As a university student in the United States with limited breaks, I must choose my summer plans wisely. Before starting at university I always loved to travel and knew I wanted to go abroad when I got older. A good family friend, a previous au pair in Spain, mentioned au pairing to me as a possible summer activity. I had no idea what it was or that families also wanted au pairs for a shorter period.
Searching on AuPairWorld
Sure enough, a quick search on AuPairWorld.com shows that there are endless options for au pairing during any season. After some more research and talking to different families, I decided to au pair for a family in Italy for three months over my summer break. Throughout these three months, I had amazing experiences that taught me so many new skills.
Before going to Italy, most of my friends and family were shocked to hear that I was going to another continent to meet a new family all by myself. This fueled a sense of independence inside me that only grew stronger throughout the summer.
From my first international flight to planning weekend trips, I gained more self-confidence and self-motivation. I also had a lot of time for self-awareness and reflection. My friends noticed this difference in confidence and a sense of independence when I got back to university.
A safety net for overcoming fears
One of the best perks of au pairing is the opportunity it gives to have freedom to do what you want and to overcome your fears in unfamiliar environments. While this may seem overwhelming and scary, your au pair family will always be there to help you. To me it was the perfect safety net that allowed me to go abroad and try new things while feeling confident and safe.
Adaptability as a new (and necessary) skill
In an increasingly interconnected world, adaptability is an essential skill. For college students growing up in the United States, it is often normal to only be exposed to American culture and to lack a larger view of the world. Being willing to learn and adapt to other types of living and cross-culutral environments is not only important, but exciting and fun as well. As an au pair you are fully immersed in an authentic experience that you and your host family are able to personalize.
Adaptability is also a transferable skill that is relevant for the workplace. Responding quickly and dealing effectively with changes and new responsibilities is a valuable capability to be able to demonstrate to future employers. It also implies that you are able to think creatively and problem solve while being empathetic of others. In internship interviews I have found myself drawing on examples from my time as an au pair to explain some of these transferable skills that I've developed.
Time and flexibility to do what you love
One of the best part of au pairing is the flexibility in the work you have to do. Each family is different and it is important to communicate your preferred working hours before committing to a family. Personally, I have found I have a lot of free time while I have been an au pair.
- One of the major reasons I came back for a second summer of au pairing was the travel aspect. Most families give two days off on the weekends for their au pair to do whatever they please. As someone from the United States, I have chosen to utilize those weekends to travel to other parts of Europe. It has proved to be a very cost-efficient and fun way to travel. I love being able to fully engage myself in an area for two days and then come home and have time to rest. Instead of having a week-long trip that can seem exhausting and at times repetitive each weekend trip I am excited, grateful, and full of energy. There are many Instagram, Groupme, and Facebook group chats that form that allow au pairs to find people to travel with. Don’t be afraid to solo travel, too!
- During your free time, you have the ability to try new hobbies or continue with old ones. One way that I have done this is through writing. I made a blog for my family and friends to read about my adventures. It turned out that I enjoyed writing and was happy to fill my time with this activity. During this time, I even tried to start my own podcast, while it ultimately failed, at least I tried.
- While it is a little more difficult to find books in my native language, I have also turned to reading as a way to spend my free time. I always find myself saying that I wish I had time to read. As an au pair it is a nice and relaxing way to unwind after a long weekend trip. Other hobbies I have tried during my free time have been drawing, swimming, baking, journaling, and meditating.
Rest, relax and recharge
During one of my first weeks as an au pair before I had made any friends I called my mom explaining how bored I was. She replied, “You should enjoy this time to rest, relax, and recharge as this extra time may be limited in your future.” The reality quickly hit that as a university student, I have summers and semesters full of internships, more classes, and work ahead of me. It was very nice to hear that I was allowed to use this time as I pleased after my responsibilities were completed. Being afraid of having so much free time as an au pair should not deter you as there are many great things to do!
About the author:
Abby Egnatz comes from the United States of America. She is a full time student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill double majoring in information sciences and psychology and has a minor in data science. She has been an au pair in Europe the past two summers and has reported on her experiences in her blog Abby the Au Pair.