When I filed for my tax return in Australia in June, I got money back within a week. Now, after leaving Australia and filing for my tax return, it’s a completely different story. It’s not the quick turnaround I banked on. If you’re leaving Australia before the end of the fiscal year and you want to claim back taxes, don’t plan on getting it back quickly. Claiming superannuation was another obstacle. Make sure that even though you’ve left you haven’t lost track of any crucial information, such as your tax file number (TFN), Australian bank details, all previous Australian residential addresses and login details for online super and banking.
Below are some tips to making your process less stressful. But first: Here’s the key to getting back a ton of money after your working holiday visa:
DO NOT WORK CASH-IN-HAND.
It might seem tempting and it might seem like the best option at the time, but working cash in hand means that more likely than not your employers are cheating you while cheating the system. They’re not paying taxes which does nothing to help you, because you don’t have to pay taxes! (at least not prior to 2017) This also means they are not paying into your superannuation, which you are also eligible to claim back.
LODGING YOUR TAX RETURN
The most important thing to note here is that this process takes time if you do it before the end of the fiscal year, so don’t expect to get your money back quickly.
Here’s what you need to do:
1. Collect payment summaries from all of your employers. Sometimes they will resist (most frustratingly, Hays Recruitment), so if they do print out every pay slip you received.
2. Read this from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Make sure you fulfill the requirements to lodge your tax return early, which for those on WHM visas means you’ve left the country, your visa has been cancelled or is expired, and you will no longer receive income from Australia. Note that you have to mail in your paperwork if you lodge it early. It cannot be done electronically.
3.Download and print the tax return for individuals form for the appropriate year. To lodge mine this year, I downloaded the most recent, which was from 2016, and crossed out 2016 and wrote 2017 on every page. Nailed it!
FINALLY: Collect all your payment information paperwork and with your tax return form (#3), mail it to Australia. If you are mailing it from abroad (which you probably will be), address it to:
Australian Taxation Office GPO Box 9845 Sydney NSW 2001, Australia
Now, all you have to do is wait. The ATO says it will take up to five weeks.
Also known as ‘departing Australia superannuation payment’ (DASP). Claiming DASP seems simple, until you realized that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) is giving you a headache. That’s right, they’re a pain in the ass. Even though you may have left Australia four months ago and your visa has expired, you still have to cancel your visa before you’ll get your DASP. In fact, they won’t even let you submit your application for DASP before the DIBP clears you a runaway. (I only found this out after a week of confusion and finally messaging the ATO on Twitter.) So here’s how to do it:
1. Email Super Hobart (email@example.com) with the following information:
a clear statement that you wish to have your temporary visa cancelled,
your full name and date of birth (and those of all people who hold a visa because they are a member of your family unit, or hold a visa only because you hold your visa.),
passport number when you visited Australia,
subclass of the temporary visa you wish to have cancelled,
current residential address,
the date that you departed Australia.
Note that this process can take up to five weeks. Once this process has been cleared, you can complete your DASP application, or if you’ve already completed it, finally submit it.
Like I already mentioned, I’m very confused as to how these people get paid so much to do what appears to be nothing. It’s kind of like how the dental hygienist does all the work and then the dentist who never knows your name comes in all high and mighty, pokes the inside of your cheek, says “great job” and walks away with his $150,000 salary. Even so, this means that as I’m discreetly mopping their mud-stained floors I get to overhear some of their conversations. *Sinister smile*
In one of the control rooms last night I got to be a third party observer with absolutely no personal interest in the matter (Name that movie! You win a virtual high-five if you guess correctly!) and overheard one guy discussing his upcoming trip to Melbourne. He can’t wait to go party at the Crown Casino and on Kings Street, the footy is waiting for him and mate, you wouldn’t believe the great deal he got on an Airbnb in the city.
When people keep to themselves and I overhear it, it’s cool. But when they interact with you and tell you all gossip, it’s even cooler. When boredom sets in I’ve noticed people love to chat. During one of my trainings at the water treatment plant, the guys told me stories of how sometimes people accidentally sit on their radios, allowing the entire mine to overhear. On one such occasion, a maintenance guy with a long mullet told his entire workplace about something he and his wife recently did that involves sticking things up his bumhole.
Now let me vent to you here
Distraction takes over. Sometimes when I get tired I get a bit loopy. It’s kind of like being hungover or intoxicated where the concept of time is completely off your register. Sometimes when I go to the bathroom, which is always, I realize I do everything twice as long as it takes. I fumble and I stare at the piles of fast-moving ants carrying dead beetles up the wall. More than a few times a night I suddenly “wake up” and am staring at myself in the mirror intensely analyzing one aspect of my facial structure. It could be three seconds or it could be five minutes. And each time I stare at myself, I don’t look any different. I’m still the sweaty, hat headed mess that I was the last time I checked. Shocking.
