Makenzie Simpson didn’t take the traditional route after she graduated in 2018 from Central Hardin High School.

During her senior year, she couldn’t figure out what she wanted to do. Simpson said she thought about joining the military, but then decided that wasn’t for her.

She then thought about going to college.

“But when it really got down to it, I knew I wasn’t ready,” she said.

Simpson, 19, said she didn’t want to take out student loans if she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.

“And the college experience wasn’t something I was longing for,” she said, adding she really didn’t think at that time in her life she was mature enough to make those decisions.

“I realized how much pres­sure there was to go into college right away,” Simpson said. “I had to pick a career path when I was 14-years-old going into high school.”

Instead, the Elizabethtown teen took a path many don’t choose. She took time to do something different.

“It was really the best decision I’ve ever made,” she said.

Simpson was miserable her senior year with the decision looming over her head.

Her mother’s friend from Germany brought up the idea being an au pair. It’s not common in the United States but very common in Europe and Australia.

An au pair is someone who travels to another country to serve as a nanny.

At first, she thought being a live-in child care provider and taking care of someone else’s children would be weird. But she joined an online group and decided that’s what she was going to do.

Simpson left last July for Australia

“It was terrifying and I still can’t believe I did it some days,” she said. “It ending up being phenomenal. It changed my life.”

Simpson originally was supposed to be back before Christmas, but in October changed her plane ticket and came back May 2.

During her time in Aus­tralia, she worked with two different families. Both had two children ages 2 and 4. The second was an English family.

She didn’t own a passport until last year and never traveled far from home. Simpson said she was homesick the first week, but she started meeting people and it got better.

Her mom, Shelly Haun, is a librarian at North Middle School in Vine Grove.

“Makenzie found it difficult to choose a career path as a high school senior,” she said. “She felt the guilt about not wanting to jump into college before having a career goal because it is what students today are pushed to do.”

Becoming an au pair opened a new world to her, Haun said.

“She stepped way out of her comfort zone, joined aupairworld.com and she then began her research,” she said.

Haun said Simpson had a special connection with the Mogg family in Brisbane, Australia.

“And, just like that, my child was leaving for Aus­tralia,” she said.

Haun said her daughter stayed longer because she was learning and having wonderful life experiences, she said.

“I am beyond proud of my child,” she said. “Through this experience, she has found her passion in life, and she has a goal set for her future.”

Through the experience, Simpson saw a much bigger picture of the world, Haun said.

“It’s allowed her to find a passion in life that may not have otherwise been found,” she said.

Simpson said Australia is much more laid back than the United States and that people work to live and not live to work, she said.

“I just really realized what a rush Americans are in and how much we consume,” she said.

While there, Simpson took a solo trip to Bali. The first five days, she said, were great. The sixth day, Simpson ate a veggie burger with lettuce and tomato and that night she got an intense case of food poisoning. She spent time alone in a Bali hospital.

Other than that, Simpson said the entire experience was good for her and she learned from it.

She gained confidence and said she was more sound in her decisions.

“I finally realized for the first time that life is exciting and a journey — you shouldn’t dread the next chapter and enjoy the chapter you are in and make the most of it,” she said. “It’s been a big breath of fresh air and I don’t think I would have been able to do that if I hadn’t put myself out there like I did.”

The experience was scary, for her and her parents. But she’s grateful for their support and couldn’t do it without them. She understood their fears before going.

She worked her senior year to raise the money for the trip to Australia and worked while she was there. It wasn’t a vacation and her parents didn’t foot the bill, she said.

Simpson said she changed so much from the girl that got on a plane several months ago.

It’s hard to make those big choices when you haven’t figured out who you are yet, she said.

“I wouldn’t have picked the major and career path I want to go into then,” Simpson said. “I want to make a difference.”

After a summer job as a white water rafting guide in Tennessee, the plan is to move to Louisville and start in January at the University of Louisville.

“I’m just so excited now,” she said.

She plans to major in a political science and would like to do something in environmental law. Eventually, Simpson said she wants to go to law school but wants to focus on her bachelor’s degree first.

In Australia, she learned more about the environment and what work needs to be done. She said she wants to help make a change.

To high school students trying to figure out what to do next, she advised to not be afraid to do something different. It was hard the end of her senior year when everyone was focused on college and she wasn’t, she said, adding she felt “lesser” because of it.

“Go with your gut, life is short and make the most of it while you can,” she said.

Becca Owsley can be reached at 270-505-1740 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.