Everything You Should Know About Au Pairing

In October 2017,  I ended a Facetime video call with a woman on the other side of the world, who I'd never met, promising to book a flight out to help look after her three-year-old son.

It sounds insane, and yet every year thousands of girls (and boys), use au pairing as a way of having a home and a job in another country. Deemed a 'cultural exchange', it is literally there to open the door for young people looking to live in another country, but not just spend their time around other expats and backpackers.

I've au paired twice since I turned 18, and my younger sister has also au paired. My first-time au pairing - in Italy - could not have been more different to last year's experience in Australia, not least because I was four years older.

Au pairing is an incredible opportunity if you like children and are happy to commit, but, it's admittedly not for everyone. So I thought I would create a list of what I've learnt from my au pairing experiences, and what I wish I'd known before landing both times.

Think long and hard about what kind of family you're looking for
How many children do you feel comfortable looking after? Do you have any beliefs/values you want to have in common? Do you want to live-in or live-out?

When I was in Italy, I worked for a mum and dad, with their 8-year-old son. There was also a cook and housekeeper in their apartment, so most of the time we had company.

Whilst I was in Australia, I worked for a donor mum and her 3-year-old son. A complete contrary to my last experience.

If I'm honest, I was initially a little unsure of working for a single parent, simply because I thought there was a chance the living arrangement would be too intense. I was also aware that if there were any issues, it could be extremely hard.

Which is why the best thing to do to find your own answer to these questions is to make sure you do your research and speak with any families you may want to work for over facetime/skype/video, to get a feel for if you think you'd be a good fit.

In my case, the experience of living with a single parent ended up being amazing, and if anything I was much closer to her because of our living arrangements than the couple I worked for in Italy.

One of my other pieces of advice would be generally, to live-in. I lived-out previously, and whilst it was great to have my own space, it really built a wall in my relationship with the family, because I felt like 'the help'. I grew extremely close to both the children I looked after, and that wasn't impacted by my living arrangement at all. But if you're looking to feel like a part of the family, living out makes that more difficult.

Au pairing can be lonely
If there was one thing I wish I'd known before applying for au pairing roles in Italy, it would be how important it is to au pair in a city where you'll find other au pairs.

The truth is, au pairing can be extremely lonely. You're in a foreign country, you don't have friends and without a classroom or an office, you're suddenly left with the question - how do I meet people?

In Italy, I basically had one best friend. I met her through a friend of the old au pair, and I was extremely lucky to have her, but after four months she was gone. I did make a few more friends, but many worked 9-5 jobs, whereas I was off during school hours. I wish I'd had the foresight to look for a highly populated city, where there were more au pairs and consequently, more friends.

Despite taking this into account in round two - hence moving to Sydney and not the Aussie bush - I still found it incredibly hard to make friends. Anyone who knows me will know I'm outgoing and friendly, but other than the girl who later became my best friend (and who I met on the first day by chance) it was initially hard to meet people. So, I posted in a "Sydney Au Pairs" Facebook group to ask if anyone wanted to grab a coffee - and that turned into a BBQ of 30 girls on the beach. All au pairs, all struggling to meet people.

The point is, you need to be prepared to put yourself out there. I am still BEST friends with my rocks from both Italy and Australia, but one friend isn't always enough. Think about joining local classes or getting a part-time job, both will help you meet people in no time at all!

You should feel at home, but remember it isn't YOUR home
This is such a tricky one, because it's so so important to feel at ease and comfortable and happy wherever you're living. But at the end of the day, it's also pretty important to remember this isn't your home.

I've heard a few horror stories from all sides, but without beating around the bush, the main thing I would say is that it is not okay to bring back guys/girls on a night out. 

This might sound obvious to most people - but the truth is it happens. I've heard from both my previous host families that if their au pairs end up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, then it's nice to meet them, but I'd still say tread with caution. The chances are, the person you've met isn't going to be another au pair, put simply, there's always a better place to do it.

Have a thick skin
Kids are kids. They can be so cute you want to cry, and they can be children who seemed to have woken up with the devil inside them. Don't take anything personally or to heart. It once took me an hour to walk 10 minutes up the road with a three-year-old, but then that three-year-old also told me I was his family. An eight-year-old ransacked his bedroom after I told him to get off his iPad, but then wouldn't let me go a month later, when he started sobbing as I left for a weekend-break in Milan.

It's swings and roundabouts, and the good days more than makeup for the bad days. If you're expecting everything to be smooth sailing, you shouldn't be around children ever, ever again.

Respect your host family
I feel like this should go without saying, but I've heard a lot of stories about au pairs which say otherwise. Yes, it is extremely nervewracking venturing out of your comfort zone into somebody else's life, but you do also need to think about how the family you're au pairing for feel. If their rule is to be home before midnight on a work-night, then get home before midnight. If they tell you to get a treat for their child after school, don't go on a shopping spree. These people are on your team, they want to have the best experience possible with their au pair, just as you do.

Just as there are horror host family stories, there are also horror au pair stories, don't be that person. When it goes well, you'll become a part of the family, and there is no better feeling than belonging, especially when you're a thousand miles from home.

Make the most of it
Because the idea of a host family is to feel as though you're at a home away from home, it's easy to get complacent. But the reality is, this will be a once in a lifetime opportunity. So make the most of every second! Meet locals, go on tours, visit the rest of the country in which you're visiting, learn the language, make plans every weekend so you don't feel as if you're wasting time. Whether it's going to the beach in January, when everyone back home is suffering from the cold, or going on a weekend adventure somewhere new. The most important thing, is to have the time of your life.

Hopefully, this will help anyone considering au pairing, and gives you some food for thought. As an experience, I couldn't recommend it enough.

For anyone wondering, the website I used to find both host families, and the one I recommend, is Au Pair World. This blog post isn't sponsored at all, but they're the best site I found as a free site for au pairs, and they don't spam you with emails unless it's messages/replies from families, which is a deal breaker for me.

Love, Alice x

P.S. Whilst you're here, the 2019 Blogosphere Awards are around the corner, so if you want to nominate Alice's Antics or a particular blog post for an award, I would love you forever... and you can do so here.