What’s the color of your urine? And newest obsession takes up a lot more time than necessary. I end up catching myself staring at the color wondering if I’m hydrated enough. I stand up and button my pants at sloth-speed, my head moving back and forth from the toilet bowl to the laminated dehydration chart on the back of the stall door. Is that a beige yellow or a clear with hints of lime juice? Is that a white cotton shirt that got stuck in the wash with a yellow scarf? And the biggest question of them all is, is it still possible for me to be dehydrated when I drink minimum one liter of water an hour?
Why didn’t you turn in your homework? A DINGO ATE IT! I’m so good at jokes. If you leave a bag of trash in the laundry room, dingoes will still walk in and rip it apart and throw it all around the floor until they find the leftover food they’ve been smelling. We left our trash there for a quick “morning tea” break and by the time we got back one of my workmates was cursing those “bloody turds!”
English language segment: bugger
If it has buggered up its broken. If you tell someone Oh, bugger you!” it’s a nice way of saying f*ck off. When my workmates are buggered they’re tired and if someone shouts oh, bugger! they mean “shoot!” If something is a bugger it’s annoying you. Overheard: “This vacuum buggered up, we can’t use it”
“Yeah, bugger that, we’re not going!”
“Ah, yes, Dalia* was so buggered last night after housekeeping she barely stayed awake at dinner.”
Weather considerations. Here in the Territory it’s still technically the “dry,” but based on the frequent torrential rainstorms and sauna-like humid clouds floating around me I’d say the “wet” has already arrived. Yet, when I say things like that out loud, people stillare all “smh” about it and just tell me to wait up, mate, and stop your whinging because it’s “nuthin’ yet.” I keep waking up to the pounding rain and soon as I think maybe there’s a hurricane I just remember its the wet coming to pay us a visit.
Mayhem. Like I’ve already mentioned, night shift is twisting my insides all up and around and out. Yesterday it was 3:55, just a mere twenty minutes before I needed to sprint down to the mess to eat dinner before night shift starts and I still don’t have a uniform to wear. I had just recently realized, in a frantic lapse of memory and suggestion that maybe someone broke in and stole my uniform, that I forgot to put my clothes in the dryer. So I had two options in case they didn’t get done on time: go naked or wear wet clothes. Which do you think was going to help me keep my job? Better question: Which did I choose? ANSWER AT BOTTOM OF THE PAGE.
*Again, not their real names. For fear that one day they’ll realize I’ve been talking about them on my blog for all this time.
Featured photo: No relation to this post. Barbies just wanna have fun.
Answer to uniform question:
Read other updates from life on the Mine Camphere.
Editor’s note: In this special Saturday guest post, Lisa Calabrese shares her Facebook experiences engaging with friends from different parts of the world. If you’ve traveled or lived and worked in other countries, you probably added new friends on Facebook. Did their online behavior seem interesting to you? Just as I was preparing this post, a friend Natasha shared a story from when she returned to visit her family in India: “Over there there’s no formality! ….People will see you tagged in a photo, and even if they don’t know you, they’ll add you. I got so many random friend requests.” And yet, another example of how when confronted with other cultures, the differences manifest digitally as well. Reading Lisa’s article makes me wonder…what kinds of behaviors am I exhibiting on Facebook?
After living abroad for the past few years I’ve collected a smattering of Facebook friends from across continental Europe. And besides now having a multilingual newsfeed, I like to use that one Anthropology class I took in college to pretend I know anything about intercultural human behavior. So using the tiny sample size of my friends list to make broad-sweeping generalizations, comparing different Facebook online presences has lead me to believe that a lot of our Internet selves depend on the social norms around us.
Now, the few times a month I post a picture or get tagged at that one friend’s birthday party, I know for certain half of the likes I get will be from my Facebook friends in Turkey. Does it matter that we haven’t spoken in months and they know no one else in the photo? No! They’re happy I’m alive and want me to know it with a like. So when I see their new selfie from their weekly prof pic update, I’m right there to give them a like back. (Selfie game in Turkey is strong. Once on a first date, a Turkish guy stopped in the middle of the street to take a selfie with me. Ah, modern romance.) And they loved connecting on Facebook. I had requests from the entire staff at work by the end of the first semester. I once stayed at a hotel and by the end of the week I had requests from the kitchen staff. That really happened.
And quite a few times after newly becoming Facebook friends with someone from Istanbul, I’d come back to my computer with 15+ notifications. Had an old friend trying to resurrect old embarrassing photos trolled me? No! My new Turkish buddy had genuinely gone through all of my pictures and liked them all the way back to 2009. And as baffling as I found this I have to commend them for their honesty. Because in all fairness, do I peruse albums of new friends? Of course. Do I remain completely undetected in fear that it’ll be perceived as creepy? Sure do. We even say ‘Facebook creeping’ to mean looking at people’s profiles, but isn’t that the entire purpose of a profile? So cheers to you, Turkish friends, for using Facebook as it was originally intended and having no shame in it.
So cheers to you, Turkish friends, for using Facebook as it was originally intended and having no shame in it.
