Culture Confusion

In my last update I mentioned stereotypes, so I thought it only fair that I divulge slightly.

Of course, I’ve only visited two states so far so my insight is narrow but I could ignorantly suggest that what I’ve witnessed in this small area of New Jersey is similar to many areas of the East Coast. If I compare my town to Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls (which is set in Connecticut) I notice many similarities. And Gilmore Girls is, of course, an immaculate reflection of real life.

The first difference I’ve noticed between America and England would be the cars. All the cars are big cars here. Even the small cars are still bigger than anything I would have driven at home. Not only that but they are all so clean and super shiny. I feel like here, if you drove around with the words ‘clean me’ written in the thick coat of dirt on your van’s rear window, you’d be made a social pariah. Also, I think because the roads are so big it feels as if everyone drives very slowly (unless you’re Scott).

The second notable stereotype that I’ve decided is completely accurate about America is that people walk around in gym clothes all the time. I’m talking mostly women, and from the ages of about 13 to 45. I’ve seen groups of teenage girls walk into Starbucks and just hang out there; except every single one of them is wearing ‘yoga pants’, running shoes, and a full face of make up. I’m not talking see-through black leggings and white converse which would be normal at home, I mean full on active-wear being worn to drink lattes in. I sometimes feel over dressed when I wear jeans. (I should acknowledge that this isn’t aimed at people like my host mum, Beth, who actually does workout in her workout clothes).

The men also do wear shorts in every season. Shorts and a sweater: absolutely a sensible combination.

People love my accent, as expected. They also think all British people sound the same, as expected. (Chloe told me I sound like Merida from Brave; but she’s three so I agreed with her). I get asked a lot of questions as soon as it’s apparent that I’m not from here. Although, nobody’s asked me if I know the Queen yet, which is disappointing. (Chloe did ask me if I knew Mary Poppins though, and when I told her I didn’t she was extremely disappointed in me).

  • Bathrooms are confusing here.
  • Bedding is confusing here.
  • Orange Fanta is actually orange.
  • Soup and grilled cheese is a thing.
  • Fast food is so much better- I actually eat it for a start.
  • Supermarkets are way better
  • Apparently they like to pretend that products we’ve never even heard of are from Europe to make them more appealing to Americans
  • In New York, there is the constant sound of cars honking and sirens wailing and people just walk through the middle of traffic!? They clearly have no fear.
  • Even in New Providence, which is tiny, I’ve heard more sirens in a month than I’d hear over four months in New Haw, which seems like the wrong way around.
  • The Autumn trees here were incredible!! (The leaves have almost all fallen off now, unfortunately). But on the two days that it has rained since I got here, it genuinely made it feel like a more authentic Autumn. I now understated why people picture rain when they picture England, because I picture England when it rains.
  • I have decided that when the two countries have different words for the same thing, the American word generally makes way more sense, but the British words is just outright cuter.

At orientation they emphasised to the Brits that American’s don’t use sarcasm nearly as much as us so “be careful”. However, I happen to have a host dad who is more sarcastic than any British person I’ve ever met. It makes me uncomfortable that even do not have the sarcasm capacity to understand his jokes sometimes. I feel as if I have let my country down.

I’ve already noticed my language changing. I’m forced to use American words with the kids because otherwise they have no idea what I’m talking about, therefore some of the words I would naturally use are slowly becoming redundant. I don’t think I’ve said ‘bloody’ more than twice since I got here, I swear. Instead, words that have entered my daily vocabulary are:

  • Laundry
  • Pants (to refer to all type of trousers)
  • Purse (to refer to any type of women’s bag)
  • Sweater
  • Diaper (I still almost say “nappy” every time, but it would just be pointless)
  • Candy
  • Store
  • Buddy
  • “pee pee” (urine reference, obviously)
  • A dummy is now a “pa pa” or a “ba ba” depending on which child it belongs to.
  • I don’t pronounce the ‘t’s in “pretty” anymore, apparently.
  • “Oh my goooosh”
  • “Uh oooh”

Words I refuse to let catch on:

  • Yard
  • Sneakers
  • Sidewalk
  • I know I’ll think of more

So anyway, that’s all that comes to mind for now, but I’ll make sure to make a note every time I come across another amusing culture confusion in the future.

Update: a month in

Today marks exactly one month since I arrived in the States, and exactly four weeks since I have been living in New Jersey.

(This will only be a quick update and I thoroughly apologise for waiting so long to do it but if you know me you wont be surprised. In fact, I started posting photos to Facebook as compensation for giving you nothing in writing).

I can’t tell whether a month seems like a long or short amount of time in comparison to how I feel. Actual days and weeks go so fast and I almost can’t believe only four have passed. But the month as a whole seems like it has gone incredibly fast: I wonder how fast an entire year will go by?

