Becoming an Au Pair
Tell us about yourself!
I’m a Canadian from the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). I recently graduated university and didn’t really have a concrete plan of what I wanted to do so I decided living abroad as an au pair would be an awesome opportunity to travel and to experience a different culture.
Where and when were you an au pair?
I am currently an au pair in a small town called Edewecht in Northern Germany. I’ve been here since the beginning of January 2015.
Why did you choose to go au pairing in that particular country?
I’ve had a love for Germany and Germans for a while. Partly because my dad spent some time in Germany around my age, but also because I graduated with a history major where my main interest was German history and society.
What was the ‘aim’ of your year as an au pair?
The aim of my year abroad was and still is to experience a new culture, see what makes it different from Canada, become fluent in another language and to travel.
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 family through a site called Au Pair world. It’s a free site that allows you to look at different families around the world and message families you’re interested in instead of being matched by an agency. For those beginning their own search I would suggest Au Pair World because I know quite a few people who’ve had success through that website. I would also suggest that during your search consider what you want out of the experience, the location you want (city/town), and how long you would want to stay.
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’m not someone who deals well with change so I was really nervous to move abroad. I was afraid of the unknown but the transition went a lot smoother than I thought it would. My family was very supportive and welcoming and I adjusted easily. I will say that the first few weeks as an au pair are a little hectic. You’re getting into a new routine, new responsibilities and new language. It can be a bit overwhelming so make sure you keep open communication with your host family during this process.
Was it a requirement for you to have a VISA?
Luckily I have dual citizenship with the European Union so I didn’t need a VISA, but it is a requirement to have a VISA if you don’t have EU citizenship and want to work in Germany.
Life as an Au Pair
What is your daily routine like as an Au Pair?
- Walk the dog
- Tidy kitchen after lunch
- Play with kids, help with homework
- Practice piano with the middle child
- Practice English with the eldest child
There really isn’t a daily routine for me because each day is completely different. The kids I care for do different activities every day (swimming, piano, gymnastics, etc.) or they may go to a friend’s after school. Occasionally I will have to bike to school with the kids or pick them up depending on whether my host mum is home. The same goes for making lunch/dinner. Sometimes I have to put the kids to bed if their parents will be home late from work/university but that doesn’t happen too often.
What is the deal with school holidays with regard to your role?
Germany has way more school holidays than in Canada and it freaks me out how much time they get off of school. When they have holiday during the school year I work the entire day unless one of the parents is already home.
During summer vacation I had to work for two weeks but was invited to spend the other three weeks with the family camping. My host parents also gave me five weeks of vacation to use when I wanted so it kind of evens out.
What were your best and worst experiences as an au pair?
The best experience is feeling like a part of the family. My host parents treat me like one of their own and I am very close with my host kids. I’ve also had the opportunity to travel a lot so far and meet up with a lot of family and friends that live throughout Europe.
The worst has probably been feeling homesick and lonely. I live in a small town, there aren’t many other au pairs around and I’ve had difficulties making close friends.
If you experienced any problems or issues with the family, how did you resolve them?
Any problems I’ve had with the family I’ve let my host parents know, but in all honesty I haven’t really had issues. My host parents definitely prioritize my experience here, they know if something is off with me and always try to make sure we’re on the same page and that I’m comfortable.
Socializing and leisure
What advice do you have for making friends as an Au Pair?
The Internet is a beautiful thing. Use Facebook to find au pair groups near your city. Language courses and tandem programs are another way. Meetup.com and Couchsurfing.org will usually have groups in your area that have social events. If you live in a university city try sitting in on classes or join sports teams and activities offered through the university.
How are you able to fit socializing with the commitment of your hours as an Au Pair?
I’m basically free to do whatever I want before 12:30pm and after 4:30pm everyday and have the weekend to myself so I actually have a lot of free time in comparison to some other au pairs.
How easy is it to feel part of the community? Have you made friends outside of the ‘au pair’ world?
While I like Germany, I honestly still don’t feel like a part of the community. I can get around and converse with people fine but I don’t feel like I belong to the same extent as I belong in Canada. It may also have to do with the fact that I haven’t really made friends with people outside of the ‘au pair world’ but I still have time so hopefully that changes!
Learning the language and culture
How easy was it to find your language school, and is attending one helping you personally?
I attend classes offered through VHS – Volkshochschule. I’ve found that attending has really helped. I try to incorporate the grammar and vocabulary I learn each week when speaking to my host family. It definitely takes your speaking ability to another level, though it will take time to get there. I’ve also been fortunate to have the same teacher throughout the year who incorporates the grammatical with conversational practice so the class isn’t completely boring.
How have you found the language barrier so far? – How were the first few weeks of living in a new country?
The language barrier was so rough! I used to feel really dumb even trying to speak in German because I felt like nothing I was saying made any sense. It’s also especially difficult to take care of children when you can’t really understand each other. With a few months it got much easier and I’ve only just recently felt that I’ve passed that language barrier that used to bother me so much.
How have you improved your language skills?
I read a lot to my youngest kid and I joined a band where I’m forced to interact with people in German. It can be very daunting to speak to unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar language but with time it gets easier. Besides that, speaking with the kids I care for and taking language courses help to make speaking a foreign language more natural.
Any tips for those learning a new language?
ALWAYS BE TALKING! Seriously just talk whenever you can with whomever you can. Even if you think you’re horrible at the language, native speakers will appreciate you making an effort to speak their language. You might also want to try finding a tandem program nearby where you’re paired with a native speaker trying to learn your language. Read books out loud and try to speak with people from your language course outside of class.
Do you feel as if you have progressed with your new language?
I think I’m a lot harder on myself with learning German than I need to be. I want to be perfect and I will never be there but I’ve definitely made a lot of progress in the past year. I can finally speak and have decent conversations with people without the anxiety that I’m saying everything wrong or that I’m at a loss of words.
Life after being an Au Pair
How has being an au pair changed you?
So far it’s given me a much larger perspective on the world. It’s made me want to travel more, to try new things and to meet new people. I’ve become a lot more laid back and I don’t really stress over the small things anymore.
Would you do au pairing again?
I’ve loved my experience so far as an au pair but I wouldn’t want to do it again. It’s not the easiest job, requires a lot of involvement and can be a bit draining. I also think I need to move on to the next thing, whatever that is!
What advice would you give to those wanting to become an Au Pair?
If you’ve thought about being an au pair and you want to do it then you definitely should. That being said make sure you to really do your research, reflect on why you want to be an au pair, be patient when looking for a family and trust yourself. It could be the best experience or it could be awful, but either way you will learn a lot about yourself and that knowledge is indispensable.
Find out more about Vanessa on her various social media platforms:
Hi, hello there! My name is Vanessa Alambo. I’m a 23-year-old Canadian, living and working in Germany. I spend my days with three munchkins where we bake, craft, laugh, read and practice yoga. I also run the blog Days in Deutschland where I discuss my experience as an Au Pair Madchen and life in Germany.