We’ve all seen The Nanny Diaries, Supernanny, and Nanny 911, but what does it really mean to be look after at least one child for up to twelve hours a day? I’m not talking about being the next Mary Poppins; I’m discussing what it really means to be an Au Pair. While the word, au pair, originates from French and can be translated as ‘equal to,’ it is important to be realistic when applying to become one. Typically, an au pair is a female between the ages of 18 and 25, whose second language is English, and whose desire to live in the USA may surpass the hype of The Super Bowl. While I don’t usually reinforce stereotypes, I must confess that during my time as an au pair in the USA, I didn’t meet anybody who spoke English as their first language. In fact, I actually had numerous au pairs ask me why I applied to be one because I “already spoke the language.”
Here are a few reasons why you should consider becoming an au pair:
- Travel – One of the main attractions most au pairs admit to before applying, is the promise of living abroad for anywhere between five months and two years. While the US can host around 12,000 au pairs at any one time, other countries such as the UK, France, and Australia also welcome au pairs. I remember many au pairs planning how they would spend the extra ninety-day travel time they were given once they completed their position as an au pair. Travel really is one of the few things you can buy that will make you richer in knowledge, experience, and happiness.
- Experience– Many au pairs, like me, already had some experience working with children. However, if you aspire to be a full-time nanny or childminder, the experience you will gain looking after children will be priceless. As well as childcare experience, you will gain experience in many areas of your life including: driving in a foreign country (yes, driving on the “other side of the road” is possible and not at all scary), learning a new language, and learning how to cook while practicing times tables with your host child.
- Connections – We’re all told that networking, and building our connections is a vital part of adulthood, and yet so few people actually go out there and network. The connections you make during your time as an au pair may not just be your host family, but also other au pairs who live worldwide. I have maintained friendships with a German au pair and a Polish au pair. Who knows, you may even be invited to visit their home countries in the future!
- Responsibility – If you’re not fully responsible by the time you arrive at your host family’s home, you certainly will be when you leave. You will learn to be responsible for yourself: your sleep schedule, your diet, your social life; and you will learn to be responsible for your host child(ren): their sleep schedule, meal plans, school homework and extracurricular activities; and you will learn to be responsible for taking care of another person’s property: your host parents’ car and home.
- Limits – While you gain so much from your experience as an au pair, you will definitely learn your limits. You will ultimately find out how little sleep you can survive on, how to handle a two-year-old and a newborn baby at the same time, and also how far and how long you can be away from your family.
As with all jobs and experiences, as an au pair you are going to excel at times and you are going to feel lost at times. That’s okay. Ultimately, being an au pair was one of the most life-changing experience of my life so far. I would recommend you have a positive attitude, have excellent communication with your host family, and keep yourself busy, and you will be a wonderful au pair who will use newfound skills to excel at any future endeavors in life!