All this seemed even more apparent to me coming to Turkey straight after a semester abroad in Italy. The few Italians I managed to add on Facebook seem effortlessly cool. I’m talking just a few pictures total that were probably taken with a film camera and don’t even really show their face. And that sepia lighting surely isn’t even a filter it’s just the Italian sun making me wish I could look that good in photos. I never think about how many photos of mine are the classic ‘smile straight into the camera in front of pretty background’ types until I creep on my Italian friends profiles.
And as for España, my current home and love, I think people here are as different on Facebook as they are between regions of this country. Some love that share button while others seem to have forgotten their passwords entirely. So hey, what do I know.
Everyone’s favorite blogger, Allison, asked me to write something for Yasmine because god bless her she found some things I said to be funny when we both lived in Ibiza. An unexpected perk of living abroad for me has become meeting other Americans that have also lived or traveled in other parts of the globe, and being able to share interesting stories about different cultural norms and practices around the world with peoples whose perspectives are similar to yours (You know, because nothing says casual dinner conversation with new friends like blanket social commentary of other cultures).
Featured photo: My friend Kimberly took her computer to the mac store to be fixed last december. She was disappointed to see this message show up....
About the Author
Lisa is a 23 year old from California and currently teaching English in Spain. She studied abroad in my last semester in Italy and later started teaching English in Istanbul and Ibiza to keep the expat life going.
Sometimes I think I’m cool. Sometimes I reflect on my life choices, and I am proud of myself.
But then, I think about my friends.
And how amazing, talented, and ambitious they are. Not to mention, how much each one of them means to me. Life is much more beautiful with friendship. And even more beautiful with true friendship.
It’s an admiration for their work and their lifestyles that doesn’t cause jealously or a feeling self-pity. Rather, I reflect on how grateful I am that people like them exist. There are people in the world who want to create a more peaceful, equal place for all, and they are out there working on it as we speak.
We are all recent university graduates. In fact, for many of them featured here, it has been one year out. If you are in university now, and need proof that you can do whatever you want – here it is. Especially if you’ve just graduated, note here that your first year out – whether you have a “job-job,” whether you’re searching, whether you’re traveling, or whether you still don’t know – it’s perfectly fine to do whatever your heart calls you to do. It will work out (unless it doesn’t, and in that case, you better start listening for the right thing to do).
I dedicate this post to my friends, who live in all parts of the world and who are all doing spectacular things. Thank you for what you do.
In this post, you will find Rahaf (Jordan), Carly (Spain), Rita (Nigeria), Stephanie (Ecuador), Kimberly (United States & abroad), Emily (Australia), Colin (Vietnam), and Laura (Dominican Republic).
They each answer questions and reflect on their experiences. There are so many amazing pieces of advice in their answers. There is something for everyone. What speaks to you about their answers?
What brought you to your country of residence? I moved to Jordan to work on issues related to the Syrian crisis. I realized late in my senior year that I wasn’t ready to start my graduate studies just yet. I knew what I wanted to study and it seemed natural to just to stay in school after finishing undergrad. But during that time I was also working on my senior thesis focused on constitution making in post-conflict nations. I had spent some time in Bosnia doing research and realized I needed to spend more time in the field understanding the complex dynamics of conflict before I could begin to research and understand post-conflict state building.
What do you love most about your new city? The food! My friends! Amman can be difficult for someone who is not used to the Arab culture but the people I’ve met made me fall in the love with the city. This isn’t something I necessarily love, but I do enjoy being in and living with the Arab culture. It’s great.
What is the most challenging part of living there? Figuring out my role. When you work with humanitarian organizations, it’s easy to get burned out or lose hope in the work or the people you work with — colleague or beneficiaries. I find myself sometimes so consumed in refugees’ every day struggle that I forget to recognize the positive side of things. It feels draining to think about how long this war has dragged out and the increased number of refugees looking for a way back to living their lives and not letting it feel like it is disrupted or on hold. I also find it extremely challenging to work with aid workers in NGOs who don’t care about the work they are doing. Hard to understand why someone is in this field if they don’t even care for the people they are serving.
What is the best moment you’ve had since being there? I think so far it was really exciting when I was asked to be a project manager for a short-term project then asked to be a senior protection officer. It was exciting feeling like my boss thought I was capable of a position that high up despite having limited to no experience working with refugees. They trusted my work, passion and commitment and honored that with a high level position.
What’s the best piece of advice someone ever gave you? When you live in chaos and work with chaotic situations you have to focus on the big picture. Only looking at the small picture makes it feel like you aren’t moving anywhere. That the situation is only getting worse with little positive outcomes. But those individuals who are wreaking havoc and causing problems, they are just bubbles that will eventually pop. And when the bubble pops nothing stays behind. It’s an individual’s positive impact that is forever remembered and praised. People like MLK, Gandhi and other activists did not think they won’t succeed. They tried and creating movements and that’s what sticks. The small picture matters — for example, you have to see that injustice still exists in the US — but the big picture shows you that we continue moving forward despite the bad players and chaos that exists
What brought you to your country of residence? I came to Madrid to teach English in a high school classroom.
