Becoming an Au Pair
Tell us about yourself.
I am a software developer and Digital Nomad. I’m currently in the Ukraine, but I’m house sitting and just generally wandering my way through Europe for the next few months.
Where and when were you an au pair?
From 2001-2 I was with a family just outside of Geneva, Switzerland.
Why did you choose to go au pairing in that particular country?
I was offered jobs in Germany and Barcelona, but I chose Geneva because it is so central so traveling to other places would be easy, and I really liked the family.
What was the ‘aim’ of your year as an au pair?
To travel internationally. I’d never been outside the US though I’d traveled extensively there. I wanted to get a chance to see more of the world before I settled down and did the whole family thing.
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 them through an Au Pair matching site. It was pretty unusual in those times to use an online service but now it’s definitely common. My suggestion is to really talk to the family about the expectations they have, your hours, living quarters, etc. The family in Barcelona asked me “How do you feel about giving up your freedom for a year?” That was a huge red flag for me because being an Au Pair was going to be my job and entry into Europe, not my 24/7 life.
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?
I was amazingly lucky. I had a great family who was really helpful and supportive. They went out of their way to help me get settled, including getting the names and numbers of other au pairs/nannys in the park so I would have a social network to tap into when I arrived.
Life as an Au Pair
What was your daily routine like as an Au Pair?
When I arrived the mom gave me a list of extra duties (besides caring for the kids) and I got to choose two that I wanted to do while I was there. I chose ironing and cooking because I don’t mind the first and I like the 2nd.
I spent most of my time with their 8 month old though there was also 6 and 8 year old boys in the house that I would care for after school.
On full days, I would take the kids to school then have the baby during the day and we’d shop/run errands/have play dates, etc. I’d pick the older kids up from school and we’d play at the park for a while then go have snack and homework time while I cooked dinner.
On half days, I would just pick the kids up from school, play for a while, then do snack, homework, etc.
The kids didn’t have school on wednesdays and when I worked those days we’d take the bus into geneva and walk around the lake or go to a museum or take the bus to the next town over and get a treat at the pastry shop. We also went to the local park a lot.
What was the deal with school holidays? (eg. Did you have the weeks off, or were you required to work during this time?)
I worked 30 hours/week from Monday at 3 (when I got the kids from school) until Friday at 9 (when I took the kids to school). I had weekends off unless something special was going on and they needed me. For longer holidays, if the family was going somewhere I had the option to join them and they would pay half of my costs. I did this for a trip to Egypt and Paris. If I didn’t want to join them, I just had the time off.
What were your best and worst experiences as an au pair?
Best was getting to live with a family and see how other people live. I was the only child to a single mom so our life was very different. It was a good education for me. The worst was living with a family. 🙂 I was 27 when I was an au pair and had been living independently with a career for years. It was a big change, but it was usually ok.
Socializing and leisure
What advice do you have for making friends as an Au Pair?
Join local networks, meetups, facebook groups, talk to people in the park, etc. It’s easier now with everything being online. Back then it was harder.
How were you able to fit socializing with the commitment of your hours as an Au Pair?
My work day ended at dinner time or before every day and I had weekends off so it was easy for me to socialize. And if I wanted extra time off to travel with my friends I just had to ask in advance. I had a great social network of friends that I’m still seeing on a regular basis.
How easy was it to feel part of the community? Did you make friends outside of the ‘au pair’ world?
I was friends with some of the neighbors, but most of my friends were au pairs.
Learning the language and culture
How easy was it to find your language school, and did attending one help you personally?
I had a tutor come in and the family helped, but I’m useless at languages so after a while we kind of gave up 🙂
How did you find the language barrier (if there was one)? – How were the first few weeks of living in a new country?
There wasn’t much of a language barrier. It was a swiss/us family so they all spoke fluent english as did several neighbors. Geneva is a very international city so it was easy to be understood with english and what french I did know. and most of my friends spoke french so if I needed to they helped.
How did you improve your language skills?
Sadly, I didn’t improve them much.
Any tips for those learning a new language?
Practice, immerse yourself. Had I not been with a family of fluent english speakers, I’m sure my french would have been much better.
Do you feel as if you have progressed with your new language?
No, I moved to mexico so I kind of had to purge french from my brain so I could focus on Spanish. I still know key phrases and when I’m in french speaking countries it comes back, but it’s not great.
Life after being an Au Pair
How has being an au pair changed you?
I always had a travel bug, but this just sealed the deal. I returned to the US determined to settle down and do the american dream thing. It lasted for a few years then I realized it wasn’t for me. I’ve now been traveling since 2008 and don’t intend to stop.
Would you do au pairing again?
At my age, no. I’m too set in my ways to live with another family like that again and too tired to deal with kiddos that much. If i were young, I would consider it but I’d be wary of the family. I got really lucky but some of my other au pair friends had really bad experiences.
Would you recommend au pairing to others? And why?
Definitely! I think everyone should live abroad for a year. It changes your whole perspective. Au pairing is a great way to do it and I’d recommend it to most people.
What advice would you give to those wanting to become an Au Pair?
Talk a lot to your family. Research the area you’d be living to make sure it’s a good fit for you. The job I was offered in Germany was really remote. I would not have enjoyed it.
VISA Preparation for Au Pairs
Was it a requirement for you to have a VISA?
How did you go about getting your VISA?
The family sponsored me and I applied at the Swiss Embassy in Chicago.
What do you wish you had known about the VISA process before you had obtained it?
It was super easy, mostly because the dad was a lawyer and they’d had au pairs before so they knew what needed to be done.
Find out more about Mandy with her various social media platforms:
Mandy is a Software Developer who, bitten by the international travel bug during her Au Pair days, has been traveling full-time since 2008. You can follow her travels at Vagabondette.com or check out her work at MandyM.com.