After I graduated from college, I had no idea which direction to take after anxiety attacks and depression obliterated my dream of acting in senior year. I had just taken a graduation Eurotrip and realized that travelling made me feel alive in a way I hadn’t for a long time. I looked in the “Beyond Tourism” section of my Let’s Go Europe book and saw one of the options was au pairing. With lots of babysitting and camp counselling on my resume, I knew this would be a great way to get overseas and make money while having a home base to travel Europe more. I believe everything happens for a reason, and the five years since college have been filled with loving families, challenging and rewarding childcare, and mind-blowing travel!
I recommend au pairing to anyone who wants to have a deeper experience with a culture, who loves children (obviously a plus when working with them!), and who wants to radically change her life! But where to begin and how to get the best experience you can?
Make an au pair profile.
A quick Google search will lead you to a number of different web sites to find a family, but the one I’ve had the most success with is AuPairWorld. I like to describe it as a dating website for au pairs and families: you make a profile describing yourself and contact families whose profiles seem suited to you. Families can also contact au pairs whose profiles they “like.” You message back and forth a bit, and if all goes well, you make a skype date and get to know each other more!
Destination: the sky’s the limit!
Take into consideration whether you prefer a big city or a small town, etc. Big cities are easier for finding friends, and they’re better connected for travelling. Small towns might give you a more authentic experience of a place because you might be the only foreigner there! You might have some ideas of where you want to go, so definitely pursue jobs in those places. However, try to keep an open mind if a family contacts you from a city you never thought about – they might be the perfect fit and you don’t even know it! My first au pair job in London came about because the family contacted me, and I had no desire to go there; I was focused on Rome, Paris, and Seville because I had recently been to those cities. Something about this British fam felt “right,” though, and London ended up being a great city for me for the five months I was with them! I now miss it and have gone back to visit three times :]
Choose the right family.
This is SO IMPORTANT. Know what you want from the experience and make sure they support it. You want to travel? Check if they want you to work on weekends and if so, how flexible are they in giving you the weekends off if you give them travel dates in advance? You want to experience the nightlife? Some families have curfews, so make sure you find one that fits your late night needs. It’s totally okay to be up front and communicate your needs: you’re going to be living together, so it’s best to be honest from the beginning rather than be unhappy for three months to a year! Once, I went to work with a family in Zurich, Switzerland, just because of their location and ignored all the little alarms that were going off saying that this wasn’t the right family for me. I thought it would simply be enough to be in the city where I wanted to be and suffer through work to get to the weekend. Long story short, we ended up parting ways after a week. Ha. Bottom line is, the family you work for is a huge percentage of your experience of the place, so I recommend liking them!!
Know the laws.
First of all: does this country accept au pairs from your country? If not, make sure you know the tourism visa length so you don’t overstay. Get on the same page about this with your host family. Next, do your research: what is expected of an au pair in the country where you’re going? Do you need to clean the house? What’s the minimum wage? How many hours are you required to work based on this wage? If the family needs more or less than the standard au pair in their country, negotiate your wage accordingly. I’ve been paid higher than the standard wage because I worked more hours with certain families, but I’ve also been paid the standard and actually worked fewer hours because the kids were so busy with after school activities!
Make a contract.
It’s best to just get this professional stuff out of the way first thing. Make sure both you and they are explicit about your needs, and don’t be afraid to communicate clearly and openly. In my good experiences, the families were upfront about their expectations so I went into the jobs without having to guess what they wanted. In Switzerland, the family repeatedly put off making a contract when I asked them to, so it was unclear to me what my working hours were and what specifically was expected of me. Super frustrating! Au pairing is a job even if you live and work closely with the family, so if the family is shady about making a contract, just like in any other job you would take, this should be a deal breaker!
Once you’ve found an awesome family and you’re settling in, finding friends in your new city will make it that much better! Join Facebook groups for the au pairs or expats of your city. On the Rome group, there are always girls asking to meet up for coffee, museum days, or day trips. This is the best way to find a friend who is in your same mindset and economic position (all au pairs are poor, haha). If you want to meet someone romantically, use a dating app – this was one of the most fun ways for me to experience London! Be outgoing in bars, and if you see or hear someone interesting, talk to them! I found my best friend in Rome because I was waiting to order at a bar and “picked her up” when I heard her talking in an American accent. She was one of my people! (Actually, she isn’t: she’s Norwegian but totally American at heart! <3) Take some classes – I met cool people in an Italian language class and in yoga class. Lots of cities have free or cheap classes – you just need to do your research and try new things!
The point is, you’re in this new city to experience it, so be a “yes girl” (or boy) and take every opportunity you can with an open heart and mind! Be loving but professional with your host family, and chances are they will support you and help you find the best their city has to offer.
Have any questions about being an au pair? Feel free to ask!