In this household, I feel entirely at home. I’m already completely in love with Chloe and Warren and enjoying my job very much due to the incredible hospitality I’ve received. However, although I’ve really enjoyed all the things I’ve done so far, I still don’t feel completely immersed in my new culture. So in a way, it feels as if I have been here forever, with ‘here’ being a part of this family and their house, but at the same time I still feel just as strange and foreign in this town as I did when I first arrived. 

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for Jade here and she made the clever decision to go home, which I and my host family fully supported her in. Luckily I got to spend quite a bit of time with her beforehand and we’re still in regular touch (she’s doing so well being back in England so I’m very happy for her). But since the moment that Jade left, I began to feel homesick for the first time ever. Suddenly, the honey-moon stage was over for me because my perfect situation was altered slightly and losing my only friend was ever so slightly daunting. Missing home hasn’t been too bad though and it only happens when I’m alone and away from distraction. Nothing I can’t handle after getting this far!

I have since made new friends and spent time with them and I’m really happy. I met a couple of German girls my age, Sophie and Jana, who are really great company, as well as some more Brits! I’ve also been able to spend time on my own which is something I’ve always enjoyed, and being alone gives me a good excuse to talk to and interact with strangers which helps me feel slightly more human again. The accent reactions I get are hilarious and I’ve started observing people’s facial expressions during the moment that I first talk to them; it’s a great source of entertainment. 

American culture varies a lot more from English culture than you might realise. I have come to realise that stereotypes for both countries are extremely accurate, and I love it. 

I haven’t done anything major just yet; it’s been a lot of food involved activities, a lot of Starbucks involved activities, and shopping. I had a trip into Jersey City with Jade, the day she left, where we had breakfast by the Hudson River, volunteered at a film and television festival and then sat down to watch a series of short films that were entered, before going to an open house at Mana Contemporary art studios in the afternoon. Halloween was very fun: we went to an event in our local downtown where everyone (children, adults, dogs, the lot) dressed up and the stores were providing candy for trick or treaters. Being dressed as a Disney princess was an interesting experience in that Beth and I were treated like minor celebrities. Little girls were so delighted to see us and have us wave and smile at them, and complete strangers asked for photos of us or with their children. Odd, but adorable. The next day they had a street fair in the same place, which was so much better than we were expecting so we ended up spending quite a bit of time there with the kids. Other things I have done involve practicing my driving, going to a Halloween party with a group of Au pairs in my area, getting frozen yoghurt with Jade, autumny walks, and getting manicures with Sophie and Jana.

I have exciting things coming up though so I’ll try and be more consistent with my updates.

New York, New York

Ideally, I would have written at least two posts by now, having been in the states for 11 days, but as expected I’ve been super busy embracing my new lifestyle and haven’t really taken any time to myself (apart from when I spent half an hour finding a way to watch the last episode of Doctor Foster from the US, which was totally worth it).

So I now need to flashback to a week ago when I was still in New York, which now feels like at least month ago. New York was amazing. It was exactly how I imagined it: no better, no worse. I felt instantly at home there, although arriving in the States actually emphasised my affection for London and Surrey.

I met a couple of other British Au pairs, Zoe and Holly, at Heathrow who I’d be speaking to for a while before leaving, so we boarded together, separated for the 8 hour flight and then met at the other end in JFK. We arrived at about 7pm when the sun was just setting and flying over the east coast after all the lights had been turned on but the sky was still lit up with pinks and oranges was incredible.

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The sunset emerging through the clouds like lava

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Approaching New York at sunset

We were staying at The New Yorker hotel which was very nice. The view from my room, particularly at sunrise, was stunning. I could see part of Times Square and the Empire State building through the unfortunately placed scaffolding which ruined all my photos. At 6am the next morning, the view from my window was the first time I’d ever seen the city in daylight and it made me fall in love.

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The comfiest bed I have ever slept in

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wish it were possible to capture the beauty

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I had a roommate whilst I was there: her name was Paula, she was an Au pair from Madrid and one of the loveliest people I’ve met.

We had training during the day for three days, so I would get up at around half 6 to get breakfast at the restaurant in the lobby before starting at half 8. One of the many things Interexchange provided us with were vouchers for free breakfasts and lunch at the restaurant, although with a limited selection. For breakfast I would get a fruit salad and some sort of pastry, and also tea of course. The tea was not as weird as people told me it would be. They didn’t have the non-dairy milk I drink so because it was more like a really strong herbal tea I was able to drink it without milk and it wasn’t bad at all. For my first lunch I had a lentil soup with a grilled cheese and the next day I had a veggie burger which very much exceeded my expectations. The third day, a couple of girls from ‘the Brit pack’ and I got the salads we were craving at a place across the street and ate in the sun.