What do you love most about your new city? My favorite parts of this city are how safe I feel, the public transport, and the fact that life happens in the streets and outside.
What is the most challenging part of living there? The most challenging part of living here is having my friends be spread out throughout the city. Even though the public transit is fantastic and makes it pretty easy to get around, making the transition from living in a dorm with my friends to having to actually make plans and commute has been a bit of a pain.
What is the best moment you’ve had since being there? A lot of my best moments happened with my roommate. Ironically, after living a few hours away from the Mexican border for a lot of my life, when I moved all the way to Spain I got a Mexican roommate. He is the type of person who gets up and does something fun and fantastic every day, and getting to know the city with him was an absolute blast.
What brought you to your country of residence? I moved to Nigeria for my job. I’m currently working for Kaymu – Nigeria’s version of ebay and the largest online marketplace in Africa.
What do you love most about your new city? I love the energy in the city- you truly feel the hustle and bustle in everything that people do. Nigerians are generally so excited to share their culture with newcomers and they really appreciate any effort you make to integrate, whether you try to say something in Yoruba or eat a local dish. This has really made my time here great so far.
What is the most challenging part of living there? Moving to a new, big city always comes with its set of challenges. Lagos, particularly, can be hard to manage because of some unpredictable infrastructure issues with things like traffic and electricity.
What is the best moment you’ve had since being there? I got sung to at open mic night at a restaurant that I really like once which was surprising and super flattering
What’s the best piece of advice someone ever gave you? This wasn’t advice that I was personally given because I’ve never actually met Woody Allen and I have my doubts about him but he once said something really important: 80 percent of life is just showing up. I think that’s true for everything. I very much believe that in whatever you do, you should be wholly present, and the rest will follow. This piece of advice is the one I try to follow most.
What brought you to your country of residence? As the spring semester of my senior year at The University of Scranton began, I was actively searching for opportunities to return to Latin America. I found about the Working Boys Center in Quito, Ecuador as I was leaving an interview for a potential position in Colombia. I coincidentally ran into a Scranton alum who had been a year-long volunteer with the WBC. He highly recommended the program and, after doing some research, I found myself captivated by the WBC’s mission and work. In no time, I was accepted and preparing to move to Quito.
What do you love most about your new city? I grew up on the East coast and so the big cities I am accustomed to are flat and abut the Atlantic Ocean. Quito is just the opposite. Nuzzled in the beautiful valley of the Andes, any panoramic view of the city is breathtaking. You are constantly surrounded by this majestic mountain range and I have to say, I fall in love everyday I look out the window and behold this tierra. I also have the honor of working with many indigenous people of Ecuador who have taught me about the sacredness and true power of the pacha mama. The care they take and the pride they feel about the beauty of this earth proves Quito’s unique quality of being undoubtedly both urban and rural.
What is the most challenging part of living in your new city? The most challenging part of living in Quito as a white, woman is confronting a machismo society that is resistance to chance. Most times it is unsafe to walk alone and I hate the feeling of feeling uncomfortable, but it is a reality I have come to accept. Comments, looks, and lingering footsteps have become part of the daily routine. I can only hope in time the women of Quito and society transforms to value all people and all races.
What has been the best moment since living in your new city? There have been countless memorable moments, but one of my favorites was a field trip I took with the students I teach. We went to el parque Carolina and brought packed lunches then spent the rest of the afternoon playing. That day my gender, race, and country of origin melted away. No one looked at me differently, or at least I didn’t feel any different. Everyday my students remind me that it does’t matter that I am not a native speaker, love can be expressed by playing soccer in the park on a Saturday afternoon.
What’s the best advice someone ever gave you? Don’t think everything is about you. That piece of advice was given to me a few years ago when I was personally struggling to understand myself and this life. Most times, we get so wrapped in our own realities that we actually believe that it is the only reality that exists. We make life so much more painful and serious than it needs to be. Now, no matter where I am and I feel myself slipping into emotionally selfish tendencies I have to remind myself… not everything is about you Stephanie!
Kimberly (San Francisco/India/Panama)
What brought you to your country of residence? My parents. I was born in California, but have moved around the states for quite some time. I’ve spent most of my life in the Midwest and now am back in SF working with Movement Exchange, a non-profit global community of dancers who want to make the world a better place through their love, their passion, their joy, dance.
What do you love most about your new city? San Francisco is a catch-all for anything and everything. It has been a cultural and artistic hub of the world for decades and continues to carry an ethos of environmental, spiritual, and cultural progress. It is a place where, after living here for only 7 months, I can walk outside and run into somebody I know.
