Growing Up By Moving Out
by Bernice Wildhaber,
a 22-year-old nearly-filmmaker from Western Sydney
It’s been nearly a year since I packed up my life in Sydney and moved to the other side of the world to Munich. I decided to be an au pair pretty quickly, and within a month, I had a host family, a plane ticket, I had said my goodbyes to my family and friends and my not-so-stable job, and moved to the other side of the world. It took a week before it hit me—What did I just do? Why did I choose to be an au pair? The job quickly became the same routine, lacking nearly everything I would have wished for in a job. I’d only kind of known what I was getting myself into, and within the first few weeks, I was regretting leaving my home (my beautiful, diverse, filthy, big-skyscraper-filled city) for this.
When other people look back and talk fondly about the year they spent abroad, how amazing and life changing it was, wishing they were back in that exotic country, I will look back at my year in Germany with something like contempt for myself. I know why I packed up my life in Sydney and moved to Munich. I had an idea of the kind of person I wanted to be, and for some reason I thought the answer to being that person lay on the other side of the world. In Sydney, I was a graduate who would never get a job in her field: unemployed, living at home, with no change in sight. Munich was to me the first step in becoming The Right Person, and change would come quickly.
What this year has taught me, though, is that all my inadequacies as a person—a daughter, a sister, a friend—weren’t all magically erased because now I lived In Munich. Instead, they were amplified and clearer to me than ever before. I left for Europe because my life back home felt like it was stopping me from being the person I always wanted to be. Moving abroad didn’t fix any of my problems. Instead, it made me realize that for all the faults that I have, there were some that I could still rectify.
When it comes down to it, this is what my year in Munich has taught me: travel is a wonderful experience, but there are not enough castles, mountain ranges, ethnic cuisines, and trinkets to make me feel better about myself. Living abroad doesn’t make me better than anyone else. Traveling through an entire continent doesn’t make me better than anyone else. Standing at the top of goddamn Matterhorn doesn’t make me better than anyone else. My year abroad taught me who I am, and while it isn’t a great realization, it’s one that I needed.
There were positives to this trip, of course: I became friends with some of the loveliest people who are now spread out all over the world; I learned German; I spent time with my extended family; I fell in love with a gorgeous man. It isn’t a lie when I say that Munich has been good to me. It’s a beautiful city with which I quickly fell in love.
If I were to go back and do it all again, though, I would come for the right reasons. I wish that the Bernice from a year ago had realized that her problems weren’t something a new city could fix, and that creating a new life where she knew nobody would bring up more problems than she first realized. She would have come to better herself, rather than to bury everything.
I have a little less than six weeks before I go back home to Sydney. All I hope for now is that I’ve grown up a little, so I can take my life back one step at a time.