Training was fun, albeit very long. We covered American culture, the needs and stages of development of all ages of infants, first aid and CPR training, and lots more. The two women from Interexchange who talked to us over the three days were both interesting in different ways and managed to keep us engaged throughout, but obviously being jet lagged made it tough to stay alert at times. The jet lag wasn’t too bad because going back in time meant needing to go to bed early but then also being able to get up early quite easily. I had some weird symptoms though: the weirdest being the rocking sensation I would get every so often where it would feel like I was standing on a boat for a few minutes, but would eventually pass. I had that feeling for at least 5 days after arriving. Fortunately for me, my friend Jade mentioned feeling that way too- although it seemed like we were the only ones!? Jade and I met through Facebook a couple of months ago and after meeting for breakfast on the first morning we hit it off instantly! I am insanely happy to have a friend who’s so similar to me living 15 minutes away.

In our evenings we obviously wanted to see as much of the city as possible. The first night we were offered a discounted walking tour which the majority of us took. Our tour guide was a sweet old woman who held up her umbrella as we walked so we wouldn’t get lost from her. She showed us a lot of areas which have now been wiped from my memory, as well as Times Square, Rockefeller Plaza, and Central Park. After 3 or so hours we got the subway back to 34th street (down the road from our hotel) and went for the Pizza and salad that were included in our discounted ticket prices.

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On our second night, a lovely group of us (there were 25 Au pairs in total at orientation) went exploring. We took the subway to the new World Trade Center and then of course visited the 9/11 memorial site which was beautiful and very moving. We then got very lost following multiple contradicting instructions to find the Staten Island ferry, but after eventually finding it, got on. Once we started moving, Jade and I snuck away from the group so we could stand outside on the tiny deck to get a better view. It was incredible. As the boat moved further away from the coast we got to see all of the Manhattan skyline (as it was of course dark by then), as well as Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Bridge; we then passed straight by the statue of liberty as well. That night we were all exhausted and made our way back to the hotel by about half 9, grabbing dinner on the way to eat in our rooms.

Unfortunately I couldn’t go out on the third night because my host parents, Beth and Scott, work during the day so it was easier for them to have me arrive on Thursday evening rather than Friday. I wasn’t dissapointed though because not only was I really excited to meet them but I knew that I’d be living close enough to come back to the city regularly. Beth and Scott actually drove directly to the hotel to collect me which I thought was very sweet.They’d also posted a parcel to the hotel for me which was filled with organic fruit, nuts, granola, water and tea (because they’d clearly paid attention to what I like). These are just tiny examples of how well they treat me and how much they do to make me feel comfortable here.

But that’s a quick summary of my orientation, I’m settled in here in New Jersey now and very excited about my year ahead.

It’s happening

I’m finally leaving!

Tomorrow has been a very long awaited day in my household: which is possibly the reason why I’m still not nervous in the slightest. I think after 2 years of mentally preparing myself and forming expectations I’m just so ready to start this year, so all I’m feeling is excitement. But then again, we’ll see if I can still say that tomorrow afternoon.

Saying my goodbyes has been upsetting though. They’d been really spread out until this weekend so I hadn’t been particularly emotional; until Friday, when I got long hugs from three of my best friends and I realised I wouldn’t be able to hug them again for a year. It suddenly seemed like a really scary concept.

The next day, my three favourite little boys and their parents popped over for a while and saying goodbye to them was particularly hard. They will all change so much whilst I’m away and after being a consistent part of their lives for the last 4 years, I hate the idea of missing out on watching them grow up.

Luckily, my big sister made it home for the weekend and I’m really grateful for these terribly English, autumnal two days with my family. I’m also extremely grateful that they helped me pack because it truly has been the most stressful experience since A levels. The number of things I’m being forced to leave behind is heartbreaking. But I’m finally feeling somewhat ready- got there in the end! I really hope I haven’t forgotten anything important!

For those of you who aren’t aware: I’m spending my first week in New York for orientation and training and then I travel to my family in New Jersey at the weekend. I’m staying in the New Yorker hotel with a large group of Au pairs who have come from all around the world and will then be going off to stay in various different states. However, I have been in contact with a group of British girls who are all going to be at my orientation (two of which I will actually be meeting at the airport and getting on the same plane as), so at least I already know people out there! I was speaking to one of the girls, before we got in contact with the rest of the group, because we’re going to be living about 15 minutes from each other in New Jersey, which is really exciting. It’s comforting to know that I’m not doing this alone: also part of the reason why I’m not massively nervous- I suspect I’ll end up doing a lot scarier things in the future, if all goes to plan.

