So I started my search for my host family
So I contacted some au pair organisations and started filling out their application documents. Halfway through, I came across AuPairWorld on the Internet. At first, I didn't really want to go without a supporting organisation. I signed up nevertheless to have a look at some host families and get an impression of what to expect, and ended up finding my first host family via this platform! Even though the family turned out to be not as perfect as I thought, I never regretted going without a paid organisation. But let's take one thing at a time...
Today I realise that I made some mistakes regarding my search
After only a few days, I was in contact with a lovely Italian family living in South London. They had three girls aged 12, 7 and 4 and seemed perfect to me: Their former au pair told me she'd been happy with them and after talking to the host mum on the phone and exchanging a lot of emails, I signed the contract, feeling confident that I couldn't have found a better family, and so close to the city centre at that!
What I didn't know: There are thousands of host families looking for au pairs in London every year. In hindsight, I know that I should have waited for more host families to sign up, so I could have compared them and had a wider choice. Dear future au pairs, please take your time when looking for the right family - you don't need to have found it half a year before you leave! Most families sign up only a few months before they need you anyway, so that's when you have the widest choice. Don't take the first family that's interested in you, thinking that it cannot get any better, when actually it can.
From the first encounter it just didn't feel right
Upon my arrival I immediately felt disillusioned. In real life, my "perfect" host family was anything but affectionate and welcoming. Instead, there was a lot of shouting and fighting, and my host mum had a compulsive sense of order and hygiene. She stayed at home the whole day and apparently had hired me to keep her incredibly spoilt and cheeky children at arm's length from her. They spoke a lot of Italian, so I didn't understand a word, and treated me more like a servant than a family member: Even though there were completely empty, big rooms, I lived in a tiny storeroom. I wasn't welcomed to eat with them at the weekends and we never spent any time together apart from my working hours.
Despite all this, I was determined not to give up. After all, I had finally made my dream come true, I lived in a beatiful central area of London, I had already found friends and my host mum said she was pleased with my work.
But after two weeks, she suddenly started to have a go at me every once in a while, shouting at me for completely incomprehensible reasons. Once, she freaked out when I asked her for a tissue, telling me to use toilet paper or buy my own tissues. Another time, she lost it when I had a sandwich for lunch and screamed at me that I was only allowed breakfast and dinner at their house. In the contract, we had agreed on something else though...
I knew I had to take the final step to improve my situation
As it got worse, I finally thought about changing my host family. Before making that decision, I wanted to talk to my host mum though, to give it one last chance. We had a very good and deep talk during which she apologised and asked me to stay. I felt reassured and decided to try it for another week. Suddenly, everything went very well, the children had warmed up to me and there were no problems whatsoever. Then, on Saturday morning, my host mum saw me eat a Banana for breakfast and completely lost it. She shouted at me for a solid 20 minutes, insulting me and threatening I'd have to leave if I ever ate one of "her" bananas again.
This incident was the last straw to me, so I decided to leave. In the evening, she actually fired me for eating that banana. So I moved into a hostel and went on au pair world again, determined not to let this be the end of my dream. Unfortunately, by that time most families had already found their au pair for this school year, so there were not too many offers.
My decision wasn't in vain: I found the best host family I could imagine
The whole thing turned out to be a blessing in disguise though: I had exactly one job interview, and this family wanted me to move in right away. This time, I had really found the perfect family: I looked after two incredibly cute and well-behaved boys and my host parents were very funny, considerate and always there for me. They kept saying "This is your house as much as it is ours, take everything you need!" Of course, this family had its positive and negative characteristics as well, but all in all we spent a great time together without any problems.
To sum it up, I experienced both extremes of being an au pair: Being mistreated and struggling with a nightmarish family, and working with the cutest host kids ever and enjoying a lot of freedoms. But I never regretted my decision, even if it was hard at times. Being back home now, I can say that I learnt a lot, found amazing friends and had an awesome time in one of the greatest cities of the world! If I were to become an au pair again, I would take more time to find my host family though, and try and meet them before if possible.