Today I thought I’d finally sit down and write the first part of the blog post I wish I had clicked on a year ago when I decided to become an Au Pair for my gap year. This year has by far been the greatest of my life, and I encourage everyone else to do something similar as well. You get out, learn everyday, meet your best friends along the way, and see the world. I hope that any future Au Pairs find my guide to becoming an Au Pair helpful!
I thought that before diving in, I’d give you readers a view of what my current situation is like:
- I’m currently working as an Au Pair in Paris, France.
- I look after two boys, ages 9 & 12. I look forward to each day I spend with them, the two are absolutely wonderful. The 12 year old really helped me integrate myself into their routine when I first started, and my 9 year old never fails to make me laugh (and always kicks my butt at board games).
- I live in the same building as my family, but in a different section in my own apartment.
- I’m considered a demi-Au Pair because I only work around 18 hours a week. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday I usually work from 16:30-18h, and Wednesdays from 10:45 to 18:30. I babysit max once a week. For this I get paid 120 Euros a week.
- I get paid about 35 Euros more than the average Au Pair because I pay my own Navigo (public transportation pass), phone bill, laundry, and groceries. My host mom has set up an additional tutoring job for me, so the money ends up at around 14o a week. This is extremely generous, and more than enough for me to get by (and save, & have fun!).
- I eat with the kids on Wednesdays for lunch and on the nights I babysit. Other meals are eaten in my apartment.
- Other than doing the dishes after cooking, I have no housework.
- I attend language school Monday Tuesday and Thursday, from 8:50-10:50 AM.
- My host parents are just the kindest people. They treat me with respect and I feel like I can really talk to them. I ask myself every day how I got so lucky.
So with that being said, here are the steps that you can take to hopefully end up exactly as happy as I am!
Pick Where You Want To Go
The great thing about being an Au Pair is that you can do it anywhere in the world. And I mean anywhere. Basically, pick a city and start looking! There are many reasons to move somewhere, thus this part of the decision tends to be pretty personal. For example, I moved to Paris because I fell in love with the city as a child and wanted to learn French. That being said though, here are some logistics to keep in mind:
- In bigger cities you will have a lot more other Au Pairs available to be friends with. If you Au Pair in London or New York, there are many more people to meet than say if you are the only Au Pair in a remote Spanish village. That doesn’t bother you? Then go small! Want to meet as many people as possible? Think big.
- Also keep in mind how you will be able to get around as an Au Pair. If you plan on traveling, think about nearby train stations, airports, etc. If you like being out and about, pick a city with good public transportation (bless the metro).
- It’s easier (and cheaper) to get some Visas for some countries in comparison to others.
- Different cities around the world cost different amounts, and different Au Pairs in different cities get paid different amounts as well. Paris is obviously much more expensive than Stuttgart would be. I get paid twice as much as the Au Pairs in Rome do yet both cities come with a hefty price tag. Keep this in mind while picking a place to live.
- Be aware of cultural differences while choosing, and think about if you could adapt to that way of life for a year.
Looking For Employment
So, you have a place picked out and are all ready to go? Great! Here is how you can go about finding potential families for the next year.
- Sign up through an agency. This is how I came to Paris, and I am so glad that I did it this way. When the first family didn’t end up working out, the agency was my rock. They helped me deal with my host mom, took notes about what went wrong with the family, and immediately started helping me look for a new family. If things end up going bad, they are a great kind of “lawyer” to have in the situation.
- However, most of my friends ended up finding their families through this website. It has an endlessly long directory of families all around the world looking for Au Pairs.
- Keep your eyes peeled in your current city. A friend of mine here found her (incredible) family through a “help wanted” advertisement at a Dutch elementary school where she used to tutor.
- Work & travel websites, such as this one. It’s good for finding Au Pair jobs in more remote cities.
- Post on Facebook, find international Au Pair groups. That’s how I found my (completely perfect) second family.
Finding The Right Family
So, you’ve gotten a few offers from families? Here’s how to know if they are a right fit for you.
- The hours. Too much? Weird times? Or they can’t even give you a straight answer? This part of the search is very important. Look for a family where you work from the middle of the afternoon until around dinner time. They want you to bring the kids to school in the morning? Honestly it’s a blessing in disguise, because it forces you to start your day. Things I would stay away from:
- families that require you on the weekend
- doing lunches with the kids (it completely breaks up your day)
- hours that don’t allow you to take language classes
- The pay. This is a very important one! Do the math to see if you can survive off of your pay. They give you 70 but pay all public transportation, groceries, and your phone bill? Perfect! It might be less than average but you are saving huge amounts.
