As I had such a great experience being an au pair and searching through AuPairWorld, it was clear to me that, right after High School, I would go abroad to work as an au pair again for a longer period of time. However, what I was not too sure about back then was the big question which country I should pick.
On one hand, I wished to improve my Spanish language skills and therefore searched for families in Latin America and Spain. On the other hand, I also wanted to practice my English and thus looked out for families in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Great Britain, and the USA along with some other countries. Even though it took me a while to receive messages or positive replies, I was eventually able to get in touch with host families from all over the world. Subsequently, I prepared an overview of all families and started sending out negative replies to some of them. I had Skype interviews with the remaining families (around eight) which helped me very much take my final decision. After all, this type of communication allows you to get to know each other on a personal level. E-mails cannot compare.
In February 2009, I finally wanted to take a final decision between a family in the Australian outback, another one in New Zealand’s third largest city and a family living in the middle of Paraguay. Thus, the choice of my destination was made by the host family that best suited me. They came from… New Zealand!
At that time, I did not know much about New Zealand (NZ) – save for the fact that the 'Lord of the Rings' was shot there. However, I was fascinated by the landscape even before I left Germany and, as soon as I arrived, I was overwhelmed! New Zealand is a country of endless opportunities and everything is more or less close together: beautiful beaches, stunning lakes, amazing rainforests, great volcano landscapes, unbelievably green fields and hills, mountains, caves, rivers, small canyons along with an awesome marine world and SHEEP, of course. And, on top of it, there are those super friendly, open-minded, helpful Kiwis. Actually, everything is called 'Kiwi' in New Zealand: the people are called Kiwis, the national bird is called Kiwi (and highly protected!!), the well-known fruit is known as Kiwi and even the country is sometimes referred to as "Kiwiland".
Before I left my country, I didn’t even know if New Zealand was the right decision for me, as it is “just a small country” and as it was therefore rather tempting for me to go to Australia. However, after that year in New Zealand, I can certainly say that this was just the right decision. It is the ideal country for those who love outdoor and adventure activities, such as bungee jumping (the first bungee jump took place in NZ!), appreciate nature and its silence, enjoy a relaxed atmosphere and wish to get to know the entirely different culture of the Maori. It is great for everybody who wishes to feel safe (NZ is often referred to as 'safer Australia', as there are no venomous or dangerous animals there) and loves to wear Jandals!
Unlike it is the case in NZ, there are more big cities in Australia and there is probably more going on, it’s faster. However, places are endlessly far away from one another, whereas in NZ it never takes more than 5 hours to get from the east coast to the west coast and never more than 2 hours to get from one awesome place to an entirely different and stunning place.
When it comes to the accents, they are both quite different, but you’ll get used to both of them quickly. The Australian accent is more like a “swueaking” with long 'i's (e.g. that’s siiiick) whilst in NZ they have long 'e'/'ea’s so you don’t say 'egg' but 'eeeeg' and 'beeeeed' instead of 'bed'. Also, the 'i' is spoken more like a 'u', for instance, it’s 'chuck' instead of 'chick' or 'mulk' instead of 'milk'. But it’s awesome, I fell in love with this accent! And I actually had quite a funny experience. I stopped over in Sydney (or 'Sydniii') for 3 weeks before I arrived in NZ and the Australians told me: “You are going to NZ? You won’t be able to understand a word! They say 'sex' instead of 'six'!” As soon as I got to NZ, the Kiwis were like: “Oh, you have been to Australia before. Did you even understand the Aussies? They say 'sex' instead of 'six'!”
My host family from Hamilton (NZ’s biggest inland city) comprised my host mum and her three lovely daughters aged 2, 5 and 7. It was actually quite a difficult situation, as the dad had just moved out and so I regularly had crying kids in my arms saying “I want mummy and daddy”. Anyway, everything came back to “normal” after a while, which does not mean that it really was normal. My host mum was a stressed business woman, regularly going on business trips. No, that’s a lie, actually, nothing was regular. One week, she would fly to Auckland for 2 days, 2 weeks later to Wellington for 4 days and a couple of weeks later to Christchurch for 5 days. Twice a year she would even fly to London for a week! However, most of time, the kids stayed with their dad while she was away, which meant that I had a few days off. Due to the fact that the kids spent every second weekend from Thursday afternoon to Monday morning with their dad, I regularly had long weekends for myself! Who would have ever thought of that! The kids were adorable and I spent their birthdays with every single one of them, which was great. I arrived in February and the 2-year old turned 3 in April, the 5-year-old 6 in May and the 7-year-old 8 in July. I still send them birthday packages and miss them heaps!
