So You Want to be an au pair?
Febuary 18, 2016
Let me start by saying being an Au Pair was the most difficult yet amazing thing I have ever done in my life! Wait what is an au pair you say? Well according to Wikipedia, An au pair (plural: au pairs) is a domestic assistant from a foreign country working for, and living as part of, a host family. Typically, au pairs take on a share of the family’s responsibility for childcare as well as some housework, and receive a monetary allowance for personal use.
I really wanted to write a post about my nanny experience abroad, in hopes that it inspires any of you wanting to travel but lack the funds or just don’t know how to go about it. In this post I will attempt to give you the advice that I wish I had before going into it. I will talk about my experience and how it was the best thing I ever did with my life, and I will probably talk about the times when I wanted to come home crying to my mom and dad. Like I said, moving to a completely foreign country where you don’t know anybody, you don’t understand the language, and you are thrown into another family’s life is not the easiest thing in the world, but oh so freaking rewarding!
So I guess I will start with step one;
FINDING A FAMILY.
I used a couple of different websites, https://www.aupairworld.com/en being the best rated I believe. You create a profile describing your services as well as your preferences on the type of family your looking for, where you are looking to go etc… Now this is VERY important. Make damn sure that the family you find is cool and legit. Skype with them several times. Make sure they offer to pay for you to go to a language class while you are there. Decide if you can handle living in the same house with a bunch of strangers, or if you would rather find a family that offers separate housing; there are a few out there. Make sure the family lives in an area that you can easily access things, people, etc… You do NOT want to be stranded at some house in the middle of the country with no means of being able to go out and be free for a bit. If they do not talk about getting your work visa together, run the other way (more about that in a bit).
I will now quickly share my first time experience. In 2012 I found my first family; they lived in Zurich, Switzerland. I wasn’t particularly trying to go to Switzerland, at the time, but it didn’t really matter to me as I was just trying to go somewhere. This family seemed legit, so a month later I was on a plane to Zurich for a three month stint of my first nanny abroad experience; my first experience abroad ever, for that matter. It turns out, the host dad was a short man trying to overcompensate his stunted growth by using major assholery techniques. I loved the girls and the mom was cool, but seriously the dad was a dick. Any time I was ever home at the same time as he was, I avoided him at all costs, usually by locking myself in my IKEA furnished room, watching “Peep Show”, and drowning my sorrows in Nutella. I won’t vent forever about how terrible this dude was but it is important for any of you future au pairs to make sure the family gets a legit “au pair” work visa prepared for you. The Swiss family did not do this, and later on I found out it was illegal to have me working for them without an au pair work visa. I quickly became aware of how shady this guy was.
Right, so if I haven’t scared you away yet, please keep reading because it gets so much better!
No matter where you are going you usually have to go through an annoying amount of paperwork; trust me, it’s worth it. Try to find a family that is willing to help pay for at least some of your travel expenses; this helps if you are broke like I was. Prepare yourself to say goodbye to your friends and family. For me, I was so excited that the homesickness didn’t set in until I was there for a few days. Yes, you will get homesick and lonely but I will talk about that later on and what I did that seemed to help. Pack light; there is a good chance you will end up feeling self conscious about your style once you get there and reworking your entire wardrobe in the end. At least that is what happened to me.
This is a picture displaying that if you live in Bordeaux, France, four year olds will have way better style than you.
Okay, so back to my experience. When I was living in Zurich I made some amazing friends, two of whom I am still really good friends with to this day. This made the whole “dad being a fascist dictator thing”, so worth it. Alex, an American from Washington DC, and Linnea, a Swedish girl, who I met on my first day of German class, made the whole experience amazing. Imagine going on a month long road trip by yourself… That is sort of what it would be like to not have any friends sharing your au pair/ abroad experience with. Finding friends is sooooo important. Put yourself out there; you can do it!
Alex and Linnea being super cool on a visit to Paris
Alex had been living in Europe for quite a while and really took Linnea and me under his wing. Linnea was also an au pair in Zurich and we confided in the challenges and woes of living with a Swiss family. In the end, once my Swiss job was over, Alex convinced me to search for another au pair job in the South of France. He is a Francophile at heart and had lived there for years before I met him. France? I had never even thought about France. Thank God for Alex.
