Being an au pair means a solid guarantee of a job as soon you arrive in your country of choice... There is no stress of having to stay in a hostel while looking for apartments & a full-time job, which means not having to pay a deposit either!
You usually work less than 30 hours a week (or are supposed to), leaving you plenty of time to explore & travel, which is the main reason you're moving abroad in the first place! Also if you choose carefully, you can end up with evenings & weekends off (as I do).
If you're lucky, you can unintentionally end up with a second family. This makes being away from home (especially if it's your first time) a hell of a lot easier. You can end up establishing a lifelong bond with these people, including the kids. I still keep in touch with my French family!
One of the under looked points of becoming an au pair is the practice you're getting for when you have your own children! Or... It can also be the deciding factor in whether or not you'll have children. My au pair friends & I used to joke that au pairing is the best form of birth control there is... Haha.
Do I even need to mention the fact that you're in a new country?! In my case, European, which leads to more spontaneous weekend trips & jaunts to Spain considering the ridiculously low airline prices compared to back home.
If you choose correctly, you should end up with a family who pays your accommodation, airfare, health insurance, language lessons, petrol & car insurance (if you have to drive) & cell phone bill. Oh, also food. Enough said.
Day trip to the seaside
Generally, there is a lack of privacy. It can be almost like still living with your parents... Except for worse, because it's your employers. Often, you can't head off to your room at the end of your shift to call your best friend to complain about the temper tantrums that were thrown earlier or the fact that you had to work late... Because your host parents will most likely be able to hear your conversation. There is no bringing boys home from the bar (if that's your thing) & hangovers are made 10X worse by the fact that you're woken up at 7am Sunday morning by children's screams, when you've just got in four hours ago from a night out. Also, you cannot hang out braless in the kitchen eating ice cream straight out of the tub on Saturday morning, which is something to seriously take into consideration! BUT, you can also end up in a guest house or an apartment of your own, as I did & there are always friends couches to crash on when it gets too hectic.
It's downright stressful. But what else can you expect when the actual life of toddlers is dependent on you? My first time au pairing I honestly didn't think I'd last, seeing as how I couldn't even take care of myself properly. It does get easier though, though it doesn't get any less stressful. Honestly, you just learn how to manage the stress. This is not a laid-back pub gig or like working in your favourite clothing store. The well-being of small humans is actually in your hands.
The children you end up taking care of can turn out to be absolute menaces, with no knowledge of discipline. Luckily, most of the time being firm, confident & never giving in will help you out in these cases. Or, you can end up being like one of my friends who called me at 8am on a Saturday morning to tell me that she was boarding a plane home for the weekend because she feared she'd have a mental breakdown if she stayed.
My hippie twin
Having many friends who have au paired in various countries around the world, unfortunately I hear just as many, if not more, bad stories as I do good. If you're unlucky, you can end up being overworked, underpaid & ultimately, under appreciated... Not to mention the children. You can end up becoming extremely resentful towards your host parents & the country you're living in. Being in a situation like this in a foreign country usually makes you homesick & prevents you from having the experience you had hoped for & deserve.
Luckily, as Jim Rohn says, 'you are not a tree. If you don't like where you are, change it.' Finding a new host family is as easy as signing up on Au Pair World or discussing it with the agency you joined. Not for one second should you stay in a situation where you are unhappy, especially when you are travelling. You chose to become an au pair to learn a new language, live in a new country, make lasting relationships, immerse yourself in a culture & maybe even to find yourself. Being unhappy will lead you down the path to none of these. It may be frightening to sit your host parents down & tell them it's not working out. You may even feel like a failure because of it. Don't.
To save yourself from ending up in a bad situation in the first place, I have a few guidelines/suggestions.
- Do not au pair if you dislike children. It's not worth it.
- If it is your first time, do not choose a family with more than two kids. Preferably, choose a family with one & who is at least three years old, though of course the older they are, the easier (generally speaking) they are.
- Don't accept less than 100 euro a week, or the equivalent in the currency you'll be paid in. I make double this & wouldn't accept a penny less.
- Be picky! Do not rush the process of finding your host family out of excitement, which I know can be tempting.
- Although it seems like a good idea at the time to choose from families spanning ten different countries, narrow it down to a maximum of three countries. My second time around I actually narrowed it down to just one & it made the process a million times less stressful.
- Think twice about working for parents who work from home. Children can tend to act up when they're aware that the parent is home. Also, it can feel as though there is a lack of trust, even if there isn't.
- Search for au pair groups on FaceBook, Meetup.com & even CouchSurfing in the area you'll be living in to see if there is a large community of them. This is especially important if you are not attending language school, as meeting other au pairs/making friends in general can tend to be harder.
- Ask beforehand about vacation times & whether you can have friends & family stay with you. Personally, I would not au pair for a family who would not allow me to have guests. You are working for your room & board after all.
- Do not be afraid to speak up! Miscommunication is often the largest source of unhappiness in au pair/host family relationships. Often times one party may not even realize there is an issue.
- This goes along with being picky... Take your time & find a family where you either a) have your own bathroom, b) are in a guest house or, c) have your own apartment. Trust me, there are plenty out of families out there who offer these types of accommodation & it is worth the wait. Just be patient.
Have any of you au paired? It'd be great to hear about your experiences, good & bad. Even advice! Also, if anyone has more specific questions about au pairing I am more than happy to help as best I can. Regarding the amount of factors involved, I can say I'm very lucky to have found the two families I have & do not regret my choice to au pair abroad. Cheers! xxx