Becoming an Au Pair
Tell us about yourself!
I had recently graduated from University of Northern Colorado when I decided to live abroad as an au pair before starting my life in the “real world”. Now, I am back in Denver working and missing Paris dearly!
Where and when were you an au pair?
I was an au pair in Paris, France from August, 2014-July 2015 (age 22).
Why did you choose to go au pairing in that particular country?
I had studied French throughout college. I had done a short study abroad trip to the south of France over the summer in 2012. I love getting to practice my French and learning about French culture! I have always wanted to live in a big city, and Paris is the perfect place for au pairs.
What was the ‘aim’ of your year as an au pair?
My goal was to learn everything to know about life in France. What I never realized is I would learn so much about many other countries as well through my sweet friends!
How did you find your au pair family, and what tips would you have for those beginning their own searches for potential families?
I found my au pair family through a site called Almondbury Au Pair & Nanny Agency (aupair-agency.com). Although the word ‘agency’ might throw you off, this was a free site for me to use that allowed me to choose my own family instead of being paired with one. I would personally suggest not using an ‘agency’ that is asking for au pairs to pay fees in order to be placed with a family. I knew many au pairs in Paris and only a few who used this type of service, and their experience was at times negative because of the lack of connection between the au pair and the family, as well as the miscommunication about the appropriate role of the au pair. I enjoyed being able to choose from many family dynamics and job descriptions.
How did you find the first few weeks moving in as an au pair with a new family? Are there any things you wish you’d have known before beginning?
It is very nerve wrecking moving in with a foreign family whom you have never met. I was sick to my stomach the first couple days from all the nerves! I always assumed the family had very high expectations for me and how I should be acting and spending my time. This was not true at all! Be yourself and act how you want, the family is just grateful to have you there!
Life as an Au Pair
What was your daily routine like as an Au Pair?
- Prepare the breakfast table and wake the kids around 7:00 am
- Help kids dress and prepare their bags for school
- Drive kids to school at 8:00 am
The time from when I arrived back home from dropping the kids off and picking them up in the afternoon was mine to spend as I pleased. Three days a week, I had a French course that lasted from 1:30-3:30 pm. Before and after, I would either relax in the house or hang out with nearby friends!
- Pick up kids from school at 4:25 pm
- Depending on the day, I would drive one of my kids to an activity such as tennis or writing lessons, and pick them up an hour later.
- Play with kids, help with homework, give baths
- Prepare and serve dinner for myself and the kids around 7:30 pm
- Help kids calm down for the night and get ready for bed
- Mom arrived home from work from 8:30 pm and my duties were finished
What was the deal with school holidays? (eg. Did you have the weeks off, or were you required to work during this time?)
In France, school vacations each last two weeks (except for summer which is longer). I usually watched the kids the entire day during the first week, and had the entire second week off. My monthly pay was normal, since it ended up being the same amount of working hours. The only exception was the fall vacation, during which I watched the kids the entire two weeks without extra pay. In exchange, I had the entire two weeks off during Christmas break.
What were your best and worst experiences as an au pair?
My best experiences revolved around becoming close with my host kids, and also spending amazing times in Paris and traveling with my friends. Although it took a few months, the kids I watched and I became very close. I felt really lucky that I was able to have great relationships with them, it made being an au pair not feel as much like “work”.
The most frustrating experiences came from lack of communication with the family at times, and feeling that my time was not respected. I’d also had some negative experiences out and about, such as having my phone stolen and once being slapped by an Italian man! It was hard to often feel taken advantage of as a foreigner. I frequently had to remind myself that these types of problems I would encounter in any large city known for having tourists, and it wasn’t a reflection of France specifically.
If you experienced any problems or issues with the family, how did you resolve them?
At times I felt very uncomfortable living with the family. There are certain days when you feel like you’d like a break from being around the people you technically work for, but it is simply not possible living there. My host parents often took for granted my availability. They assumed because I was home, I was able to watch the kids or help with homework, even if it was my designated time off. I resolved that issue in a somewhat cowardly way: by always leaving! I was often intimidated by my host parents and afraid to ask for something to change, since they were giving me so much already by opening up their home to me. If I were to do it over, I would have been more vocal with my concerns in order to feel more comfortable living there.
Socializing and leisure
What advice do you have for making friends as an Au Pair?
