turned vegan, and during our days with them we ate some really delicious bean burgers, quinoa salad and oatmeal apple crumble. Then and there we decided we should really try out a no-sugar-diet with our kids. So far it seems to be making a big difference.
5. Respect nature
Beyond food, Nina and Tom turned our attention to nature around us. We learnt about the plover and magpie birds, which will attack you if you get too close to their nest, about huntsman spiders, which legs are too long to reach you with their sting, and about small shell fish, which use gravity to dig themselves into the beach sand by the hundreds. The kids soaked it all in, and Seven found a strong kinship with the ‘noisy miner’ birds. He also fell in love with Tom: “Because he never get’s mad.” Nina will be proud to know that after leaving her home we even switched to their ‘Sukin’ brand of nature friendly shampoo and conditioner, which we’re loving so far.
When I was about Nina’s age, I too was given the opportunity to travel and spent extended time in Turkey (through a Lions Club Exchange Program), India (meeting up with friends who drove their 2CV car from Amsterdam to New Delhi), Brasil (visiting my uncle), Peru (where I did an internship), and Japan (courtesy a program of the Dutch government). Each of these international experiences helped me to become more tolerant and resilient: to feel at home quickly anywhere with anybody and to adapt to any new situation or environment. We hope that, though the au pair program, we were able to ‘pass on’ some of these lessons to other, young people and, through our family sabbatical, start to share these values with our own children as well.