We recently spent time catching up with Isabella Swenson. Isabella is a GeoVisions alum, and participated in our Au Pair Netherlands program last year. Today, Isabella is living in Romania working under a ministry to work with at risk teen girls in the Roma communities. Learn more about Isabella and her powerful mission in our interview with her below!
“I’ve realized the power and potential of living in a community. I cannot do life alone because I was never made to. We need each other. We affect each other.” During your Au Pair experience in The Netherlands, you cared for two young children and lived with the family. How did this impact how you felt about community (as you mention above in your quote), especially in a different culture?
This is a good question. Upon arriving in the Netherlands I never really realized how much I need people. In the beginning, I would travel throughout the Netherlands and Europe alone and eventually saw doing things alone is not the same as enjoying and sharing experiences with others. Friends and family…even my host family to share life with I found to be the greatest gift in life and the reason my experience in the Netherlands was so incredible.
You say in a recent blog post, “The vulnerability that goes with living in community is difficult and yet liberating and vitalizing all at the same time.”Can you expand on these thoughts? What did you find difficult? What experiences influenced you in particular?
For me it is much easier to keep to myself and do things alone – however as I began to realize the value of sharing experiences with others I began to intentionally reach out to others. Letting people know who you really are can be scary. Reaching out and investing in others, going places, takes time, effort, and sometimes money. Perhaps staying home and settling is easier, but I quickly realized it would be a waste of my experience not to reach out and enjoy where I was with those who were around me. This is when I found the greatest happiness.
In what ways do you feel you were challenged during your Au Pair program?
Leaving everything I was familiar with was very difficult at first. In the beginning, you basically have to start a whole new life. This can be exciting and also daunting to think about. I love learning about different cultures, but there were a few things that I definitely had to get used to in the beginning such as how direct Dutch people can be and how precise they are. At first this was very difficult for me, but eventually, I came to understand where they were coming from when they would make blunt statements, and it helped me grow in better communicating and understanding others.
How did your Au Pair program inspire you, or did it inspire you to make your move to Romania?
My Au Pair experience inspired me in many ways. Going to Romania has always been a dream of mine, since before my Au Pair year. However, my experience in the Netherlands definitely built my confidence and was a safe and wonderful step towards Romania. I learned how to live independently, the process of registering with another country and all that implies, and it gave me a better self-awareness and the ability to adapt to a new place. Now living in Romania, I am so thankful I had the experience of the Netherlands first, as I really see it prepared me in many ways.
What do you hope to accomplish while you are in Romania?
Wow. That’s a deep question. In short, in Romania, young girls from impoverished and rural backgrounds are often lured to places with promises of economic opportunity only to find themselves trapped in an industry they cannot escape. My heart is to reach these girls with a message of hope and healing. To rescue and restore their true value to them.
How long do you plan to live in Romania?
As long as there’s work for me to do here. I really don’t know, I’m just following God’s plan for my life.
What fears do you have about this new chapter in your life?
The humanitarian work I am involved in and launching is rather dangerous so of course there are some obvious concerns, but more than anything the thing that scares me most about this new chapter is that some of these girls won’t get rescued. Even this is not a real fear because I have so much peace knowing I am called to be here in Romania. I know if I just invest in the one life that’s in front of me, I am doing what I was made to do.
What would you recommend to others looking to make a leap and volunteer abroad for the first time?
First I would say, I am so proud of you for stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing a wonderful, life-changing experience! It will be hard, uncomfortable with a new culture, new sense of humor, a new place to call home, frustrating especially when you don’t understand the language at first, but not to scare you away….it will be worth it! So worth it! The person I am today, because of these experiences, is more the person I want to be. You will grow so much, discover who you really are, not who you are because of your friend group, your place of up-bringing, etc. These things contribute to who we are but they don’t define us. Lives will be touched and enriched by you taking the time to invest. The kids I au paired for will always feel like apart of me – I learned so much. We formed a bond to last a lifetime. Pouring more of yourself into others will never leave you empty, only ever more fully blessed.
Isabella is originally from Minnesota.
She is a recent graduate with a degree
in teen counseling and is also an advocate
for victims of sexual assault and survivors
of human trafficking. Keep up with Isabella’s