What is the most challenging part of living there? San Francisco is going through quite a transformation at the moment. It is odd to see black or Latino people now as gentrification has led to skyrocketing rent prices. Of course this leads to pushing people of lower classes out and those populations are usually of black and Latino descent. What people don’t realize is that their 2-year transitional stay in San Francisco while they are working at Google, Twitter, or wherever is causing the rupture of an ecosystem. You hardly see any San Francisco natives anymore and without a solid foundation of community, the ecosystem falls apart. Luckily, we still have many artistic endeavors that are fighting off the degradation of community, but every day it gets more and more difficult to resist the modern forces of technology and capitalism.
What is the best moment you’ve had since being there? Performing with Jiridon for a documentary premiere in Balmy Alley. Andreina, a friend from Bloomington, Indiana, invited me to perform with her dance and drum group for a special community event where they were premiering a documentary about the history of Balmy Alley. Balmy Alley used to be a drug-infested alleyway where little children would walk through to get to school. The school teachers, who were about my age (22), were not ok with this so they transformed the alleyway into a canvas, having staff and kids beautify it with their paintings. To this day, it serves as a testimony to the Latin American diaspora. The stories the paintings tell are so strong that any Latino, or really any human being, can’t help but have tears well up in their eyes when witnessing the magic of each mural. The murals show that all of us struggle to keep many things alive: ourselves, our culture, our ancestry. Before performing at this event in October, I felt out of place. I wasn’t sure if moving to San Francisco was the best decision. But that night, I had found my answer. This is where I was meant to be all along.
What’s the best piece of advice someone ever gave you? In India, I met a Jain priest named Sachi who showed us the ways of temple life in Ranakpur. Upon entering the main temple, my heart stopped. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And I thought the outside of the temple was impressive. My initial body language was closed; my arms were either over my mouth or across my chest. I had never felt unworthy of being somewhere until then. The energy of the temple radiated through me and it was extremely intense for me to take in all at once. No words came out of my mouth for the first ten minutes. But then, Sachi came across an area where there was a crooked pillar. He said, “Many people think it looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa but it was intentional. The architects knew that only God could be perfect, nothing else.” This put my mind at ease, my body opened up once again, and I realized that even the entities that seem most perfect, still house imperfections, and this is what makes life beautiful. We carried on to another area that has yet to be completed, he said it wasn’t part of the original structure but that a King wanted to outdo another temple in the next kingdom over and ordered that architects install this addition. What’s curious about it though, is that the addition was built with greedy intentions, thereby leading to its ultimate demise. The rest of the structure stands tall and sturdy, and Sachi believes it is because it was built with the purest of intentions: love, compassion, and respect. This drew out quite an epiphany within me. The foundation of all endeavors must be love. If impurities, such as pride, ego, deception, greed, anger, desire, or jealousy, enter the mind or the hands with which you craft, all you have built will eventually crumble before your eyes. Do all out of love.
What brought you to your country of residence? I ended up in Australia because I knew I wanted an adventure and to live abroad. I had a friend from high school who was Australian and had moved back for university. I liked the idea of having a new adventure in a place with a different culture but still having the securities in place of knowing someone from the area, speaking the language and being able to work legally and finding work easily enough!
What do you love most about your new city? I love that sydney can feel like a million different places depending on where you are. Sydney is broken down into lots of little suburbs and they all have their own unique and different vibes. Somedays I feel like I’m in New York, others Miami. Sydney has so many different things to offer!
What is the most challenging part of living there? The most challenging part of living in Sydney is the cost of living. Rent and food are both quite expensive.
What is the best moment you’ve had since being there? The best moment I’ve had would be watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks being light from the harbour bridge. It’s on so many peoples bucket lists and I’ve been able to tick it off of mine!
What’s the best piece of advice someone ever gave you? The best piece of advice someone ever gave me- “do what makes you happy. Live without regrets”-my dad tells me that all the time.
What brought you to your country of residence? I’ve been living in Vietnam for the past 5 months. I decided to come here for a few reasons. Firstly, I don’t really want to live in the United States. I plan on living in Brazil long-term, but it’s pretty difficult to save money there. Also, I want to get more a career type job there. So Antonya and I decided to come to Vietnam first to be able to travel and save some money before going to Brazil.
What do you love most about your new city? I love the pace of life in Hanoi. People take their time to do everything, which is a more suitable lifestyle for me, because I’m a pretty slow person myself. People take joy in the small things, especially public social life. There are as many café’s as there are street food vendors. People are so incredibly friendly, so you end up having daily acquaintances that seem very happy to see you, even if you can’t fully communicate with them.
What is the most challenging part of living there? There are two things that make living here a real challenge. The language barrier can be very frustrating for a few reasons. Vietnamese, being a tone language is extremely hard to master. And as soon as you think you know what one word means, there are 6 others that have just an accent in difference but make a completely new meaning. Also, due to this language barrier, people tend to think you’re stupid, so I feel defensive a lot of the time. Another challenging part of living here is traffic. During rush hour it will take me about 45 minutes to travel 3 miles through the city. Motorbikes are the essentially the sole method of transporting yourself from point A to B, and there is no rule that governs traffic, not even right of way. So the first few times driving I feared for my life. I have not met a single person who has not crashed, so it’s always this feeling in the back of your mind that leaves you uneasy. Though it’s risky, it can also be a huge thrill riding your motorbike through town because there’s so much diversity to each part of the city.
