Hey Au Pairs,
This week, we’re teaming up with AuPairWorld to tell you a few things we wish we had known before we became au pairs in Paris.
If you don’t know who we are, we’re two best friends - a Brit, Hanna, and an American, Edwina - who met during our au pair year in 2013. We’ve been friends ever since and wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for our year in France!
We recently started a YouTube channel and even wrote a book to help au pairs navigate the process. Check them out if you’re interested - we’d really appreciate your support!
And now, let’s get into the things we wish we’d known BEFORE becoming au pairs...
1. Paying for an agency isn’t necessary
Edwina went through an expensive agency as she was moving from the U.S. to France. She wanted that extra security which a paid-for agency claims to provide. But, she found that when her host family turned out to be less than perfect, she was stuck with no agency help.
We regularly tell au pairs how wonderful AuPairWorld is as an online agency to find a host family and as an all-purpose information source for au pairing. I, Hanna, signed up on AuPairWorld when I was 18 and found that the process was extremely easy to navigate. I later went through the process again at 21. There’s a lot of support available to you via Au Pair World, so don’t think that you need to pay in order to get help during your au pair year.
2. Your host family needs you more than you need them - so look around
Many au pairs are in a rush to find a family. Because of this, it’s easy to end up with ill-suited host parents. As you might expect, this can lead to a LOT of problems.
Our advice on how to avoid this is to take TIME to find the family that works best for you. Ask many questions during interviews and realise you’re interviewing the family just as much as they’re interviewing you!
In fact, host families need au pairs more than you need them! Even if you can’t find the perfect family within the timeline you’d hoped, they will come around. It’s better to hold out for a family who respects your needs and shares your values than to jump into a situation which you might come to regret.
Need some guidance on the sorts of questions you should be asking your potential host family? We created a YouTube video to help guide you in the right direction.
3. It’s not about the money, it’s about the experience
You probably know by now that becoming an au pair isn’t going to make you rich. It's the experience of living in a foreign country and getting out of your comfort zone that counts here, not the money.
During your gap year, you could stay at home for a year and work in your local shop. Or, you could jet off to the other side of the world, not worry about rent, food or bills for a year and also earn a little extra pocket money too.
With an au pair stay, you’ll learn a new language, and all about a completely new culture and way of life. Money can’t buy some of the experiences you’ll have if you spend your year in another country!
4. Taking care of kids is harder than you think
Everyone says “kids love me”, but you may be surprised by how much work it is to look after children! If you’re worried about becoming an au pair, our best advice is to first do a few hours of babysitting. The more experience you can get before you leave home, the more prepared you will be.
We have created hundreds of videos about how to look after children. Some of our top advice is to first set boundaries with the kids - have five things you won’t tolerate and let them know the punishments that go along with them.
Hit your sister? Ten minutes on the naughty step! Asserting your authority early on in your au pair year is essential.
Even if your host kids are very badly behaved and driving you mad, after a couple of months, everything will settle down and you’ll get into a routine. Hang on in there!
After a year of watching kids, you’ll be very well prepared for any future childcare jobs or for having your own kids!
5. You will make friends from all over the world but you’ll need to put in some effort
I remember sitting down at a table one evening after a long day of au pairing with a Swedish girl, a Swiss girl, two Brits, an American, a Russian and a Colombian and thinking HOW COOL!
When you move abroad to live, you’ll undoubtedly meet hundreds of people of different nationalities. However, making friends is a little more effort. If you want to meet someone who you truly click with, this will take some work.
We recommend that you join language classes, clubs and even approach people at your host kid’s school who you think could be au pairs. Set up your own Facebook groups and launch into being sociable. Going on a few friend dates may feel awkward at first, but it’ll truly help you in the long run!
6. It’ll be one of the toughest, but greatest years of your life
When homesickness hits, it HITS. Sadly, we don’t have many ways to avoid this feeling. Let yourself wallow, eat some ice cream, watch a few Friends episodes, call your parents and then get on out of your lonely room.
Before and after your au pair year, people are bound to say to you “wow, you’re so brave!” You may not think you are at the time, but living abroad is a huge accomplishment.
We’re regularly asked whether au pairing helps or hinders you with the job search process after your year abroad. In our experience, employers are always extremely impressed that you had enough initiative to live abroad, make your own way in a culture very different to your own and thrive!