My flight is at 4pm and lasts almost 8 hours, so I’ll be arriving at New York airport at about ten to 7. I’ve never been jet lagged before and if you know me at all, you know how much sufficient sleep means to me: so I can’t wait to see how that works. Hopefully I’ll be too busy and excited to notice. Also, I should mention: at the end of last week I received emails about the possibility of the hurricane in America passing over the east coast and affecting my flight, but fingers crossed, everything seems to be alright at the moment.

So, I’ll see you on the other side everyone. Over FaceTime, that is. Please stay in touch just as much as you would if we were in the same time zone, I promise I will be working hard to do so myself. Wish me luck!

A week until I leave

I had a very busy few days at the end of last week visiting one of my best friends at her uni in Canterbury, from Thursday to Friday, and then my boyfriend in Bath, from Saturday to Sunday (two very nice areas and universities, I should add). It wasn’t until I was on the train home on Sunday that it dawned on me how little time I have left until I leave and how much I’ve got to get done before then. For these last few weeks I’ve been focusing on spending as much time with as many people as I can; which has been lovely but also completely unproductive. I think previously I’d been a bit delusional about how far away the 5th of October really was. But now, it’s exactly a week until I leave and I could not be more unprepared.

Mentally, I’ve been ready for this trip since two years ago when I decided it was what I was going to do. For some reason, it’s really never been a big deal to me, contrary to all the reactions I’ve had when I’ve told people. I think a few people have been a bit disappointed when they’ve asked me, eagerly “How are you feeling about America?” and I just go: “Er, I don’t feel anything really”.

But I am starting to get excited now, and the only scary part for me is the commitment. It’s a whole year. It’s not like going to university in England where yes, it lasts three or four years, but coming home is an actual possibility. Living in a different continent doesn’t exactly make it easy to pop home for a roast dinner every few weekends.

I already miss living down the road from my best friend, Daisy, who moved to Cardiff just over a week ago. Whose wardrobe am I supposed to raid now when I’m stuck for an outfit? (Just kidding, Dais, I exploit you way more than just for your clothes.) I’m also going to miss how my group of best friends (who haven’t changed since primary school) have always lived within a ten minute radius from each other and our regular ‘wine and hot tub’ nights. I’m going to miss James, of course, and Issie and Laurel and probably a lot of unexpected people too. I’ll miss my double bed, my mum’s home cooked meals and my insane family. Although genuinely, I think what I’ll miss the most is just being able to text my brother, any time I’m bored, and then him appearing instantly out of his bedroom so we can make tea and biscuits and watch TV together. I’m not kidding; we have an episode of Fear the Walking Dead to watch when he gets home later and I’m more excited about that at the moment than spending the whole of next week in New York.

But anyway, I know that this year is going to keep me busy and I’ve never suffered from homesickness before, but I have prepared myself to miss people, as well as the things that I’ve become accustomed to here in my comfort zone. That’s what this year is about really: experiencing a large amount of change in one go so that I can really challenge myself and get a sense of what I’m capable of and what I want to do for the rest of my life.

But for now my priorities are: buying a suitcase, putting my stuff in it, and then getting all the other nitty-gritty bits ready for myself. I can think about ‘the rest of my life’ next week.

Hello, but also Goodbye?

Hello!

My name is Alana, I recently turned 19 after finishing my A levels and I have a very exciting year ahead of me.

I’ve never been entirely sure what I wanted to do with my life; I know what my talents are and where my interests lie but I’ve never been pinned on a particular career path. The one thing I have always known for sure however is that I aspire to travel as much as I can make possible. When I say “I want to see everything“, I truly mean it. But everyone has to start somewhere, and for me I chose a safe, but some have also said brave, option to start me off: for the next 12 months I will be an Au Pair for a lovely couple in New Jersey with two gorgeous children.

I came across this scheme when browsing for gap years and it seemed to be perfect for me. Firstly, I have over four years of childcare experience, I met all their other requirements, and living in the USA for a period of my life was quite literally one of the things on my bucket list. It was also cheap and meant I could earn myself quite a bit of money that I could put toward future travel plans. So I decided to become an Au Pair and went through a lengthy process of application starting with an interview, followed by setting up a huge profile on a website where Au Pairs and host families can match, and then being interviewed by several American families until I was chosen by one who were as keen on me as I was on them.

I’m now all set up and ready with my family, my visa, and my flight, and I leave in two weeks to the day. That doesn’t mean I am completely prepared though: there’s still a lot to think about and get done before I go, so it’ll be a busy two weeks for me. I’m also trying to fit in all my goodbyes which will be the hardest part to do I think!

But I wanted to start up a blog at this stage so that I can post during the preparation period and also describe my thought processes just before I leave. I hope this blog is somewhat entertaining, informative or maybe even inspiring for anyone who feels anything like I did before knowing what I wanted to do post A-levels (of course, feel free to contact me if that’s the case).

Stay tuned, folks.