Au PairNoun: au pair
- a young foreign person, typically a women, who helps with housework or childcare in exchange for food, a room and some pocket money.
'Just in case'Doing things 'just in case' is useful, mainly when it came to packing. I had already checked the kind of weather I needed to pack for but I was still unsure about whether or not to bring many things. I found I was telling myself a lot that I’d bring them ‘just in case’ and I was so glad I did; all of it came in useful at some point. On the other hand, there were some things I hadn’t included in the ‘just in case’ pile, which I found would’ve also been useful. So if you are unsure, when it comes to what to bring, in terms of clothes, documents or things with which to occupy your spare time, well, it’s better to be safe than sorry; once you’re there, you’re there - you can’t quickly nip back home to fetch something! Of course, this tip is more relevant to the fact that you’re living in another country, when traveling, you maybe ought to leave out such extras and save more space for a souvenir – or six, let's be honest ;) This also depends on the kind of budget you have, personally I didn’t want to spend any money unless it was absolutely necessary, so for me I much preferred making sure I had everything I needed – at least that I could think of at the time.
It will take some time to get to know your role as an au pair; duties, timings, what the children can and can’t do, as well as getting to know your host family; their moods, habits and preferences. It may also take a while to build up your confidence, whether it’s to take the bus for the first time, to apply for a class at the community centre or to walk to the local for some bread. A language barrier and a different culture seems to exaggerate the smallest of tasks. But be patient with this, you will soon get used to your new environment. Be patient with yourself and with others around you and soon enough you’ll be feeling right at home!
You are not aloneSometimes you may feel that way - different country, language and people - but I assure you, you are not alone. Your host family are there for you, you’re their responsibility here (in terms of your safety and well-being). If you applied through an agency you could always contact them for advice and support and of course, there’s Skype you can use to talk to your loved ones back home. Sometimes I just like to see a familiar face or hear a person’s voice. There are also various sites online which you can use to meet fellow au pairs near to you. This will help a lot as they’ll likely be having a very similar experience to you as an au pair – in fact I was surprised at just how much we could relate to each others experiences. Through the many ways of communication nowadays, the world seems a much smaller and a lot less scary place.
CommunicationIf you have any questions, issues or are intrigued by something, if you want to know what you are allowed to do or what you need to do; express your feelings, show your interests and question what needs to be questioned! Communicating well will help things run smoothly, everyone will be on the same page and getting exactly what they want out of the experience.
Take time for yourself
Keep an open mindThere may be things you’re experiencing that are very different to your life back home; from the food and the local shops to the activities they like to do at the weekend. The home you’re staying in might even be completely different to what you’re used do. Try to keep an open mind about everything, try new things and make the most of this cultural exchange!
Remember, this is a 'cultural exchange'Following that, remember that this is a fantastic opportunity to learn so much about another culture; the differences and similarities to your own can be so interesting! Diets, television, songs, slang words, festivals, daily routines, fashion... Through learning about another culture, I often find I learn more about my own culture too – which is useful because your host family will also likely be just as interested in finding out about your life back home. One of the things I learned that has stuck in my head is that in the south of France, they greet each other with two kisses, whereas in the Alps, it’s three! If, like me, you love learning these quirky little factoids, then au pairing is such a great way to do so.
OrganisationYou’ll have a lot to remember. What the children can and can’t do, when you need to pick them up from school, whether they have after-school activities. It is your job to be on time for these things so it is a good idea to organise yourself well so that you won’t be late or forget anything. A great way to do this is to have a timetable. Sit down with your host family and write one together, making sure you’re all clear on everything. It’ll also make it easier when deciding on when to have any classes or meet friends.
Feeling homesickIt's completely understandable, especially if this is your first time away from home for a long period of time. Nonetheless, I honestly didn’t think I would feel that way; I love France, I was very excited to go and I’ve always been independent, so I genuinely didn’t think it would be possible for me to feel homesick. But turns out I was wrong.
By the end of the second week, I started thinking more and more about things I was missing at home. Whether it be a TV series or that my parents were visiting my granddad that weekend. So much had changed in such a small amount of time and I didn’t give myself many chances to just sit down and process it all. I didn’t even realise that it was homesickness I was feeling until a week or so later, when ended up crying in front of my host mum which is something I never like to do (cry in front of people), before finally admitting to myself that, hmm, maybe I was, er, a bit, homesick..?
I found it very helpful to write a list of everything I was proud of myself for achieving so far on the trip and everything I was excited to be doing there. I stuck it on my wall and read it over and over whenever I was feeling down. It helped to focus on the things I was gaining as opposed to things I may be missing out on. Tip number 3 is also a great way to help with homesickness. Telling someone how you’re feeling - whether it’s someone back at home or your host family, is a huge weight lifted.
Do your researchBefore becoming an au pair, make sure you do your research.
Research the best agency for you - there are some that match you to a family for a small fee and others which simply provide the platform for you to make a profile and search for families yourself as well as others offering suggestions based on certain options you've chosen. At first I didn't want to write a 'Dear Family' letter - a letter essentially selling yourself, and describing what you want out of the experience, but I came to realise that the website that required this was the one I felt the most comfortable using.
The sites I tried;
- Au Pair World (The one I preferred)
- Au Pair Village
- Au Pair 24
Research for what exactly the job entails as well as reviews from other au pairs. These will detail the kinds of duties they had, the kind of pay they received, and how they feel about the overall experience. You should also find out what kinds of requirements you need for the job. A lot of au pairing sites will show specific requirements for each country, i.e. visas or insurance.
Another important thing to make sure you research, is the different host families looking for au pairs. I was so excited when the first host family replied to me! We spoke over the phone, discussed details - there were certain things I was a bit iffy about but overlooked. It was all go I thought, until I got an email back saying that the dates I had specified weren't what they wanted. I wanted to leave before Christmas - they wanted me till the end of December. I considered telling them I'd changed my mind even though I hadn't. When the next host family replied to me, I could see straight away that we were a better match than was with the first family. So make sure you do your research, compare each family and figure out the kind of family and the kind of experience you'd prefer.
For me, au pairing was an amazing experience! It taught me a lot...about France, the French culture, the language and also, a lot about myself. I saw some amazing things, met some amazing people and though there were ups and downs, I wouldn't change one bit.