What is the best moment you’ve had since being there? My best moment so far has probably been riding motorbikes to this village about 5 hours outside of Hanoi. You have to cross a mountain range to get there. At the peak of one of the mountains you can see the village deep in a valley, with all of the rice farms going up the side of the mountain. It was incredible sight and the feeling of isolation and freedom that you get on the road is pretty memorable.
What’s the best piece of advice someone ever gave you? Make up your mind. I’m a pretty capricious person. I change my mind all the time and I’ve really started to become more confident in my decisions. It really has nothing to do with my travels here. But yeah, I like it when people tell me to make up my mind, because often times I need that reminder.
Laura (Dominican Republic)
What brought you to your country of residence? I came to the Dominican Republic in January 2015 to serve for a year with International Justice Mission (IJM). IJM is a human rights agency based in DC, and their field office here in the D.R. works to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of minors.
What do you love most about your new city? I live in Santo Domingo, which is the capital and most-populated city of the D.R. I think my favorite thing about Santo Domingo is the constant energy and sounds… Walking down the street, you hear constant music (mainlybachata), and at night, laughter and animated political discussions stream from every balcony as people enjoy the tropical evening breeze. It is a lively city!
What is the most challenging part of living there? I think the most challenging aspect of life here in Santo Domingo is the machismo. Though I’ve previously experienced machismo while living in other Latin American countries, the street harassment here is by far the worst that I’ve experienced. It makes something so simple as walking to the store a seriously uncomfortable experience.
What is the best moment you’ve had since being there? The best moment I’ve had here thus far was swimming in the piscina natural (natural swimming pool) in Laguna Gri Gri, located on the Northern coast of the country. This “swimming pool” was basically a small inlet attached to the ocean, with the most beautiful turquoise water I’ve ever seen. Definitely was my most *Caribbean* moment yet. 🙂
What’s the best piece of advice someone ever gave you? Well, he didn’t give me this advice personally, but I’ve always loved the quote by Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be all there.” At times, I find myself dwelling too much on past memories or on future opportunities, and this quote reminds me to live in the beauty of the moment and focus on being the best that I can be in the present.
I’d like to urge people to do exactly what I have failed to do this year. Small details would have made my experience as an au pair a more comfortable one. So, essentially I am asking you to take my advice that I myself have trouble implementing.
Because no one experience, person, or family is uniform, please take this advice with a grain of salt. Recognize that it comes from my own personal struggles working with an Ibicenco family. Some of these pieces of advice may only be relevant in certain situations. Keep in mind, I did not go through any sort of agency. Rather, I was introduced to the family once I had already decided to come to Ibiza. This can make a difference in negotiation and expectations.
Maybe you think I’m a complainer or maybe this doesn’t make sense to you yet. Either way, I believe it’s best to put everything out on the table at the beginning. And remember: I warned you.
Be completely honest from the beginning about why you are au pairing
If you are truly trying to enjoy your experience, you must be honest from the beginning, with yourself and with the family. It may be more difficult to find a match that will make both parties feel comfortable, but it is worth the extra effort.
For example, what is your motive for wanting to be an au pair? Is it to be able to learn a new language? To live a “crazy life abroad”? To travel frequently? To get free housing? To make a lot of money?
Think seriously about why you believe you want to do this. It will have a big influence on how you get along with the family. If the family is very wealthy and travels a lot, you will probably get to go with them. However, you might be going to Costa Rica with them for two weeks, but only stay inside a resort without seeing the country. Therefore, you won’t be “traveling” the way you might be used to.
On the other hand, if you make sure to point out that you are au pairing because while, yes, you love kids and want to help out the family, you are also hoping to see a lot of their country. If the family relies on you as the sole caretaker of their children, as opposed to a tutor for homework, it might be difficult for you to schedule vacations.
Make a clearly defined contract
Especially if you find an au pair job once you are already living in the country, your family might not be interested in making a formal, written contract. However, do your best to create one and make sure that it clearly defines the most important aspects of your work, including:
Salary. Reflecting differences in increased work hours (do you get overtime?). What other compensation can you expect to get: will they pay for toiletries? Gas? Transportation?
Hours per week (again, should you be available during your “time off” just in case they need you?). What are you hours specifically? Are they flexible? Can you ‘make up hours’?
Birthday parties. It seems to be the cat’s meow to send your kid to a birthday party with the au pair. And they are typically at nights or weekends. Which means if you think you have weekends off, you don’t. Make sure to define if and when you have to accompany the children, what your compensation will be.
When kids have school off are you required to take care of them, and what happens if you can’t? For example, I have a day job at a high school. I cannot take care of the girl when she’s on vacation (her school has a different calendar than the public schools). If you do need to watch the kids on their vacation, ask for extra pay. It’s a lot of work.
