When I first thought about becoming an Au Pair, my main goal was to experience a different culture– specifically, somewhere in Europe. For us Americans, it’s not easy (or cheap) to just live in Europe for the heck of it. You need to have a specific purpose for being there, unless you’re lucky enough to have tons of money to blow.
Which is why I decided to become an Au Pair about a year ago. So what’s an au pair? As many haters would say.. it’s a “glorified nanny”. But this term has such a negative connotation to it.. there’s so much more to au pairing than being a nanny. Being an Au Pair is when someone works for a family, helps take care of their kids, and often times the Au Pair teaches the children their native language. In exchange, the Au Pair gets free accommodation, meals, and a small (seriously, SMALL) monetary allowance.
I like to think of it as a mutual exchange of culture between the Au pair and the host family. You get to experience what it’s like to live in a foreign country, with a foreign family, and they get to have a native English speaker work with their children. It’s more than being just their hired helped, you become part of the family too.
This is what enticed me when I decided to become an au pair for a family in Barcelona, Spain. I wanted to experience what it was really like to live in the Catalonian country.. and maybe even learn to speak some Spanish along the way. But now, looking back on it, there are some things I wish I had considered.
Before becoming an au pair, consider these..
You won’t be able to save money as an au pair and you will probably be spending your own money too. End of story. The average wage for an au pair depends on the country but it can be anywhere from $75 – $150 a month. I made $150 a month, but after taking transportation, eating out, exploring the city, and Spanish classes into account (.. and more shopping than I probably should’ve done), I was definitely well into my savings account. If you’re looking into being an au pair for longer than three months, you’ll also need a visa.. which costs money from the get-go. Also, most countries require that you sign up for language courses. So again, more money being spent.. I think you get the picture.
Lack of Freedom
I’m not here to talk trash about my own au pair experience, because there were a lot of positive aspects. But the one thing I couldn’t stand as someone that has been living on her own since she was 18 was the lack of freedom. I couldn’t work around my own schedule. Hell, my schedule wasn’t even really set when I started working with my host family. I had to be super flexible, and available whenever the daughters were out of school and at home. Not only that, but I was treated like I was just another teenage daughter that wasn’t totally apart of the family. I never received the phone plan I was promised and as a result, I had to rely on wifi all the time. Yet, without me knowing, the parents would often times unplug the wifi in the house so the daughters and I couldn’t use our phones. I can go without using my phone sometimes, but being treated like a child just wasn’t something I could deal with.
The Age of the Children
I worked for a Spanish family that had two teenage daughters; one was 13 and one was 16. I thought I hit the jackpot.. Just hangout with two teenage girls? How hard could that be?
Instead, I was left with waiting around all the time for the girls to come home, only to find out they made plans with their friends and I actually wasn’t needed for that day. Instead of having two girls to hangout with and show me the Barcelona culture, I was left with two teenager that had their own lives, their own friends, and (the older one) their own boyfriend. Looking back, I wish I had chosen a family with younger children. I would’ve had a more set schedule and the age gap would’ve probably helped with gaining respect from the parents.
LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION
Living just 20 minutes outside of a big city like Paris or Munich doesn’t sound that bad, right? Think again. I lived in a town about 20 minutes outside of Barcelona, and it was a huge pain in the ass to actually get into the city. I had to either walk 20 minutes to take a bus that took me to the train station which took me into Barcelona OR I had to walk 15 minutes and take a bus that took 45 minutes to get me into Barcelona (not to mention the HUGE hill I had to climb each time). So that “20 minutes just outside of Barcelona” was actually more like an hour. If you want to explore a country’s big city.. I would suggest finding a family that actually lives within the city limits.
But being an au pair can be extremely enriching, and if you take all of these aspects into account and work with them, you can have an experience of a lifetime.
Just remember that you aren’t just hired helped. That isn’t what an au pair is. You should be respected and made to feel like part of the family. Always ask the family any questions or concerns you may have before you take on the job. Again, you’re the one living in a foreign country; they should understand this and want to make you feel safe and at ease.
To find jobs as an au pair, check these sites out:
Au Pair World (this is the website I used, and it worked well!)
Also, check out some other girl’s perspectives on their time as an au pair:
Ashley Abroad (France)
Caroline in the City (Sydney)
Have you ever worked as an au pair or considered being one?