Three months later I hit the jackpot. A family living in Bordeaux… the wine capital of the world… “I like wine”, I thought. The mom was a stay at home yoga and painting enthusiast. The father was a lawyer, and the little girl who was my responsibility, was a cute four year old blonde named Salome. The first time I skyped with them they were at their beach house in Bidart. The mom didn’t seem to know how to work the computer and they were all drinking red wine… This is when I knew it was all going to work out. The family was the most amazing bunch of people I could have asked to be placed with. They showed me their world; I can’t even find the words to describe how they changed my life. I could go on forever about my experiences and the awesome things I got to do, but I will get back to the advice you were probably seeking when you started reading this.
If your host mom is super chill, takes yoga and painting classes, eventually teaches you yoga, shares her Buddist ideals, and uses mint flavored essential oils to fix your tummy aches, BONUS!
-You don’t have to necessarily like children to be an au pair; just look at it as your job, and maybe you will surprise yourself. But know that…
-Being a nanny is SUPER hard, the kid is probably going to hate you at first.
Case in point, I took this photo of Salome on the first day I met her and this was the look she gave me…
And this one..
When I first arrived in France I didn’t speak any French, and Salome, the girl I was watching didn’t speak any English. Needless to say, it was difficult. It took a certain amount of patience I didn’t know I even had in me. Salome taught me the most French out of anyone. She was probably more patient than I was. She was four. After living in France for a year and a half, and taking French classes part of that time, I can say that my French is “OK”? Also, being with a family 24/7 you tend to feel like you are constantly being watched. This feeling fades after a bit, depending on how well you integrate yourself into the family. It is hard, however, not to feel like you are walking on eggshells sometimes.
-Being in a different country is different. Umm duh? But no seriously just be prepared for things to be somewhat different than they are at home. For me, some of the adjustments I faced living in France werefacts like: stores aren’t always open; everything is smaller; there is only one Chipotle in all of Europe; you don’t understand what people are saying most of the time; it takes allot of courage to just go up and order a coffee; currency is different, ect… The first time I attempted to purchase a coffee in Zurich, I tried paying for it with a 5 cent franc; not really knowing how much a franc was worth. Priorities are different. If you go to France be prepared to sit at the dinner table for at least 3 hours.
-Learn the transportation system. This is your lifeline. Do not be afraid to go out and explore, if you do not do this, then what is the point? Go get on the tram and ride it to the very last stop and back, if you are in Europe, drink a beer while you’re at it!
-Speaking of beer, go to PUBS!!!
If you happen to go to Bordeaux, check out “Molly Malones” was my favorite, these guys that worked there ended up being my closest friends, I ended up marrying the one on the left…
This is where I met most of my friends, not to mention my now super sexy British husband. :] Seriously, most pubs will have English speaking peeps there. Become friends with the Irish bartender and receive cheap drinks… Go to quiz nights, get drunk and ride bikes through the cobblestoned streets. Buy a late night kabob or better known by Americans as a “euro”. Meet new people everyday and attempt to speak to them in their language; being a bit tipsy helps with this.
-Try super hard to learn the language, it is scary, and for some people this does not come easy. The only real way you will learn is to practice. I’m sorry, but if you took a few years of French class in high school its not going to help much once you are actually there. You HAVE to speak it all the time, do not be afraid to make mistakes because it will probably happen constantly.
-Be prepared for homesickness, more so at first but it really never does go away. A few things I did to help with this; I wrote in a journal, I explored, I took photos, I confided in my host mom, I went to pubs, I made friends, I confided in my new friends, I tried to remember that this was an experience of a life time, I looked at new apartments on Craigslist for when I would return, I went for long walks and got lost, and I skyped with my family. Eventually, you will feel like this new place is your home and you will get into a groove.
-Try to travel to other countries while you are there if you can! If you are in Europe, it is fairly cheap to buy plane tickets to other countries. While I was living in France, I was able to travel to Spain, Greece, and Switzerland all the while being on a low budget.