Your duties. A clearly, no-nonsense guide of what exactly they want. Logistics as well as expectations. For instance, it’s important for the mother of this family for her daughter to reach one level higher by the end of this year. That means she expects me to prepare extra homework and learning games for her daughter.
Expectations around the house. You will be losing your freedom, and probably for the first time in a long time will have to obey like a child again. Try to avoid any confusion that could cause problems. Are you expected to keep your room orderly? Are you allowed to use everything they use, or are there specific items for the au pairs? What is off limits? When are you allowed to have friends over, and who?
Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification
And I mean clarification for everything. It is much better to be annoying than to be confused or unclear on what’s expected of you. There are things that will come up that even a perfect contract can’t predict.
I had a conflict at the beginning of my experience because once the mom was discussing taking the girl to the psychologist on a Saturday morning (at the beginning she said weekends would always be mine. Then she switched it up on me. We had no contract set, so I was stuck. She “needed me”). The way she talked about it that Thursday, it seemed like she was just mentioning that we could go together to the early Saturday morning appointment and if I wanted I could meet up to have breakfast with one of my friends. She framed it as if she was gifting me an opportunity to see my friends.
I understood it was a suggestion. I didn’t get any message or word from her about it further. On that Saturday morning, I slept longer than normal because I had gone out the night before. When I finally got up, she had a nasty face on. She said, “I took the girl to the psychologist this morning, because you were in there [she pointed to my room].” I was so confused and it finally hit me that she expected me to go. When it was my “day off?” I didn’t ask for clarification, I assumed. I didn’t know what was expected of me.
OH NO. That’s about when I realized that I had no power, and I was already on my way down a very confusing slippery slope.
Give warning about vacations early
I somehow had it in my head that if I didn’t tell the family when I was going on vacation until a few weeks before, there is no way they could say no or have any problems with it.
Why that seemed like a good idea, I’m not sure, but regardless, don’t do what I did.
If your family has made it clear you can go on vacation, it shouldn’t be a problem. But they will have to rearrange their schedules and have enough time to do so. Especially if they work and rely on you, they will need to know to be able to find someone else.
Make a list of what you want from the grocery store
Part of your payment comes from room and board. If you hate the food they buy or miss some of your favorites, don’t be afraid to ask (especially if you don’t do the grocery shopping, you will have little control over what they buy if you keep your mouth shut!).
Do you have any other advice to add? What have your experiences been? Do you agree or disagree? Comment below or tweet at me at @yasminesoyyo
Overall, my experience as an au pair has been positive. Among other things, I’ve learned about myself, I’ve gotten to see drama of another family, and have seen firsthand how to ruin or increase a young girl’s self-esteem. However, despite my good experience, I want to use this post to warn people who may be thinking about au pairing. Below, you’ll find reasons that from my perspective outweigh the good and are reason enough for me to not encourage others to find work as an au pair.
It’s important to note that this post also comes at a time where I feel a bit claustrophobic from living on an island. If you would have asked me three months ago the drawbacks to my job, I might have mentioned them but they wouldn’t have been such a weight on my shoulders.
I have friends on the island who are also au pairs and their situation is worse in many aspects. I’ve heard stories about everything from jealous and manipulative moms and horrifyingly bratty children to wiping an 8-year-old’s butt and having to stay in on Saturday nights to feed horses. Compared to my friends, I’m extremely lucky. Remember, that all of the critiques are relative. I am fed, I have a lovely house to live in, and I am incredibly privileged in almost every way. But, the idea isn’t to talk about my biases or privilege but rather to discuss of the problematic aspects of au pairing for anyone considering it (especially for people who are considering it as a way to get abroad. There are SO MANY other ways to do so, don’t think this is your only option!)
Here are my top 8 drawbacks to being an au pair:
Your life no longer belongs to you
It’s difficult for me to explain the feeling of constantly living for someone else. Yes, it sounds horribly dramatic. We are not indentured servants (although many people treat their hired help as such). However, for the first time, my existence in this house is solely for the purpose of working for this woman and her daughter. With this attitude comes a certain disregard for anything related to my personal happiness, my time, or preferences and relates to everything else on this list.
Your house is not your home
At the current point in time, this is one of the drawbacks that is affecting me the most. The concept of home is one where I am finally able to relax, to forget, to enjoy, to have a base to recharge for the outside world. Now, however, my home conjures feelings of stress and unrest, because I am never able to leave work. I eat, sleep, and relax in my workplace. It is exhausting not feeling that you have a place to let your guard down or escape. It is frustrating to me to have to travel into Ibiza or always go to a friend’s house feel calm (thank god I have friends!).
Your free time is not yours
Closely related to drawback #2, because my house is not my home, if I am in the house during my “free time” there is a general assumption that I enjoy spending time with the family and I want to do so during my free time. An assumption that I believe is dangerous and easily leads to more dissatisfaction and getting burnt out. I have to reject their invitations and awkwardly tell them that I’d like to sit in my room or read a book or watch TV. Then, it’s uncomfortable, as she acts surprised that I’m not dying to spend every waking moment with them (don’t they get sick of me too?).
