Becoming an Au Pair is an opportunity to immerse in a new culture, learn a language, get experience with childcare, meet people from all over the world and discovering beautiful locations.
I decided to become an Au Pair after I finished school last summer. After searching for a bit, I ended up in a small Spanish Town. Unfortunately, Au-Pairing wasn’t for me, but I still learned a lot from my 2 months in Spain so I’d like to share some tips, based on my experience as an Au Pair.
1Know What You’re Looking for in a Host Family
This may seem obvious, but I remember just being happy that families were interested in hiring me and so didn’t really care who chose me.
Knowing what I know now, I recommend that you first consider the experience you would like to have when selecting a family. Do you want to speak English with the children or would you prefer practicing their native language with them? Are you okay with living in a small town or do you want to explore a big city in your spare time? Think about how many children you can handle at once and whether you’re best with babies or older children.
Only then should you start looking for families. Remember to ask questions about their daily routines, your tasks, pocket money, vacations and basically anything that will affect your time with them. If the family has had Au Pairs before you, ask for their contact info and ask about their experience with the family.
2Get a Contract — or at least a written agreement
I made the mistake of not getting a contract and while I was lucky that my host family were relatively easy to talk to, I would still recommend all Au Pairs to get a contract or at least a written agreement on work hours, free time, pocket money, tasks and so on. I would have been more comfortable if I had had a contract that specified whether I had to babysit on Fridays, what happened when the family went on vacation without me, tasks in the house and so on. Instead I received a list of tasks/house rules when I arrived – most of them were very reasonable, while there were others I would have liked to discuss before I started working with the family. I felt that it was uncomfortable conversation to have, but it is necessary in the event that you disagree on something important.
3Be Ready to Compromise
Though I strongly suggest a written contract, you should also be able to compromise. Maybe the host parents are working longer hours than expected and need you to prepare dinner, even though its not one of your normal tasks. Or maybe you would like to get off an hour early to go to the cinema. It’s not a job, where you can just go home at 4 pm and come back next morning. (Unless you are a live-out Au Pair, which is becoming the norm in bigger cities) Be ready to compromise, it makes the job easier in the long run.
4With Children, Be Kind but Firm
To me it was a struggle to be seen as both a friend and an authoritative person at the same time. The girls I took care of had had a lot of Au Pairs before me, so of course they were trying to push boundaries and see how far they could go. I spoke to many Au pairs after moving to Paris, and a few told me that, to them, it had helped being a little more firm in the beginning that they’d be if it was a child they were just babysitting or tutoring. Since you live with the children, they are bound to see you when you’re not working, which is what makes this job so rewarding, but also hard because they need to see you as an adult in charge, and not an older child they can mess with. It’s great to have fun with the children, just remember that they shouldn’t bend the rules over and over again. I learned that the hard way.
5Take a Language Course
There were no Spanish classes for foreigners in my small town, so I met up with some Spanish girls and did a language exchange. They were really nice and I learned a lot, but I would still recommend finding a school that offers classes for foreigners. You’ll meet other people in similar situations, you get to do written work and you have a teacher to help you with difficulties. If, for some reason, you already speak the language in your chosen country, consider finding another class. It’s great language practice, you become better at whatever your hobby is and it’s a great way to meet locals. In the small town where I lived, there was a photography course, that I would have loved to follow. Unfortunately I often had to babysit on that night of the week, but if you’re in a bigger city, there will probably be more options for you.
6Build a Network
I lived in a town, where I was the only Au Pair, so during the week I mostly interacted with the family and a few Spanish girls I met for language exchange. Since there weren’t many young people, I spent most of my weekends in Alicante, a bigger city an hour away. We had a group for Au pairs in the area, which was a great way to meet new friends. Remember to go out and meet locals too – it’s good language practice and a way to really get to know their culture.
7Travel as Much as Possible
Depending on the length of your stay and your agreement with the family, you’ll probably get some time off during school holidays. Put them to good use! During my two months in Spain, I visited Granada, Valencia, Altea, Alicante, Isla Tabarca and Ibi, where I lived. Travelling on an Au Pair budget isn’t the easiest thing, but it’s definitely doable. In Granada I stayed in a hostel and had got free tapas with my drinks and in Valencia I couchsurfed and saw all the free attractions. Ask for advice from your host family and other locals and go explore!
Good luck to all future Au Pairs – I hope you have an amazing experience!