Congratulations! You’ve decided to take the plunge and volunteer abroad! You’ve considered several options and continue to stumble upon the term: au pair. What is it? “Is it a live-in maid?” “A free nanny?” Whether you have heard about aupairing before, or this concept is completely new to you, I am here to give you the honest run down!
An au-pair is generally a young woman selected by a family to assist with their children in exchange for accommodation, meals, and sometimes a small salary. An au pair usually serves in the capacity of a nanny, a private teacher, and big sister. The responsibilities will vary based on the family’s needs, but the job will always and should always be about the children. The great thing is the type of experience you have is completely up to you. Au pairing is a popular concept, and there are thousands of families that host au pairs each year.
I have volunteered abroad extensively, but nothing was quite as personal as my au pair experience in Italy. I was hosted by a family of three, a mother and her two children. I was responsible for practicing English through conversational, interactive and reading activities. I was lucky that on most days my schedule did not begin until 4:00 PM, once the children arrived home from school, and ended around 9:00 PM. When I arrived in Italy the children immediately captured my heart with their warm and outgoing personalities. Their mother was just as loving and kind. She was open and had no issue expressing the skills she wanted her children to gain from the experience. Our time together felt far from “work” or “volunteering.” It was like being a child all over again! We shared countless dance lessons, soccer matches, and hand games all while developing their English skills. Beyond having fun, I experienced the Italian culture and family dynamic from a real perspective. I met grandparents, aunts, cousins, and friends and really felt like a part of the family. Au pairing was an experience that I never imagined I would have, but I wouldn’t trade. After spending only 3.5 weeks with my family, I had a connection with them that will stay with me for a lifetime. If you love children and would like to travel the world cost-effectively, then search no further, au pairing may be exactly what you’re looking for! However, there are 5 things you should be aware of and consider before taking the leap:
EACH EXPERIENCE WILL BE DIFFERENT
Even if your family had 20 former au pairs who can vouch for them your experience will be unique. It never hurts to ask the host family for references, but it would best to get to know the family for yourself. Stay in touch with them prior to arriving to their home, and take note of the family dynamic as soon as you arrive. Set-up a Skype or WhatsApp interview, have a chat and ask questions about the arrangement as they come to mind. A few examples of great questions to ask are:
What are your expectations during my stay? (i.e. Do you need help preparing breakfast? Do the children need language practice/help with homework?)
What times and days am I expected to be with the children? When will I have time off?
What are the living arrangements? Will there be a separate room for me?
TOLERANCE FOR CHILDREN
Au-pairing is a job centered around caring for children, and being their international teacher. After spending time with your pairs, it is inevitable that you will form a loving bond with them. If handling meltdowns and kissing boo-boos sounds less than ideal, you may want to reconsider au pairing. If you want teaching experience, and love to act silly while gaining new siblings then au pairing is right up your alley.
My only regret during my au-pair experience is that I did not come as prepared as I would’ve liked. My pairs spoke English like natives, but they still needed help improving conversational grammar. Make sure to ask the host parents about the child/children’s learning abilities. Ask them about the material they have learned at school, then research fun games and activities to play that will build on the knowledge that they have.
BE COMFORTABLE WITH SAYING NO
Your job is to primarily to take care of the child/children and their needs. If you are asked to do things that you did not agree to prior to your arrival it’s fine to say no! The experience should be clear and enjoyable for both parties. Although, your host is providing meals and accommodation it is never ok to take advantage of someone. Be sure to create some clear and healthy boundaries with your host family!
While au pairing is not the typical “job,” there is a standard of professionalism au pairs should hold themselves to. Many people mistake the job as an opportunity to live for free while shopping, traveling and having fun. You will have the opportunity to do all of the above, and many hosts encourage au pairs to do so. Just make sure you find a healthy balance and prioritize your responsibilities first.
There is something special about a family allowing you to take part in their lives as both a teacher and selected family member. This experience has the potential to open your mind and the floodgates to other opportunities. Be selective, be intentional and be receptive to what the experience could bring.
Have any additional questions? Leave them in the comment box below, and I’ll be happy to answer them in a YouTube video!
Until next time,
The Pint Sized Traveler