Your house is not your house
It is also very difficult for me not to have a space to invite people over. Whether at my parents’ home or at college, my house was one that always had open doors to everyone who wanted to stop by. I love having my home be the center of social life, be a meeting place, and a space for sharing and collaboration. I love hosting get-togethers, parties, dinner, and facilitating meet and greets to introduce people to each other. I can’t do any of this, because my house is not my house. This was especially taxing because after moving to a new place, I would have loved to have a space to invite over people who I was getting to know. Instead, I always have to meet in a café or other public space.
In other news, I’m only allowed to use my toilet in my separate tiny home. I’m not supposed to use any of the toilets in the main house.
Your work is not compensated appropriately
While some countries have specific guidelines on au pair contracts, Spain does not. Some websites give “suggestions.” For example, they explain that 30 hours a week, including one night of babysitting, should be compensated by room and board plus 50-70 euros a week of pocket money. The problem (in my opinion obviously) is that it is a completely screwed system for the au pair. Not only do we lose our freedom, our homes, basically our lives, but we are working much more than we could even get compensated for based on the international norms.
Why are the general guidelines problematic? First, if I was a paid tutor, I would charge at least 10 euros/hour (some in Ibiza can charge up to 20). I have a university degree and training that make me competitive as an English tutor. So, if I’m working over 30 hours/week (often more), I should be receiving around 300 euros/week. That means around 1200/month. Because I am living with the family, I’m rent free, right? Yes. But, imagine that this house already existed before I arrived to work for this family. They didn’t have to pay anything extra to put me up here. I could find a room as cheap as 200 euros/month. Imagine, then, how much I am losing out on. If I was paid by the hour and lived in my own apartment, I would be hundreds of euros ahead. But, what about food? I have friends in Ibiza who eat plenty of food, and aren’t particular about the food they choose. They spend around 30 euros a week on groceries. O sea, not enough that it makes sense for me to be compensated with food.
Your usual weekend activities make you lose big time
One of my favorite things to do with friends (especially since I don’t have a house) is go out to eat. Try new food, try new restaurants, and meet new people. However, when considering that one of the ways I am compensated for my work is through food, it doesn’t make any sense to eat out. Again, it seems like a small sacrifice (and ridiculous – millions of people around the world could never afford the food I eat!), but over the course of months, and when you’re not compensated as you should be, it starts to bother you.
Your personal life mixes with work life
When I first arrived in the house, I was stuck. I was in the middle of the island and it was already October, which means that the buses stopped running frequently and most of the lines were dropped. There was no bus that passed near my house. I had to walk 2-3 kilometers to find a bus stop. Because of this, I ended up paying over 300 euros in taxis (without realizing it) because I needed to escape so many times. I also ended up doing a lot of activities with the family on the weekends, first because I wanted a ‘cultural experience’ and second because they didn’t really give me an option not to (“we’re going to eat at a friend’s house. Do you want to eat lunch [read: do you want to eat today]?”). It went along with the assumption that I am dying to spend time with them.
However, the free time I spent with them on the weekend, was it really free? I chose to go with them, but was I ever not working? I was playing and working with the girl the whole time. What constitutes work and what is fun? If I am performing the same job? It is confusing, and a bit deceiving. I can’t ever tell if they are inviting me because they want to be welcoming or they just want free labor.
Then, they make you feel bad or act like they miss you when you’re not there. When it comes down to it, you have to remember that it is a job. They are not your friends, they are not your family. You are here because you need to work. Is that how you’d like to spend your free time? It would be nice if I could feel that I wanted to spend a lot of time with them, and even in my free time. I can’t seem to shake the feeling of being taken advantage of in those situations.
Small rant: The low point for me has been the three times they’ve invited me on vacation with them. But no, it’s not like in the movies when they pay for everything and eat at fancy restaurants. They expected me to pay for my flights. So, you want me to pay to spend my vacation working?
Your hours are confusing
There are no clear cut hours. Yes, I’m with the girl from 4:00pm every day until when she goes to sleep. But when does she go to sleep? It depends on the night. It depends on if her mom is talking to one of her friends on the phone for two hours. It depends if the mom has friends over. It could be 7:00pm or 11:00pm. You don’t get to go into an office, have a shift, and leave. In the way it’s set up, it makes it difficult to plan anything for yourself. It also relates to drawback #1: you are not in control of your hours, therefore you lose some control over your life. You don’t depend on you anymore, everything depends on them and their wants and needs.
It is crucial to note that not all au pairing experiences are the same. There are advantages and disadvantages to every situation and every family. There could be much better and there could be much worse, and in the end it depends on your personality. My family is overall kind and has offered to show me and explain to me many things. But in the end, they are not my family nor are they my friends. And as a grown woman used to living independently and doing things on her own time, it has been very overwhelming.
What have your experiences been? Write me or tweet at me at @yasminesoyyo