Working as an au pair is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture. All my friends who have also worked as au pairs had similarly wonderful experiences to mine, though all of our tenures varied on our individual wishes and what we each hoped to get out of the experience.
I did a ton of research before I chose my family. One of my friends recommended My Au Pair World, which helps match au pairs to host families - you build your profile and use filters to search by country, number of kids, that sort of thing. When I found a family that felt right, I Skyped with them and added them on Facebook. After four or five interviews, I decided I felt most comfortable with a family in Santiago de Compostela, a small city in northern Spain famous for its beautiful cathedral.
If you’re considering working as an au pair, I can’t recommend the experience highly enough!
You get to live rent-free in another country. If you, like me, love traveling and hate spending money, working as an au pair is a great way to fully experience a new country and feel like you actually live there.
You get to act like a kid. Obviously this is a position for people who love kids! The essentials of babysitting are the same in every language. Every day I took my nine-year-old charge and her friends to the park, pool, or playground, and had a great time letting them win at tag and sardines.
You have free time when the kids are at school. For most au pairs, your responsibilities include getting the kids to and from school - and when they’re there, you have a few hours to yourself to explore, hang out with new friends, shop, work out; whatever strikes your fancy. I spent many mornings jogging in a beautiful forest, writing in a different cafe every day, and wandering around Santiago.
You’re a part of a family. Of course this varies for every person, but my Spanish family and their friends made me feel right at home immediately. Every night the neighborhood parents met for wine and tapas at the tiny bar-cafe while the kids played at the playground 20 feet away, and every night I drank my rioja and felt so lucky to be there. Everyone I met there welcomed me into their lives like a member of the family.
If you’re considering working as an au pair (which you definitely should if you have a gap year or a gap summer!), ask yourself these questions:
How comfortable are you with the language of your host country? Thankfully my Spanish education was plenty sufficient to get around on my own in castellano, but I definitely would have had a hard time if I didn’t speak any Spanish.
What kind of area do you want to live in? Remember, you’re going to be in charge of children’s lives as you take them through a foreign city! I chose Santiago because it’s a fascinating place I’ve always wanted to visit, but it’s also small enough that it’s walkable or bus-able. (Also, on au pair sites, you can say on your profile if you’re willing to drive or not). When I started thinking about where I wanted to au pair, I knew I didn’t want to be in charge of wrangling toddlers on a bustling metro. Taking care of other people’s children was definitely less stressful for me in a small city than it would have been in a huge one.
How many kids can you handle at one time? If you don’t have much babysitting experience, you probably shouldn’t work for a family with six kids. Don’t underestimate the responsibility of childcare, and make sure you find a family with kids whose ages you’re totally comfortable with.
How many days off do you want? If you’re planning on taking off every weekend to go somewhere, that’s fine, as long as you communicate that to your host family beforehand. My family invited me everywhere, and I was happy to spend every weekend with them.
Are you comfortable with being by yourself? When the kids were at school I had time to myself at home, on the bus, and in the city. If you’re not comfortable doing things on your own, you’ll need to learn how to do so.
I can’t recommend au pairing highly enough. I was pushed out of my comfort zone in the best way possible, and my only regret is that I didn’t stay longer.
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