Use the internet! I thought this was a weird way to meet people before becoming an au pair. It’s not! If you join a couple au pair Facebook pages that are related to the city you’re in or near, you will make friends in no time. Go to events for au pairs and expats, or even just write up a post asking someone to hang out. Everyone’s in the same boat and will want to be your friend.
How were you able to fit socializing with the commitment of your hours as an Au Pair?
Luckily, my hours of work were pretty standard for an au pair. I had weekends completely free, and usually my vacation days lined up with at least a couple friends. One thing I wish I had known before was the lengthy walk from my house to the nearest train station. On week nights, it really wasn’t worth it to take a 30 minute train ride to see friends after I already had to walk 30 minutes to the station! It was pretty frustrating sometimes.
How easy was it to feel part of the community? Did you make friends outside of the ‘au pair’ world?
The majority of my friends were au pairs. I had already had a friend in Paris because she studied abroad the year before at my university. I became friends with another Parisian girl on a metro once, when I was being verbally harassed by a drunk French man and she sweetly intervened. It was harder to stay in touch with my French friends than my au pair friends because of the unique au pair schedule (basically opposite a normal person’s work schedule). I am not sure if the feeling of community would be more accessible in a smaller town than Paris.
Learning the language and culture
How easy was it to find your language school, and did attending one help you personally?
I attended La Clef, a language school in Saint Germain en Laye. The biggest plus was that I met some of my best friends through my class, and even more friends who were in other classes at the same institution. I didn’t personally like my class after the first few months, because it felt a little repetitive, and I wasn’t getting the conversational practice I was looking for. I would suggest finding a language school that lets you pay in installments throughout the year, in case the class ends up not being exactly what you wanted.
How did you find the language barrier (if there was one)? – How were the first few weeks of living in a new country?
Since I had studied French in school, I knew enough already to get by alright. The first few weeks (or months!) were spent asking people to repeat themselves, and having to respond very slowly, thinking about every single word!
How did you improve your language skills?
Practice speaking! I wasn’t as interested in the grammar and vocabulary that my French course was teaching me as I was in speaking to my friends after class and trying to have entire conversations in French. You can always Google the vocab! 😉
Any tips for those learning a new language?
Something that helped me a lot while learning was to read the language. It was hard at first. I had to stop after almost every sentence to look up a word or two. Start by buying an easy to read book in your host country and watch how much you improve!
Do you feel as if you have progressed with your new language?
Yes! Throughout the year, I was able to communicate much quicker and feel like I was fluent enough to have a decent conversation with just about anybody.
Life after being an Au Pair
How has being an au pair changed you?
After being an au pair, I feel so much more in touch with the rest of the world. Now I have close friends in many different countries all over the world. I thought a year abroad would quench my thirst for travel, but it has only made me want to travel more!
Would you do au pairing again?
Although I would enjoy living abroad again, I don’t think I would be an au pair again. It is at times a very difficult job that you can’t wait to end. It also depends a lot on your specific situation. Depending on your host family, kids, schedule, living arrangements, and compensation, a job as an au pair can be awful or amazing.
Would you recommend au pairing to others? And why? (Even if you said no, let us know your reasons!)
Depending on the person, probably yes. Being an au pair is wonderful most of the time, with fun perks like being able to travel, have a flexible schedule, experience new culture, and explore a completely new city. However, for the most part of your day, it is about taking care of kids. If watching kids isn’t something you’d thoroughly enjoy doing, find another way to live and work abroad!
VISA Preparation for Au Pairs
Was it a requirement for you to have a VISA?
Yes. Americans wanting to become an au pair in France must have a “student” type visa if your stay is over 90 days. There is actually a particular long stay “au pair” student visa you can obtain.
How did you go about getting your VISA?
The visa process took me a couple months, mostly because the appointment has to be made about a month or two in advance, and then it can take up to another month for your visa to be approved and sent to you. The U.S. likes to make things extremely difficult for some reason, and you actually have to apply for your visa in person at one of their few consulates around the country. The website will tell you which one depending on your state of residence. I live in Colorado, but had to fly to California for my appointment.
What do you wish you had known about the VISA process before you had obtained it?
Read everything you can. The French Consulate website is very thorough and explains everything you will need to obtain. The confusing part for me was obtaining the paperwork my host family needed for the OFII Residence Form. This is a form that you need to possess for your visa appointment, but your host family must get it for you in France. I did not realize this and was super confused. Trust what your host family says and answer promptly the questions they ask you to obtain this weird form.