Ever wanted to stay in a foreign country for a long period of time, learn a new culture or a new language? If so, working as an au pair may be a good option for you. I had the opportunity to spend 5 weeks this summer working as an au pair in France. Here is a bit about my experience and a few tips if you are interested in doing something similar!
What is it?
Traditionally, au pair work is usually around 6 months – 1 year but it is still possible, if like me, you only have free time in summer. An au pair is essentially a nanny or a babysitter so if you don’t like being around children, this is most likely not a job for you.
Au pairs are usually young individuals and the role involves staying with a family and looking after their child/children in exchange for accommodation, food and weekly payment.
I found my family through a website called Aupairworld.com. One of my close friends recommended this site to me when she heard I wanted to spend a summer in France. The site allows young au pairs and families to create profiles and then contact each other.
It doesn’t take long to make a profile – it only took me around 30 minutes. If possible, try and write your description in the language of the destined country. For example, I wrote mine in French so it was easier for French families to find and understand. But don’t worry if you don’t speak the language as English is usually enough.
Also make clear your reason for becoming an au pair. Whether it be to learn a language, experience a new culture or to earn money, make sure to mention this in your profile to avoid misunderstandings.
Once you have made your profile you can start to contact families and they can also contact you. Don’t be disheartened if people initially do not respond to or decline your messages because it is likely that as time goes by, numerous families will reach out to you in genuine need of someone to look after their kids – at least this was the case for me.
Something else to remember is that you don’t have to accept the first offer. Do not feel pressured to settle. For example, if you want to stay in a city or you only want to look after 1 child, make this clear and do not compromise your wishes. At the end of the day you want to get the most out of this experience as possible. After several rejections I decided to accept an offer to stay with a family with a 4 year old daughter in Sierck-les-Bains: a village near the border of France. I had a great time but found it quite hard to find things to do in such a quiet village. Therefore don’t be afraid to be a bit picky and wait for several offers before deciding.
Get to know your Family
Once you have found a family and you are both mutually interested in each other’s profiles, exchange details and move the discussion to a different platform – this just makes it easier to communicate. I exchanged messages on Whatsapp with the family for a while to discuss things such as daily tasks, pay, working hours, days off etc.
It is also a good idea to talk to the family on Skype or another application where you can see each other. This allows you to gauge what the family is like. After around a week of talking on Whatsapp I arranged a Skype video call with the whole family.
Ask plenty of questions and make sure you are fully aware of what you’re getting yourself into. I personally wouldn’t stay with a family who have not previously had au pairs before. This way you can speak to previous au pairs to find out about their experiences – this is what I did and it put me at ease before staying with the family.
In most cases I think families would like you to present some sort of references to see if you have experience in looking after children. However, this isn’t always the case. Surprisingly the family I stayed with were not too bothered about my past experience.
Research the area
Before going, try to search up things to do in the area and figure out if public transport is readily available. For me, public transport was essential since I was staying in a small village.
It’s also nice to meet people your own age whilst travelling. Apps such as ‘Meetup’ allow you to join groups and go to different events taking place in the nearby area. You can also check out Facebook for any groups or events going on near you.
This didn’t really apply to me since I was in such a small village but I tried to make the most of the situation. Being right on the border of France meant I could freely travel to both Luxembourg and Germany just by bus or train. This was mind-blowing for me – initially only hoping to go to France I ended up visiting 3 different countries! So wherever you end up as long as you use your initiative you can have great fun.
The family I stayed with were absolutely wonderful! They were really understanding and even changed their working hours to accommodate for me. For example, I mentioned beforehand that I would like to visit Paris during my stay and so they rearranged their working hours to give me a week off to explore Paris.
My main goal was to improve my French and being a part of a family and looking after their young child enabled me to do so. If you’re genuinely interested in spending time abroad over summer, au pairing is definitely an opportunity worth exploring. It’s a great experience and I would love to do it again.