Today I am excited to bring to you the second part of my guide to becoming an Au Pair (find part I here). While last time I covered topics such as finding the right family and taking care of legalities before your arrival, today I wanted to discuss things such as preparing your arrival and answer questions readers left me last time in the comments. Enjoy this post, and I hope you find it as helpful as many of you did the last one!
What To Pack
Now this is quite an important one, isn’t it? I know it’s something that I struggled with when preparing my move. Ultimately, finding balance is key. You by no means want to overpack, but also don’t want to be left stranded missing your items from home, or having to re-buy a wardrobe.
- The basics. I would recommend bringing your favorite plain t-shirts from home, your beloved sneakers, your favorite black jeans, etc. These items tend to be in style all around the world, thus there’s no point in re-buying them. When I arrived in Paris I was severely lacking in this category, and ended up having to re-buy tons of shirts, cardigans, etc. Also bring your coats, jackets and favorite shoes from home, as you don’t want to be forking over 80+ Euros for something you already own, just in a different place. Coming from California I did not think about there being seasons, resulting in me spending a lot of money once it got colder than 20 degrees.
- Clothes you know will be practical for the job. I still like to dress well even when going to work (I have never shown up on workout clothes), but the clothes I wear while working are different than the ones I wear in my free time. I layer undershirts under my not quite opaque white t-shirts, and instead of wearing my tight black jeans, I’ll throw on the pants I have dubbed my “flowy trousers.” They’re loose and comfy, aka perfect for sitting on the floor playing boardgames, yet also chic when I walk through the streets with my kiddos. Also, remember that the clothing you wear on the job also represents who you are towards your host parents.
- Photos. The quickest way to make a space feel like yours is to have photos of the people and places you love lining the walls. Stick them in an envelope and they take up like no space.
- Products you love from home. I partially did this because Head & Shoulders costs about 1/4 of the Paris price at my local Target, but, having your products from home can be very comforting after a tough day. I also packed ample amounts of medication, just because I know how my body reacts to it and that it works for me.
- Everyday practicalities. I brought my Camelbak and a small lunchbox from home. My mom thought I was crazy, but it saved me about 20 Euros here, and I use both on a daily. Bringing my water and food with me saves so so so so so much money!
- Most of the statement pieces. Despite how sure you may be about your style, it’s without a doubt going to change as you live abroad. Moving to Paris, despite my mother’s warnings, I packed all of my California appropriate tiny shorts and crop tops, only to realize after about, say, 2 hours in Paris that I would not be able to wear a single one of them. Leave the space instead for buying pieces appropriate for the new place you’re living in. I invested in beautiful shirts, fitted trousers, and city appropriate dresses.
- To much of anything. Guys, I arrived in Paris with 7 handbags. Yes, 7! Streamline while you’re packing. Yes you don’t want to be stranded with too little so be smart about it, but you also don’t want to be overwhelmed with stuff. After all, this move abroad is a fresh start, and more often than not, your mind is so much more clear with less stuff than more.
Starting The Job
So you made it! You’ve arrived, met your host family, and have moved into your space for the next year. This new time is so exciting. You want to get to know your kids, make the friends that will help you get through the year, and explore your brand new surroundings. But how to balance it all?
- Focus on your job. Make getting to know your kids your priority. If you have a “part of the family” situation, start building a relationship with your host parents. These are the people you will be spending the most time with and maybe even be living with, so a good, strong, and open relationship with them from the beginning on is key to making your experience a success.
- Don’t over stretch yourself socially. At the beginning of my Au Pair year, I made plans 5 times a week with 5 different people. This resulted in me knowing a lot of people but not having any solid friendships, even at about 2 months in. It was only when I truly asked myself which groups of girls I had the most fun with, which girls I felt best with and answered those questions for myself (and it was surprisingly easy) that I was able to focus on them and build real friendships (that I now believe will last a lifetime). There will be so many people to meet at the beginning, but if you find somebody that you really click with, stick with them!
- Go easy on the sightseeing. My first 4 months in Paris, I barely slept. I was running around the city like a mad woman, trying to see absolutely everything. However, at some point I realized that I had so much time. I was doing so many things, visiting so many museums that I had stopped enjoying. It was only when I began to allow myself movie nights in and lazy Sundays that I really began to feel like I was living in France.
- Save enough time for you. Don’t stop working out, let your hobbies drop to the side, or ignore your “to do” list. After all, despite being in a new place you’re not on holiday! Take those days to figure out your finances or to do your university applications. This is life after all and you have to keep things together and organized. Routine (and enough sleep) is key to keeping your sanity.
What To Do If Things Go Wrong
And now we have the “what if” that nobody likes to think about: what if things don’t end up working out? Going into the year, I was so sure of my first host family that I thought this would never happen. However, you can’t really know anybody from a Skype or a bunch of emails, you only really get to know a person once you are in it, living in their home and looking after their children. It did end up happening to me, and while it was really tough and got quite nasty at times, it was not the end of the world.