-If the family has a beach house in Biarritz, its a plus
You will experience a lot of “first times”
here are a few of mine
- eating foie gras
- eating pate
- eating rabbit stew
- drinking Pastis
- eating cheese that smelled like you shouldn’t be eating it
- peeing my pants in front of someone on a first date
- pooping in an alley
- wiping poop from the butt of a four year old
- meeting the love of my life, now husband
- drinking/buying beer at Mc Donald’s
- drinking beer on the street
- drinking beer on a train
- drinking wine at a castle
- riding a horse through a vineyard
- eating Baklava
- going to an underground speak easy
- riding a train
- paddle boarding
- nude beaches
- being nude on a beach
- seeing other people nude on a beach
- wearing a T shirt in February
- yoga class in French
- cut my hair to my shoulders
- became a brunette for a while
These are just a few things I can think of right now. Of course, everyone’s experience will be different depending on your personality and where you go. The point is you will get to do so many things in life that you never even thought existed. Eventually Salome started to like me, I love that little girl to this day… and I think she loves me too. Maybe I will let the photos tell the rest of my story.
Salome looking like she should be in a child vogue magazine…
The view from the family’s beach house in Bidart
Bordeaux during Christmas
If you get a chance to go to Ibiza, don’t, go to Formantara instead, also wear sunscreen
Learn how to read a map
Some people will teach you cooler things than others…
French Class with Danielle (American) and Nicole (New Zealand-er), notice the bottle of wine. Have I convinced you to go to France yet?
If you manage to find yourself a foriegn love, by all means necassary, convince him to come back with you. Maybe I will do another post on K-1 Visas, how exciting that would be!
Well I hope this was helpful for all you kids out there feeling that travel bug. Becoming an au pair is a great option for those who want to travel and really experience what it is like to live in another coutry.
Read on for random journal entries from my experience abroad…
“I lost it last night. I haven’t had a day to myself yet and I think it’s getting to me. Plus I started my period. Then add on the fact that I’ve been kidnapped into the middle of nowhere to this Buddhist retreat with just the parents and Salome… “
Feb 7th 2013
“Sitting at my usual coffee shop. Skipping class… sitting right next to two girls who are so incredibly British. They don’t know I can understand them, I like that feeling, it makes me smile.”
“1/20, Wow last night ended up being a disaster. Left awkward pub and was immediately bombarded with men. I was on my way down the street for a stroll when some guy stopped me to talk. I decided to give him a chance since I was desperate for a friend. His name was Victor and he seemed nice enough. We ended up talking about getting a drink so i followed him onto a bus and we end up near HB we walk into a Coop and I immediately became confused. Turns out, his idea of getting a drink was to buy two cans of beer and drink them on the street… upon realizing this, I called John back, the creepy Turkish man from the pub…”
“Well I did it, I asked them if they spoke English (most my age do) They were nice and everything but you could tell they were weirded out that i was talking to them”
“I have become obsessed with Nutella. This morning I had cereal with Nutella not milk, for lunch it was bread with Nutella on it, and for dinner a blueberry muffin….”
1/25, “At my usual cafe in Horgen. Getting a Deutsch lesson from the worker and a nice customer lady who speaks English. They are trying to help me decide where to go for my week off. I am getting tired of smiling and nodding like I am supposed to understand. I think they like me here, they really enforce that I should know German. I think I am slowly learning. last night German class went well. I feel like I know more than most here. I met a really cool Swedish girl. She knows English well and is allot like me. I think I will see what she is up to tonight.”
“Dropped phone in toilette, pirate bar in basement with bad ass old jukebox, played the banana song from Beetlejuice. Found a sweet skeleton key that i kept and turned into a necklace”
“This morning Julie (five year old girl I nannied) told me they don’t wear pajamas out in public and I said that “well I do”. she was like oh… probably embarrassed to be seen with me.”
“As I sit here and bask in the sun. Feeling tired but at ease, I contemplate my future. Feeling lost. The past year of my life has not been real. Ive been living but not the way I have for the past 23 years. A completely different life, routine, look, identity, friends, language, family… 9 months ago I arrived in Paris, met Alex and Linnea at Le Gare. After that my life has been a blur of beach, sun, rain, salome, french class, beer, and walking evreywhere. Things are much easier now, its good between me and salome. we understand each other and there is finally a level of mutual respect. she loves me and I love her. I have a lot more patience as does she.”