University summer holidays are often months long and leave many students wanting to do something worthwhile and rewarding. What better thing to do then au pair?
Au pairing allows you to go abroad and discover a new country cheaply, with all the local knowledge of the family. They can be an invaluable source of information about the country and how to get around it, and what to do and see, past the “Top 10 Picks” in the guidebook. And best of all, with the ‘pocket money’ you are given, it doesn’t break the bank either! A friend and I even organised it, so we were both in Rome last summer working as au pairs.
‘Au pair’ is from the French and means ‘equal to’ – you are part of the family as well as working for them (whereas a nanny or babysitter just works for the family). Your role is to look after the children in the family for a set amount of hours each day. You will live with the family, eat with the family, and they will pay you ‘pocket money’ each week (the amount varies country to country) and you’ll normally have the weekends off.
Au pairing is now becoming easier than ever. In the past you had to register with an agency and then write letters
between you and prospective families – to find the perfect one. Nowadays, you make a profile on a website (I used ‘Au pair World’) and then see what your ‘matches’ are. It sounds a little like internet dating; which I guess it is! Once your profile is up (this takes 24 hours), start messaging any families that suit, then if both parties like each other arrange a Skype interview (remember to have questions ready to ask the family as well as answers to questions that the family will probably ask). Usually the family and you will have time to decide (say 24 hours) and then you’ll let each other know, if you are both happy then it’s time to book a flight! Most families will expect you to self-fund a flight; but if you save some of the ‘pocket money’ from when you are au pairing you can make back the money.
Last year I au paired with two different families. One in La Spezia, Italy for six months with three children and then again in Rome for one month with one child. They were both very different experiences. In La Spezia, I had to get the kids ready for school, then pick them up at 1pm, give them lunch and after help with homework, take them to their activities. Whereas in Rome, I would entertain the child for the morning (including giving a 1 hour English lesson) and be free in the afternoon to explore the eternal city. Don’t get me wrong, it is hard work! You have to be on the ball 24/7 and are living with a family so have to adapt to how they do things. I got paid €80 per week, but you’ve got to remember everything is paid for, so this money was really just spending money.
When searching for your perfect match, there are many questions to ask yourself …
This is the biggest and hardest question to answer, especially (if like me) you just want to go everywhere! Most families will speak some English so you don’t have to know the language. I chose Italy as I had never been there and always wanted to. But, it’s also important to think about whether you want to be in the centre of a city, near a beach, or in a village. In my experience I would say to make sure there are things to do nearby; as sometimes you will want to have some space from the family. And part of the experience of au pairing is to be able to travel and explore the country.
The age, number of and gender of the children are all things you might want to consider. Babies and toddlers are a handful, but it does mean you have the freedom to take them where you want to go. I chose children who were between 8-11, as they were still cute but mature enough to communicate with and teach English to.
This really depends on how long you have. one month in Rome, during the summer, was the ideal amount of time for me! I had enough time to explore the city properly, spend weekends at the beach, but any longer and I would have been at a loss of things to do.
PAY / WORKING HOURS
This is by far the hardest thing to negotiate. Many online au pairing websites have guidelines about how much an au pair should be paid in each country and how many hours they should work, but this can still vary from placement to placement. All food and accommodation is included though, so the allowance given is simply for you to explore the area with.
It seems like a bit of a risk going to a random family in a foreign country. But, with the internet you can find out a lot of information about the family – check out their Facebook profiles, Youtube accounts etc. Also, you can ask for the email address of previous au pairs to see how they found it. But most importantly, go with your gut instinct and remember you can always leave if it doesn’t work out!
Au pairing is now becoming extremely popular and why not? It is such an amazing experience and opportunity for young people!
Is it your ticket to the perfect summer?