In this blog’s young life, the most popular post so far (by far) has been How I found an au pair job. I could be wrong, but perhaps some of you are interested in becoming au pairs?
For me, becoming an au pair was the perfect option. I knew I wanted to continue traveling but didn’t necessarily have the funds for another backpacking trip. I also knew that I wanted to really immerse myself in a different culture which would require me settling down a bit. It’s tough to get to know a place and a people when you’re moving on every few days!
If you think my life in Spain sounds rad (which it totally is) and you’re considering becoming an au pair, I’ve got a few things for you to think about before running off to the first family who says you won’t have to do any housework.
Five questions to ask yourself before au pairing:
1. Do I have an open mind?
If you decide to become an au pair, you’re going to be moving to a new country where the people look, think and act differently. The most important item on any traveler’s packing list is an open mind. You need to be sure you’re mentally prepared to embrace a new culture–the good and the bad. Without an open mind, the chances of having a successful and rewarding stay as an au pair are slim to none.
2. Am I patient?
Not only are you going to be working/living with children, which requires boatloads of patience, but as an au pair, you’re going to be inserting yourself into a new and most likely very different family dynamic. Throw in a language barrier, and there’s no question that you’re going to need to be very flexible. If you get frustrated easily, being an au pair isn’t for you. You need to be ready to try different approaches with the children as well as your host parents to create a cohesive environment for everyone. Because if things don’t work out, it’s a freaking long walk home.
3. Am I good at making friends?
When you first start out as an au pair, you’re not going to know anyone. Unless you want to stay in every weekend, you’re going to need to make some friends…and fast. Luckily, there are plenty of networking sites out there to help you meet people. I’ve had success using Couchsurfing and Meet Au Pairs. If making friends isn’t your cup of tea, being an au pair might not be for you. Half the fun of moving to a new country is meeting new people!
4. Am I comfortable traveling on my own?
Up until my move to Spain, I’ve always traveled with a buddy. I’ve been fortunate to share my adventures with family members, friends or a significant other. Last night though, I booked two nights in a Madrid hostel for my first full weekend in the city. It will be the first time I’ve ever explored a city on my own, and although I’m a little nervous, I’m mostly just super excited!
Solo travel is a reality of being an au pair. Even if and when you make new friends, there will be times when you can’t find anyone to join you. Instead of being bummed and staying home, go on your own! Solo travel can be empowering, especially for women. Just make sure you’re smart about! Always be cautious and observant of your surroundings. Make sure your host family knows where you’re going and what you’ll be doing.
Now, for the final question. Drumroll, please!
5. Do I like kids?
In the honest spirt of this blog, I will admit that I, in fact, do not like kids. I can, however, tolerate the little beasts, and if you want to be an au pair, I highly recommend that you’re able to do the same. KIDDING (sort of). In all seriousness though, you don’t need to have a degree in education or a babysitting resume as long as your arm in order to be an au pair. A little experience working with children is nice, but even more importantly, you need to have a good attitude.
Even though I’m not a “kid person,” I’ve enjoyed my time with Carlos and Pablo. Unlike other children I’ve had the displeasure of working with, they’re respectful and cheerful (unless they’re tired because then all bets are off). In my Spanish family, I’m not considered a caretaker or nanny but rather a big sister of sorts. Since the role of big sister is one I’ve had 21 years of practice at (hi, Colby), I find being an au pair a good fit for me.
Are you considering au pairing? If so, why do you think you’d enjoy the experience? If you’re already an au pair, what other questions do you think an individual interested in au pairing should ask her/himself?