Are you thinking about becoming an au pair, but you are not really sure yet? It is a pretty big choice to make, so to try and make it a bit easier for you here is a list of some of the things you should think about before deciding. It shouldn’t make you not want to go, that is definitely not my goal, but just a few things to consider. Most of them you can prepare yourself for as well.
My biggest tip is; become an au pair because you want to. Not because someone else wants you to.
Being away from home
Although this sounds very obvious, it is something you really need to think about. I am sure (well hoping) that you have been away from your parents for a few nights. Probably with someone you know well or in a known environment. This is not the case when becoming an au pair. You are moving to a new country, into someone else’s home. A new culture awaits you, that can be very exciting but also very daunting. You need to be ready for this step, if you commit to being an au pair you are committing to be away from your family and your own routines for a year, or maybe longer.
Living with another family
Going straight into the next point, you are going to be living with another family. This means that you will have to adjust to their routines and ways of living. That doesn’t mean that you automatically have to become a vegetarian if your host family is. It just means that they will have certain ways of doing things, and they will expect you to do them as well. You may even get a curfew before working days to make sure you are rested. If you are used to living by yourself (like me) it is a shock to go back to a family setting. How to communicate with the family is also something you will need to work on while there. How do you ask permission for things? And ask for clarification if you are not sure about something. I am sure that your host family will be happy to explain it to you again. However, you do need to have the courage to ask or talk about something that may make you feel uncomfortable.
Looking after children
Duuuhhhh!! If you like working with children I understand that you are considering the au pair program. I love doing activities and going on outings with children. Just remember that you will also have to help with the laundry, cleaning their rooms, cooking, maybe dirty diapers. Au pair work is child care. On top of looking after the children you may get extra tasks (all should be related to the children) for example making sure that their beds are made up in the morning, and changing the sheets every so many days. You need to be ready for all aspects. And you are living with this family. It is not like babysitting that you give the child back after a few hours. They will be around 24/7. This is by no means to scare you off, just to make you aware. Especially young children may not completely understand that you also have a day off.
One of the main parts of becoming an au pair is to explore a different culture. Be open-minded and take everything in as it is happening. Living with a host family means that you will be fully embedded in this culture, which in my personal opinion is great. Not one culture is the same, which is great but that also means that you are in for a shock. Doesn’t need to be bad, it might just be overwhelming to take it in, in the beginning. New foods, new language, new daily practices, it may take some getting used to but I am sure that it will be worth it in the end. One of the things that always stands out to me in America is how open everyone is, they will ask how you are doing and expect an answer beyond ‘fine’. Some will go further and tell you their whole life story, unfortunately, I have not found a way to politely excuse myself from such a situation. Don’t give up too soon, it takes time to adjust. You may find it difficult at first however, there are people that are willing to guide you.
Many au pairs choose the program to get better at a second language. Most host families know this too and want to help you. Before you go there are countless free apps that help you improve, even if it is just a little bit. It is probably wise to at least know the basics and be able to form sentences, this makes communicating with the host parents and children easier. You may also need to communicate with other organisations like schools, daycares or after school curriculars. Living with a family that speak a different language is the ultimate way to learn. You are being forced day in and out to improve your language skills. And they will improve! Do not give up easy if you are struggling, it will get better and almost everyone wants to help you.
You may have a great social life where you live, a great group of close friends. And although they will stay your friends and you will be able to communicate with them throughout your au pair time you will need to make new friends there. You can do this through au pair Facebook groups, your local contact person, and countless other ways. Your host family also probably knows other families with au pairs they can introduce you too. Most likely, you will have to follow some sort of college classes. This is also a great way to meet new people. Be open to meeting and connecting with new people, but also don’t be afraid to do things by yourself as well. This journey is also to help you grow as a person, that means stepping out of your comfort zone. Make the first move, it could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
At some point, you will become homesick. That’s natural, a fact of life. And it’s okay. You have good days and bad days, but you have them at home too. Luckily there are so many ways that we can keep in touch with family and friends. Bring pictures, whatever makes you happy. Communicate with your host family, they understand that you are homesick, and probably really want to help you. It’s a long time to be away from home and you are allowed to miss them, just remember that you are in the midst of a spectacular, once in a lifetime adventure.
Again, none of these things should take away from the fact that it is an amazing, exciting opportunity for you! How many people can say that they have lived and worked in another country at such a young age? If you want to become an au pair, go for it! I for one am counting down the days until I can see my host family and begin this new part of my life.