Written by Mary Benfield, a member of Zeta Tau Alpha
“What are you doing this summer?” It was the beginning of May at the end of my sophomore year, and everyone seems to be procrastinating studying for their finals by suddenly becoming deeply intrigued by the plans everyone has for the upcoming break. I, however, still had no idea what my plans were for the summer at this point. After being unable to secure an internship that I was interested in, I decided it was time to figure something else out to occupy the next two months. I wanted to travel; however, I knew the only way my parents were going to pay for that was if I was studying abroad, and I had already spent last May in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji earning credits. I looked into getting an internship abroad, but I found that most were unpaid and cost more than I could afford to pay on my own. I then remembered hearing about girls who had travelled abroad to work as an “au pair” for families in other countries. After doing some research, I decided this could be a good opportunity for me, so I decided to create a profile on a website that matches you up with families that are searching for au pairs and see where it took me.
Fast forward three weeks, and I am sitting on a flight (that was free to me!) about to depart for Verona, Italy where I would spend the next two months living luxuriously in the home of a family who I had never met before. They had three children, ages 10, 12, and 13, and my main job was to speak English with them. I cannot begin to describe how incredible my experience with this family was. They accepted me as one of their own and showered me with generosity and kindness. They took me to their homes in Forte dei Marmi and on Lake Garda. They helped me celebrate my 20th birthday by hosting a party for me with all of their friends. They took me to their favorite restaurants and showed me how to eat like a true Italian. They allowed me to truly experience the Italian culture, and I am so thankful I had the opportunity to do so.
I spent the weekdays hanging out with the kids and exploring the beautiful city of Verona. On the weekends, I planned trips to various places in Italy with other au pairs who were interested in seeing those places as well. During my time there, I was able to visit places like Venice, Cinque Terre, Rome, Florence, the Amalfi Coast, and Capri. I also travelled to Prague one weekend to meet up with several other UGA students who were studying abroad in Europe.
Besides having the opportunity to see all of these beautiful places and learn about a new culture, I also had the opportunity to learn a lot about myself. I spent many moments alone with my thoughts- on the trains riding by myself, laying on the beach while the kids were in the ocean, sitting at dinner while they spoke a language I could not understand, etc. During these moments I learned to appreciate this experience I was having by realizing how much it was helping me to grow as a person. Traveling around in a foreign country as a twenty-year old girl definitely comes along with its challenges- language barriers, unfamiliar places, and creepy men, just to name a few. I appreciated the fact that I was learning far more about life than I would have if I had chosen to spend my summer working as an intern. While I do believe that internships can be very valuable experiences, I also believe that it is important to find ways to step out of your comfort zone. With that being said, I would like to encourage you to look for unconventional ways to explore the world and find new experiences and meet new people. You might find yourself growing in ways you didn’t even know you could.