Alumni Spotlight: Gina Alward

Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in the world haven't had the same advantages you have.

Don't ever quit and don't ever give in. There is profound beauty in every battle, so go after everything you've ever wanted and hold on.

Gina is a travel blogger for The Here and Wow, while working as a travel columnist and content editor for Brunswick News in Canada. She is twenty-four years old and currently lives in Sussex, New Brunswick.

Why did you choose this program?

sea views in Ireland

I had just graduated university, accomplished everything I was "supposed" to do, and decided I wanted to live in Ireland. I've always loved the culture, and I've worked with kids for five years, so I thought I'd try Au Pairing for a year.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

They really helped with everything - visas, jobs, accommodation - anything I had questions about and they were right there to assist me.

Having opted for the Au Pair route, a lot of things were already taken care of for me, but they were always willing to lend an ear with whatever was on my mind - and still are.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I wish someone would have told me how hard it was going to be. Even in a place like Ireland, where the cultural differences aren't so great, it's still a hell of an adjustment. I wanted to give up and quit dozens of times, and had a huge freakout once I was left alone in my room for the first time.

But I was also never told how enriching this experience was going to be. How much this year would change me, how I would plant roots here, have a family and a place to call home here. It is, without a doubt, the best decision I ever made.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

For me, it was pretty basic. I got up, started working, had my evenings free and traveled on weekends. I got everything I needed through the government within my first few days, and after that, they were filled with whatever I wanted to fill them with.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear was my living situation. I had no idea what it was going to be like, what my family was going to be like, and I honestly could not have prepared for what I encountered.

It's unsettling jumping into the unknown, stumbling along trying to bridge the culture shock, and being able to figure out an entirely new place on your own.

But it didn't take long until it felt like I had lived there my entire life - it really became my home.

If you could change anything about your experience, what would it be and why?

If I were to change anything about my experience, it would be to stay longer.

In the back of my mind was the worry that I wasn't making enough money, or that I should be getting a "real" job rather than being an Au Pair and taking on smaller jobs if I couldn't get something more stable.

But it honestly isn't about what you do, but where you find yourself when you're doing it. My host Dad gave me a piece of advice at the end of my year with them, and it was to keep going. Keep traveling from place to place and see everything I had my heart set on, because being young is an absolutely gift and once you settle down in that "real" job, put down some more permanent roots, it becomes a lot harder to get going again.

Don't worry about what you should or shouldn't be doing and embrace everything programs like this are able to give you. Live your dreams, test your limits, and that's when you'll finally find where, who and what you've always meant to be.