Au pairing: So much more than a summer job!
Robyn Marion McConville studies History and Spanish and the University of Exeter. She will be spending her year abroad working as a Language Assistant in Ceuta and recently worked as an au pair in Mallorca. Here's what she learned from the experience! To follow her adventures, read her blog.
One summer spent in Mallorca and I had gained my very own Spanish family, memories to last a lifetime and a much better understanding of the Spanish culture and language…
After several searches on AuPairWorld.com and dozens of families later I found the perfect family of four in Mallorca, Spain. After many e-mails, and many failed Skype sessions due to an unfortunate bout of chickenpox, I decided that this was the family for me and that in June I would be off to live in Mallorca for a few months (secretly hoping I would come home Spanish!).
Whilst this all seems very calm and organised, there were plenty of worries and problems along the way.
My plane to Mallorca was delayed by several hours and the family had to collect me in the middle of the night, only to go to work at 6am the next day (perfect first impression!) I worried they wouldn’t understand any of my Spanish and that I would not understand any of their English. (When I first arrived, I constantly misunderstood the word ‘airport’ for ‘iPod’.) What if I didn’t get on with the family? What if I wasn’t able to properly look after the children?
Whilst the first two did happen, after the first week of getting settled and into the Spanish routine, I began to love the au-pairing experience. The first week was difficult and sometimes uncomfortable, but it was all part of a learning curve that will definitely be of great use during my year abroad. 2 months later, I had a second family that help me anytime I have a Spanish related problem, I explored all the ‘un-touristy’ sights of Mallorca, I tried new Spanish foods and most importantly I improved my Spanish. Here are my top tips:
1. Choose the type of family you want.
This experience is about you and there are so many families out there that you will definitely find one that suits you. Don’t settle for the first family you see. Ask as many questions as you can think of: what do they expect you to do? What do the family enjoy? What do the children enjoy? Will you have free time/time off?
2. Don’t panic if you don’t enjoy your first few days/week!
I grew to love the family I lived with but my first week in Mallorca wasn’t as enjoyable as I expected. I surprisingly missed home, I didn’t think the au-pairing experience was for me, I felt awkward in someone else’s home and often found myself staying in my room. Whilst this sounds awful, it gets better, just give it time and by the end I shed a few tears at having to leave the family.
3. Set aside some time to speak Spanish.
Whilst you are there to look after their children, you will most likely speak English with the children, which is great but remember to ask the host family to perhaps set aside an hour a day perhaps at meal times or in the evening when the children have gone to bed to speak Spanish with you.
4. Making friends with the children.
Initially it will be strange and they will be awkward around you. Just remember that they are used to a different au-pair that they build up a relationship with. My tip would be to find out a little bit about their hobbies and perhaps take a little present to break the ice, or something you can do together like board games.
5. Integrate with the family as much as you can!
This would be my top tip! This is something I really regret, during my first few days/week, I didn’t make enough of an effort to get involved with the whole family, I often relied on them to make the effort which they did. However, my advice would be, no matter how awkward you feel in a different house, make a massive effort to be involved. Offer to help cook, go watch TV with them, hang out in public spaces e.g. the pool, living room. Whilst this will initially be awkward, you’ll feel more comfortable after a few days and have a much better relationship with the whole family.
Overall, enjoy the highlights and the slight downsides that come with being an Au Pair, you may miss home and family but when you leave you’ll most likely miss the host family and their way of life so make the most of it whilst you can!