- When you start to realize things are going bad. In my first family I adored the kids, but my host mom was bullying me and destroying my self esteem. She was printing out emails I sent her, annotating them with how each line offended her. Each day she would come home with a complaint. If I got all of the house hold chores done, she would say I wasn’t spending enough time with the children. If I spent 2 hours revising homework with them one day and didn’t get to her (not even the children’s) laundry, she would tell me that “It’s not my job to do it for you.” I could not do her right. For this reason I blamed my unhappiness on myself, and thought that something was wrong with me for the longest time, that I was not doing the job good enough though. This went on for about 5 months, and after her telling me that my parents had failed in raising me, I knew I had to get out.
- Look into what actions you can take after resigning for your current family. The day before I quit, I went to my Au Pair agency to get my options. The woman working there was wonderful. She immediately started looking up new families for me, took notes on my current host family, and told me what my rights were as an Au Pair. She supported me fully, we discussed how I should best go about it, and she told me that we would stay in touch during the whole process.
- Resign. I did it by writing a letter to read to my host mother. She had a way of never letting me speak, and by writing down exactly what I wanted to say, she couldn’t fluster me. I sat her down when we had the house to ourselves and took care of it.
- Begin looking for your next employment. I decided to quit on Wednesday, went to my agency on Thursday, quit on Friday, and interviewed for my current family on Saturday. They offered me to become their next Au Pair immediately, and a few days later I accepted. How did I find them? Ironically not through my agency. On the Wednesday that I decided to quit, I immediately posted messages in each Paris Au Pair group I could find on Facebook, asked all of my friends to ask their host parents for me, and had the agency looking. The Au Pair who was with my family at the time messaged me after seeing a post I made in a group. I loved what she had to say about the family, and we spent the night talking. She put me in contact with my current host mom, and the rest is history. Thankfully my current family ended up being a part of my agency, which made things so easy.
- Keep calm and carry on as you finish with your current family. After quitting, I was required by contract to stay for 2 weeks, and I stayed 4 as a favor to the family. Things got nasty. My former host mother withheld pay from me, wrote extremely abusive emails (yeah I don’t know what her thing is with emails either), went through my things (taking things from me as well) and added household work. She could not see where she had the fault and spent every last day punishing me. If this happens to you, keep your chin held high. It’s up to you to be the adult in the situation, don’t sink down to their levels. It will be uncomfortable, but remember that bullies only bully because of their own insecurities.
- Never forget that not all the fault lies with you, no matter how you are made to feel. It takes two to tango! Bad Au Pair host parents can often feel like they have the right to treat you poorly because they’re paying you. This is never true. You are a person and you deserve respect!
- Take the negative as a learning experience. I learned so much from dealing with my old host mother. It gave me a thicker skin, taught me to take the high road, and how to handle high amounts of stress. Everything is a learning experience you guys!
How Do I Feel After Doing An Au Pair Year?
So how do I feel having only 3 weeks left in this year? Like I made the best choice of my life. This year has by no means been easy (see host mom above) but worth it. I have learned so much and wouldn’t trade any experiences I have made for the world. I got to travel around Europe, made friends that will last me a lifetime, and can successfully say that I lived on my own in Paris. And, I learned French! My entire life I will know my way around Paris, and will be able to understand the French culture from the inside. A had the chance to develop a great relationship with two wonderful children, and learned so many skills along the way. 100% recommended, to the moon and back.
In my last post some readers left me questions to answer.
- What is the safety like living abroad? Answer: I feel very safe living in Paris, safer than I would in the United States. It’s refreshing to not be scared that someone might be carrying a gun as you walk home at night. Every city has it’s areas and I’d stay out of those once it gets dark, but that’s just common sense. As long as you make good and smart choices you’ll be fine. My trick for when I’m riding the metro alone at 1AM is to just put in my headphones and listen to music. You’ll drown out the world around you and you become unavailable. If something comes up, be polite and keep on walking.
- How did you meet your friends? Answer: All over! I have one group of friends that I met while waiting for my kids outside of their school. They were all Au Pairs in my former neighborhood, and it was super easy to build up friendships because we were neighbors. Another very close friend of mine I met in French class. I’ve also become friends with my neighbor, some people that I met at picnics, and with friends of friends. In any big city you will find a huge Au Pair community, so no worries!
- How much money should I bring with me when becoming an Au Pair? Answer: I came to Paris with about 600 Euros, and am leaving with about 400 Euros. I spent a lot more than 200, but was always sure to save a little and put money back into my savings. You can easily go into your Au Pair year with no savings at all, the “pocket money” covers living + entertainment costs!
I hope that any future Au Pairs planning their gap year have found this post helpful! Thank you so much for reading and for coming along on the journey this year.
Leave any additional questions in the comments below and I’ll answer them for you!