Answers to questions about being an au pair
Helen Johnson is a Student Brand Ambassador for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office 'Know Before You Go' campaign for Northumbria University. During her gap year in 2014 she lived in two different Italian cities working as an au pair and english tutor and travelling as much as possible. Here are her answers to common questions about being an au pair...
Au pairing has been around for many years and it is still a popular way of learning a new culture, getting the chance to travel and gaining valuable experience of working with children. At the age of eighteen and unsure of where to travel on my gap year, I decided to bite the bullet and moved to Italy to live and work as an au pair. I had wanted to travel, but to also make the most of my newly acquired TEFL qualifications, so au pairing seemed like the perfect opportunity to immerse myself in a new culture and tutor English at the same time.
After signing up to an au pair website and looking at the different places I could go, the chance arose for me to go and live with a family in Rome and teach English to their four children. It was a little scary going away by myself for the first time, but it turned out to be such an amazing experience as I got to live in another country, learn a whole new way of life and culture and I even made friends for life. I had such a fabulous time in Rome that I then went to Verona to experience au pairing in another family! I will always remember and treasure both of these au pairing experiences, and would definitely recommend giving it a try.
With that in mind, there are a few things that I would and wouldn’t do when thinking about embarking on au pair adventure again, so I’ve got a few tips that I would definitely recommend to make sure you have a wonderful time and get the most out of your experience!
1. How should I start?
There are various ways to become an au pair so make sure you explore your options and choose the right method for you. I used a well known au pairing website where I created a profile and was then able to send and receive messages to and from families searching for an au pair and this was a really good way for me to find the right family. There are quite a few au pair websites so have a look around and see which website you like the look of and seem of a trustworthy and reputable nature. There are also agencies which an au pair can use for help in finding a family, but some of these do charge and it may not give you as much freedom as using a website would. Family friends or friends of friends may also be a good way of finding an au pair family as you may be more comfortable if you have a recommendation. All of these options work for different people in different ways, just look around and try and find the best method for you!
2. Where should I go?
After signing up to an au pair website and creating my profile, I received messages from various different families and also began to send a few out too. My profile required me to select the maximum of five countries where I wished to au pair and then I would be visible to families living in that country. There are so many different places to choose from so I would definitely do some research and choose a country where you would feel most comfortable, want to learn the culture of and where you could actually see yourself living.
3. Which family should I choose?
I would also highly advise to explore all of your options and talk to as many families as you can, don’t just jump in at the first family and if you do make sure they’re the right one for you! I learnt that exchanging multiple emails to find out as much as I could about the family and their expectations was extremely useful as it gives you a feel of the family and you can see if both of your expectations match up as sometimes you may not be on the same page or length of stay/au pair duties may not be what you want. Meeting the family on Skype is something I would definitely suggest as it gives you a much better feel of the family, allows you to put a face to the name and gain more of a sense as to if they are the right family for you and vice versa.
4. What should I ask?
Making sure both you and the family want to same out of this experience is really important so finding out certain things will help to make sure of this. The length of stay, what they expect of you as an au pair, the amount of hours they would like you to work, if housework is required, the level of English they would like you to teach and the rate of pay are all important aspects which you should clarify beforehand to make sure you’re both on the same page and that you pick the family which suits you the best!
5. When should I go?
Some families like long term au pairs and some like short term, so you can decide the length of time which you feel would suit you best and there’s also the option of extending your time there if your family would like you to stay on and you’re really enjoying, like I did! Some families may have certain dates or a specific amount of time they would like an au pair for, but some may be more flexible and open about this. If you want to go for a full year, a few months or even just for Summer, there are many families out there and they all require different things so there’s plenty of choice and opportunity to find the right one for you!
6. What should I do in preparation?
Depending on the country you want to go to, a visa may be required and this may come with different stipulations and clauses. Make you sure take this into consideration when choosing where to go, especially as some visas may only allow you to stay for a certain amount of time.
A little knowledge of the native language of the country you’re going to is always an advantage and can make you feel more at home when you’re there. If you already know another language, this may play a part in choosing where to go, or if you have chosen a country where you have no knowledge of the language, learning the basics and a few key phrases will be really useful and if you did get into a sticky situation they could really help you out!
Make sure you’ve got all of the contact details of your chosen family and pass them onto somebody at home so they know where you’re staying and who you’re with. Also, do a little research of the area where you’ll be staying and suss it out, this way you can get a feel of the location and type of area you’ll be living in.
4. Culture and traditions
Research the culture and traditions of the country you’re going to and even more specifically, the traditions and ways of the region you’ll be going to, as every country and even different places in that country have different rules and things that they do and don’t accept/tolerate.
7. Why should I be an au pair?
Packing your bags and heading off to a place you may have never been before and living with a family you may never have met may seem nerve-wracking (and it can be at first), but it is definitely an opportunity you should experience. Au pairing gives you the opportunity to travel, immerse yourself in a new culture, gain valuable skills for the future and make lifelong bonds with both the family and friends you’ll meet along the way. As long as you ask the right questions and make sure you feel that the place you are going and the family you will be living with are right for you then you’ll definitely have the time of your life!
For any further information, to check any advice you may need before going abroad and to get up to date on all of the latest travel information, go to the FCO Travel Advice website and the Know Before You Go page where you’ll find information on many different aspects of going abroad. Follow the FCO on Twitter @FCOtravel and add them on Facebook to get instant access on all of the latest travel news.