There are few opportunities in life when you can drop everything and head to a foreign country. Luckily, at 22 I am without any strings holding me tightly in one place, meaning it was relatively easy to organize myself as an Au Pair. So just how is this done?
Step 1 – What is an Au Pair?
Really this is just a fancy term for a live-in nanny. Au Pair just adds a little pizzazz to the title. The general idea of an Au Pair is someone, most likely young and female (sorry dudes), who takes care of children whilst teaching them English. This is of course not always the case, some families prefer guys, and some don’t require English as a mother-tongue. However, the majority of postings for Au Pair jobs in Europe seem to be looking for their children to learn English.
Step 2 – How Does It Work?
This question has gotten some serious chuckles from my friends, but basically it is like online dating. Using a site such as AuPairworld.com, you make a profile and are matched to a family profile. The site lets you write a little blurb about yourself and what you are looking for out of the experience, as well as select the areas you would be interested in visiting. Finally, you select the time period you would like to work, and based on those criteria you are matched with families who suit your needs. You can also use hosting services that you pay to match you with a family. The choice is completely up to you, though with the number of free services out there it seems like a waste to pay, especially since you will not be making bank on the job.
Step 3 – Choosing A Location
Foreign travel is a huge selling point for choosing to be an Au Pair. Living in a new city promises to be an awesome experience, especially when you have people who know the area well and can direct you to all the hot spots. That being said, do a little digging into the places you are selecting. For instance, does the country require you to have a visa? Italy requires a visa for stays over 3 months and has an Au Pair agreement in place with Canada so as to make visas more available to those wishing to work as an Au Pair. It is also helpful to try to find someone who has Au Paired in the country already! Before selecting Italy, I spoke to a friend who had Au Paired in both France and Italy, she found the culture to be more accepting of Au Pairs as members of the family in Italy, which ultimately led to my choosing the country. Finally, think about urban vs. rural lifestyle. I know that I am a city girl through and through, which means that I probably would not have been thrilled if I were to be stuck in the middle of nowhere on my days off. It may seem like a small detail, but remember that this is months of your life and you want to make the most of it.
Step 4 – Choosing A Family
Obviously the most fun step, choosing a family is kinda the point of this whole experience. My advice? Speak to only those families you are really, REALLY interested in. It is super easy to get caught up and overwhelmed with “shopping” through family profiles, so choose a handful of families you love and focus on getting to know them and their expectations. Set up Skype meetings and don’t be afraid to ask for photos of the home or references from previous Au Pairs. Chances are if they have a good relationship with their previous Au Pairs it probably means they will treat you fairly and with respect. The family I will be staying with was great about sending photos and have continued to do so throughout the year so that I will arrive already in the loop about their lives. I feel like a part of the family and it gives me some ideas of their interests.
Step 5 – The Nitty Gritty Details
So, you found a family you love and an area you can’t wait to visit, now for the details. Below are some helpful things to consider when arranging your stay with your family…
- How much are they offering you as pocket-money? Remember that this is more of a cultural exchange than a job, so you are not going to be making big bucks. That being said, most families offer a small amount of pocket-money, in Italy the amount is generally around 70 EUR per week. Guidelines can be found on Aupairworld’s website here
- Contracts, to have or not to have. My family and I signed a contract detailing the expectations from both parties. This provides everyone with a sense of security as neither side can take advantage of the other and everyone knows what to expect.
- How you are going to arrive. Most families will not be covering the cost of travel, so consider prices before you select an area. You would hate to fall in love with a family only to realize that you cannot afford the plane ticket.
- Health insurance. My contract outlines the necessity for me to have health coverage, so be sure to talk to your health insurance provider to see what coverage you have when staying with your family.
- Whether you will have a cell phone and wi-fi. Ask your family whether you will have access to wi-fi and look into the best options for cell phones. The struggle is real when it comes to reasonable cell plans for European travel. Canada is a great nation, with truly terrible cell plan rates, and that extends to European coverage. So shop around.
Step 6 – Airfare
I will be flying with WowAir, a relatively new airline based out of Iceland. They have super low rates, but a limited schedule. This low rate is offset a bit by the fact that you must purchase everything else separately, such as carry-on and checked bags, as well as a seat. “Seatbelt not included” has become a huge joke in my household recently. I chose to buy a one-way ticket, partly because I haven’t decided how long I will stay and travel after I am done Au Pairing and partly because buying a one-way ticket is on my bucketlist. Big check mark there. Sadly, there is no direct flight from Toronto or Montreal to Torino, so instead I will be flying into Paris and taking the train to Italy. This actually turned out to be a cheaper option and meant that I will get a hot sec to scope out Paris, somewhere I have never been.
Step 7 – The Stuff
Remember that at the end of the day you are responsible for caring for and entertaining children, so plan ahead. This is my zone, I have taught swimming lessons, volunteered at Children’s Hospitals and been a camp counselor, meaning I have an arts and activities box ready to go at a moment’s notice. I have had no luck in securing an adult, career-esque job, but people will trust me with their children, which I am taking to be a compliment. Things I am bringing include cupcake mix for the Canada Day party the kids and I will be having, host presents for the children and parents, small dice games, colouring books and picture books, as well as my art box. Something I learned from camp is to ration your ideas. It is sooooo tempting to break out your art box like Grandma Aggie Cromwell’s Halloween Town bag, a never-ending supply of fun, on day 1, but don’t. Save ideas and materials for down the road so you have something to fall back on if the weather is poor, or the kids are bored.
Step 8 – Meet Some Friends
I am sure my family will be awesome and I am really looking forward to spending quality time with them, but I also want to travel and thus need some friends. In order to secure some friends, I have reached out to people I know from school (thanks McGill for being so international) and joined a FB group for Au Pairs in Italy. This group is FULL of outgoing people looking to travel with other Au Pairs, and so far, I have been invited on many an outing, which has alleviated some anxieties about being lonely.
So, there you have it, how I became an Au Pair. Stay tuned as I live out this well concocted plan and explore Italy!