A summer au pair in Paris
Initial worry list:
1. I’d never looked after a single child before nor had any sibling experience
2. What if my French wasn’t up to scratch?
3. Was I going to need to change nappies?!
4. What if I don’t get on with the children?
5. What if I’m being hired as a glorified cleaner?
Within a few days I could scratch each of those off the list and not look back. Au pairing overall was an amazing experience which I would recommend it to anyone, as long as you approach the role with the right attitude and take care to find the right family for you. I was extremely fortunate and spent time in Paris, Normandy and the West coast of France meaning I was able to travel and see so many new sights during my experience. I spent the five weeks forming a bond with the children and family, (extending to the Grandparents!) as well as trying almost a new food per day, picking up a tan and progressing with my French. My confidence soared and this in turn made starting my year abroad as a British Council English Language Assistant so much easier as my spoken language had improved tenfold. Success! All in all, it was an experience I won’t forget in a hurry for all the right reasons.
Bearing my experience in mind, here are a few tips which I’d give to anyone wishing to become an au pair:
1. Don’t be afraid to be picky about the family you decide to au pair with.
Whilst the family are hiring you for the job, you also need to decide if they suit you too. What will be expected of you? How old are the children? Will you be based in a city (easy for getting around/exploring during free time) or village (not so much, but nonetheless would suit the right person). Before taking up the offer with the family I au paired for, I exchanged several messages with other families. However, if something doesn’t feel quite right or you have any doubts, I’d advise you not to take the plunge. The family you work for are the key to your experience as long as you approach it with the right attitude.
2. Remember to pack essentials/keepsakes from home to keep you occupied.
Whilst I know this point seems to contradict that above, you can’t beat having the home comforts around when you have abit of time out during nap time or babysitting for example.
3. Don’t worry if you feel like you’re not ‘bonding’ with the child or children straight away.
If you think about it, this is completely natural. The children will have been used to their previous au pair and you are a complete stranger who has breezed in and is now laying down the rules. My advice for the first few days would be to take care to be firm but fun, the kids need to see you as someone to obey and listen too, but also someone who will play with them and entertain them and generally enjoy each others company.
4. Take care to fully integrate yourself with your host family as much as possible.
I really can’t stress this point enough. Your relationship with your family really depends on how long you spend with them and how far you go to integrate yourself into family life. If a family is looking for an au pair, chances are they’re also looking for an extended family member, and will be delighted if you take the opportunity to even spread some of your culture across too. Many au pairs comment on the strange feeling of feeling like part of the family, without being a member of the family, but this was something you need to embrace and look past. Moreover, you’ll obviously want to take time to speak to friends and family back home, ultimately if you’re au pairing to improve the language, then take every opportunity you can to improve it, even if it’s just listening to conversation. I found that au pairing was the best opportunity for learning household words such as ‘broom’ as well as colloquial forms of talking to others as opposed to the formal structures we learn in lectures and seminars.
5. Don’t be put off if you make a mistake!
This goes for both within your role and with your language. You’re there as an experience after which you’ll come out having learnt so much, so treat your stay as a learning curve. Listen to what the family tell you to do and act on your own initiative, this will make life easier for both parties!
All in all, as with most experiences, your time as an au pair will be what you make of it. If you’re homesick, try to remember that you will be home soon and this is an experience which will be hard to replicate. Enjoy both the highlights and lowlights- these will make for great stories to tell friends and family when you get home!