- How independent you are. Will you be a part of the family? Or will you go home to your own apartment at the end of the day? Do you want to eat dinner together every night? Or would you prefer to whip up something for yourself? Do you want the luxury of stumbling home at 8AM and not a soul ever knowing? Or do you want to join the family on their holidays? Going into this year, I thought I wanted to be a part of a family, but living with them I was treated more as a child than my parents ever had. I felt suffocated, and was never fully “off” even when I was sitting in my room. I wanted the freedom of coming and going during my free time without feeling bad, and I missed having people over. Yes, in most “live in” situations the Au Pair will not be treated the way my old boss treated me, but the situation was still not the right one for me. In my new family I might not be a part of their family, but I feel much closer to them all even though I go home at the end of each evening. They respect me and treat me like an adult, while at the same time always asking about my day and giving me happy hour recommendations. And don’t forget: even if you aren’t “a part of the family”, it’s never an excuse to be treated like the help.
- Location. This one is key. My first job was in a suburb that ended up being a lot further from Paris than I thought it was. Since a large reason why I had come to France was to experience the Paris lifestyle, this ended up putting quite a damper of things. I wanted to be in the middle of it all! Living right in the middle of Paris now (#paris17 forever) I am so much happier. So ask yourself these questions:
- Living in a suburb or right outside? How far is it from the center? How often do the trains there run?
- Is the neighborhood you’re going to be living in safe?
- Does it fit to you? My 17th arrondissement fits perfectly to my personality, I could live here the rest of my life.
- The kids. Obviously a very important one! I personally wasn’t too worried about this one because I had been babysitting for years and was already very good with kids, but for others this might be an issue. Grew up in a family of 5 girls? 2 boys might not be your piece of cake. Do you want to be playing in the backyard after school or taking the kids to museums? An infant is probably not a good idea. Keep in mind:
- The more kids there are, the busier you’ll be. If you’re gonna take on 3 or more kids, I suggest that the youngest one is 9 or 10.
- If you’re with an only child, know you’ll be occupied all the time.
- Do the kids have a lot of activities? If you prefer to stay in and draw, if might not be good to take care of kids who play 5 sports and 7 instruments.
- The younger they are, the tougher it tends to be. I would say that 4-7 is the hardest age to care for.
- Pick kids that you can relate to, whether they take interest in the same things you do, or are the same ages as your younger siblings. The kids I look after now remind me of my brother and I every day.
- Their expectations. Part of the reason I ended up leaving my old host family is that they expected from an 18-year-old Au Pair living away from home for the first time things that a professional nanny would have a hard time with. I ended up doing much more housework than any of my fellow Au Pairs, having to learn stick shift to drive the children to their activities, and feeling like a failure at the end of each day because I could not make a control freak happy. Hopefully this will not be the situation for any of you. Know their expectations going in by doing the following things:
- Do they need you to drive?
- Have them tell you exactly what your household duties will be.
- Ask for a general rundown of their routine.
- Determine how much they want you around when you aren’t working (i.e. part of the family or not). I was often made to feel guilty for going out with friends rather than staying at home.
- How involved you will be with homework/tutoring.
- What language they want you to speak with the kids! If you are determined to learn a new language, don’t take a job in which they want you to speak your mother tongue.
- Will you be allowed to plan things with the kids? For me a job is a lot more fun if I can take the kiddos to the park for a round of soccer during a long afternoon.
- Talk to the last Au Pair. This one I cannot stress enough. Ask her/him for their point of view, you’re going to be living in their shoes next year. I would recommend a Skype, I really regret not doing this for the first family. For my current family, I even got to meet her before interviewing with the family. That was perfect! If the family denies you this, it’s a huge red flag.
- Lastly, is it just a right match? Do you click with the host parents? Could you imagine looking after these kids for the next year? Do you have a good feeling deep down? And always when in doubt between one family or the other, always end up making your choice based on the people at the end of the day. They end up being what matters, and what will ultimately make or break the year.
Taking Care Of The Legal Stuff
So great, you’ve found an amazing family in the city of your dreams. Now, let’s make it real! Sadly this involves some technical stuff and a little bit of money. Remember though, you might be paying for a plane ticket, but you’ll be saving so much money in the year to come. Let’s bullet point one last time:
- Book your ticket! The earlier you buy, the cheaper it’ll be.
- Take care of your Visa (if you need one).
- Speaking of Visa, do you have a valid passport? Get one if you don’t, and renew it if it’s going to expire in the next year.
- Go get an international drivers license (AAA for Americans). Even if you won’t be driving for your job, this might come in handy at some point.
- Sign your Au Pair papers. Begin asking your family questions about opening a bank account, health insurance options, taxes, etc.
- Go get any necessary checkups/shots. If you’re taking prescription medication, find a way to get it in advance, or begin looking into doctors overseas.
- Get excited!
For Part II:
- Leave me any questions you have below whether it be about my situation or yours. Anything that crosses your mind! I will make a section for them in the next post.
- Coming up next time:
What To Pack
Starting The Job
What To Do If Things Go Wrong
How Do I Feel After Doing An Au Pair Year?
I really hope that this has helped out anyone hoping to become an Au Pair next year. Once again, it has been an amazing experience, and I can only recommend that others do the same. And comment your questions below!