Talking about my work schedule, you can’t actually assume that everyday will be the same. However, roughly said, I started by preparing breakfast at 7.30 in the morning. Between 7.45 and 8.00, my host mum came downstairs with the girls and we all had breakfast together. After 30-40 minutes, I started making their lunch boxes whilst my host mum helped them get ready for school or pre-school. Afterwards, I drove the big girls to school and took the little one with me. After having dropped the older girls off at school, I took the little one to kindergarten. It was the same procedure every morning, she would hold on to me as long as she could and only after telling her three times that I really had to leave, she would let go off me. Sometimes she would even started crying; it was so heartbreaking. When I saw her doing it for the first time, I knew she had accepted me as a family member.
At 2.30 p.m. I went to pick up the girls from school and we had afternoon tea to start with at home. Afterwards, I helped them with their homework. A soon as it was done, we went to pick up the little one from kindergarten. When I was staying there, they didn’t have any afternoon activities. Later, however, they had guitar lessons, athletics, soccer, dance lessons, etc. Therefore, the au pair had to drive them there, as well. Every now and then, we went on short afternoon trips to parks, playgrounds or the city centre, but often we simply stayed at home because we didn’t have that much time until dinner, which was at around 6. My host mum and I took turns cooking dinner. However,we did not prepare ordinary dinners, either. We had topsy-turvy dinners, a themed dinner along with a take-away dinner, etc. Thus, the children could choose to have dinner under the table or to have a red dinner where all the food had to be red and we had to be dressed in red. It was great fun! After dinner, we often had a mini-disco in our living-room. Afterwards, my host mum took the kids to bed and I washed the dishes. Thus, all in all, I had a 6th work day.
When I decided to join this family, I chose to only stay with them for 6 months because I started off in February and thus, I planned to start my university courses in September. However, my plans didn’t quite work out. I learned that plans in NZ rarely work out perfectly, but that’s just NZ. Anyway, I fell in love with this country, the people and a Kiwi guy! So obviously, I didn’t want to leave and decided to stay for another 6 months. He lived in Auckland and even though I would have loved to stay with my 1st Kiwi family, I looked for another host-family based in Auckland. My 1st host family had already found their next au pair by that time.
This time it was so easy to find a family because experienced au pairs are highly appreciated by host families. Besides, most host families live in Auckland. Thus, I soon found a family who lived in Auckland’s bush. This was perfect for me because I didn’t really like Auckland that much and consididered staying in a green suburb a fantastic alternative. This host family was a completely (!) different experience, though. My host dad was South African, my host mum German and the daughter New Zealander! First of all, it was a lot quieter with only one girl and secondly, I didn’t speak English with her, but German, since she was supposed to improve her German language skills. Similar to my experience in Spain, this was a bit difficult in the beginning, as she refused to reply in German (however, she understood everything I said!). In the course of time, though, she suddenly started to use German words, albeit not complete sentences. Thus, she would say: “Can we go to the Spielplatz?”
It was great for me that her best friends had an au pair, as well. I was always able to hang out with her and the kids. It was great fun and we went on many trips together. Thus, we went to the zoo, to parks, to the beach, went biking together, etc. Our host kids also shared a lot of hobbies, such as Kung-Fu, as well as art and swimming lessons. Therefore, we either took turns accompanying them or went together and had a coffee while waiting for them. Our afternoons were much more interactive than it was the case with my previous host family. I enjoyed them very much. Plus, I didn’t even have to drop off my host kid at school. My day started when I picked the girl up from school at 3 p.m. However, I often cleaned the house from 1 p.m. until I set off to pick her up.
From all my experiences I simply have to conclude that being an au pair is just awesome! You have a place to arrive at, a family to support you and it’s the best way to get to know the culture and language of your host country. Host families obviously also know a lot about their country. Thus, they are able to help you plan your travel.
However, I have to say that, if I had chosen my 2nd host family from Auckland to embark on my NZ adventure, I probably would have been disappointed because they didn’t follow the Kiwi culture and I had to speak German most of the time. I would neither have gotten to know the Kiwi accent, nor Kiwi dishes. As a 2nd experience, my stay with them was awesome, of course! Nevertheless, I recommend that you pick a native host family. Otherwise, you would probably not benefit from the important aspects I mentioned before (culture, language, etc.) at a satisfactory level .
(...) And now, off you go! Search for your host family! Oh, and don’t get frightened if they don't live in a big city! Staying in a smaller place does not mean that you won't have a great experience – e.g. I preferred Hamilton to Auckland!