Four years ago, I sat on a plane that took me to the United States, in order to work as an au pair. I was 26 and rather an oldie among all these really young girls, but that was never a problem. I stayed with my host family in San Francisco and took care of an adorable baby girl, who was only three months old, when I started. I’ve written about my experiences before (Check out 365 Days As An Au Pair) and thought, I would put together a little A-Z, to give you an overview of the job. I’m sure that many young people are interested in becoming an au pair, so this may help you get started.
Au Pair – As an au pair, you usually travel to another country and live there with a family and take care of their kids. It is cheap labour and don’t let them fool you into believing it’s a cultural exchange program. It highly depends on your host family, if you have a proper cultural experience, but you still work a lot. It’s a great experience, though.
Baby – As I mentioned above, I took care of the cutest little baby and that was basically a luxury. But I guess every au pair chooses what he or she get’s herself into. I wasn’t feeling taking care of five kids or so. However, I could’ve taken on more, but this family just seemed like a good fit.
Cultural Care – This was my agency and I think, it’s pretty much the biggest one. My experience with them was mostly good and I had absolutely no problem with families wanting me. I had a lot to choose from, which was amazing, because I think it’s important to wait for the right one to come along.
Daily Routine – With a baby, the days were pretty much always the same, although I always tried to change it up. I did so much with her, like go swimming, have playdates, go to the playground, take her shopping… Her parents fully trusted me and I was able to take her anywhere. We developed our own little routines, but it never really got bored. We also took a lot of naps together.
Education – Well, as an au pair, you’re supposed to take some college classes or something similar. I didn’t really have time for it, but I did an au pair course that included travelling to LA and exploring the city and I also took an ESL class at college, which was ridiculous, since my English is pretty much perfect. But I needed more credits to successfully finish the au pair program.
Friends – I’ve met some incredible people and we definitely had a good time. I’m still in contact with a few of the girls and it’s amazing, cause we shared so many special moments. One of them even came to my 30th birthday party and I visited another one in her home country Denmark.
Goodbyes – Saying goodbye is always so hard. Leaving my friends and family was difficult, especially, cause I never really planned on coming back. I remember saying goodbye to my god son, who was three at the time, and it nearly broke my heart. And then leaving my host family and this special little girl, when I actually did go back, was heartbreaking, as well. I really hope to visit them, in the next couple of years.
Host parents – My host parents were only a few years older than me, so that was actually pretty cool. We got along very well and I was especially close with the mom. I loved our little chill nights with take-out food and movies. Also, my friends and family were always allowed to stay over and they trusted me 100%. which is super important.
Information – If you plan on becoming an au pair, make sure to get as much information, as possible. It’s always a good idea to be prepared. Gather information about all the agencies, the job, the place you’re going to live etc.
Joy – I admit, that year sure wasn’t always easy, but there were many moments that gave me so much joy and today, I love looking back.
Kids – You know, I always said I didn’t like kids, but I am pretty amazing with them. And no matter if my host child or other kids I’ve watched, we always had a blast. People literally throw their kids at me left and right, and as long as I can give them back, I’ll take it. It’s amazing though, how much love those little monster give back.
Lifestyle – My life in San Francisco was just so different. I often miss living in such an amazing city, where you can just do anything. There is always something to do and I loved stopping by Starbucks or the Disney Store, go to the beach, if I want to, go shopping on Sunday’s. I also travelled a lot more and just experienced great things. I don’t really miss taking care of a child, but I’d take the rest.
Money – As an au pair, you don’t really get rich, but since you don’t have to pay rent or groceries, you have the money you earn, all for amusement. I tried to travel, as much as possible, and it was great. And If you travel with your host family, they have to pay for everything. It could definitely be worse.
Nanny – A nanny is different from an au pair, but not many people get it. As an au pair, you don’t have the possibility to differentiate much between work and your free time. Sure, after work, I was able to do whatever I want, but you’re still in the house, with the family and the kid, so it’s just different and you’re somehow always involved. But being a part of the family is actually important, so it mostly never bothered me.
Opportunity – Living abroad for a year, no matter the reason, is always a good idea. It expands your horizon and that is never a bad thing.
Playground – I spent so many hours on different playgrounds. It’s definitely the most important thing when you work with kids. And I put my baby girl in a swing for the first time, when she was only a few months old, and she absolutely loved it. I will never forget these moments,
Questions – Always ask as many questions as possible and don’t be afraid of it. You can only make good decisions, when you have all the information you need.
Reponsibility – When I told everyone what I was doing, they didn’t really belive I had what it takes. Taking care of a child, especially at such a young age, is a huge responsibility. I would never take on something like this, if I wasn’t sure, I could handle it. I just think that if you decide to do something like this, make sure you’re ready.
Shopping – Shopping is just so much better in the US. I especially miss the shops being open on Sunday’s. That was always my perfect shopping day. And I definitely miss Target, the Disney Store and Victoria’s Secret. It was not easy getting all the stuff I bought in a year home. But I managed and now, I live in my personal Disneyland.
Travel – One of the best parts about the whole experience was definitely travelling. I’ve tried to see as much as possible and after my year was done, I did a whole travel month and it was the greatest experience of my life. It’s so much more affordable, when you don’t have to pay for an international flight. I’ve seen beautiful places, all across the country.
USA – I’m sure the most popular country for au pairs are the US and that’s were I went, as well. I had a million reasons why I wanted to go back there and enjoyed it a lot. It did change my thoughts about it, though. You just really see things differently as a grown up. I will forever have a special connection to the US, though.
Visa – Well, this is probably obvious, but you need one. And don’t even try your way around or to go without an agency, cause it’s illegal.
Work – Despite what anyone says, it is work. Hard work. It’s a special kind of work, but don’t fool yourselves into believing that a year as an au pair feels like you’re on holiday.
X-Mas – I always wanted to spend a traditional Christmas in the US, but I didn’t. I actually went back to Germany for the holiday’s, and the flight was incredibly expensive, but it was still nice to be with friends and family. It wasn’t planned, but I will spare you the details of why I had to go. I still enjoyed picking out a Christmas tree though, doing my shopping for presents, getting my own stocking… One day, I will experience a true American Christmas, though.
Young – Most au pairs are super young. They’re between 18 and 20, while I was 26. I decided to do it after graduating from University, cause I was mature enough to take on that kind of responsibility. I never had a problem with being friends with younger people, though. I’m not much of a party girl anymore, who has to drink, every weekend, so having friends under 21 was absolutely ok.
Zzzzs – The job can be tiring. I worked ten hour shifts and I always looked highly forward to the weekends and a good sleep in.