Do You (Child) Care? Why Not Au Pair?! Part One

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Enticed by the idea of living abroad for a little while, but studying abroad isn’t for you?  You may be close to high school graduation and now are considering something to do on a gap year.  Perhaps you need income while traveling independently overseas, or wish to give your resume a bit of a kick in the pants.  Have you considered serving as an Au Pair?


What is an Au Pair?


The simplest way to describe this arrangement is that you serve as a glorified nanny overseas.  The term “Au Pair” is from the French, roughly meaning “the same.”  The upshot is that you are to be treated as one of the family, not as an employee.   You are paid to work with your host parents’ children, but the income should be considered as something akin to an allowance, not a paycheck.

You live with the family in their home, and they feed you at no cost to you.  This kind of living situation where rent and food is covered is known as “room and board.”   There are Au Pair arrangements where young men and women from other countries become an Au Pair in America.  Similarly, you, as an American, can apply to various countries abroad to become an Au Pair.  Many nations, unfortunately, do not participate in Au Pair programs.  Of those that do, each has its own particular requirements of both the host family and the Au Pair.

What’s in it for me?


The perks of being an Au Pair are many, especially if you love kids!  As mentioned previously, your room and board are covered by your host family.  You will learn the language of your host country, or improve what you already do speak, significantly.   You will have an unparalleled opportunity to get to know fascinating people well in your chosen country and make new, lifelong friends.

Shopping abroad

Au Pairs are paid a salary and given time off, so you will have both the time and the funds to do some traveling.  When you return to the USA you will have an unforgettable experience to relate to your own friends and family as well as something on your resume that says you are adaptable, responsible and, probably, multilingual!


What do I need to do first?


Before anything, you need to spend a little time in some honest self-reflection to decide if this is a viable option for you.

  • Carefully read my post “Is becoming a Foreign Exchange Student Right for Me?
    • There are several traits mentioned that successful young travelers abroad need to possess, regardless of whether they study or work abroad.  You will need to be honest with yourself and ask yourself if you share these traits too.  Ask a couple of trusted adults who know you well (parents, clergy, or teachers) if they agree.  Since you are reading this, I am very optimistic that you do!
  • Take an honest assessment of how much you enjoy children.Unhappy child
    • Not everyone is cut out to be a stellar sitter, and that is okay!   Experience taking care of younger siblings and/or babysitting for other families will serve you well here.  Now, I have a somewhat painful thought experiment for you.  I want you to think of the most ill-behaved youngster you know.  How would you go about taking good care of him or her – without speaking one word?  I fervently hope that any and all kids you would serve abroad would be sweet little angels.  However, it’s important to consider the worst-case childcare scenario.  A successful Au Pair will often have to have the patience of a saint – one with only limited communication skills in his or her adopted country!  This is another discussion you should have with trusted adults in your life.  What childcare tips and tricks could they provide you?
  • Everyone will want you to speak English with them.
    • Remember, the reason YOU have been given this responsibility and not your host father’s cousin Helga is because the host family strongly desired to have a native English speaker perpetually present. You’ll need to not feel uncomfortable when mom, dad and the kids speak less-than-perfect English.  Likewise, their own language.  They will understand if you don’t have formal English-as-a-Foreign-Language training.  For the most part, you will be expected to help everyone practice their English just by conversing with them in it.  Here’s another thought experiment.  Do you have what it takes to gently and patiently correct any errors in a non-native English speaker’s conversation with you?
  • Finally, be prepared to consider that childcare work as an Au Pair is, well… work.
    • Although you are, as discussed above, considered part of the family, you will nevertheless work hard as an Au Pair, as you may have had to yourself as an older sibling in your own home.  On any particular day, you may be called upon to get the kids up and out of bed and ready for school.  So no sleeping in except for your day off!  Once they are in school, you will usually have to attend a language school yourself.  This should only last an hour or two per day, however, so you’ll have the rest of the school day to yourself (as long as the kids’ laundry and cleaning is complete).  Now when the little ones get home from school – you guessed it – it’s homework time!   You may be relieved of some work once the parents get home, or you may need to cook dinner.  Once all are bathed and in bed, you can finally take a few precious moments to Instagram your friends and family back home.  If your charges aren’t in school yet… all bets are off!


Ready to find out more about being an Au Pair, including what to look for in an Au Pair arrangement?   Part Two answers these questions and more, so keep reading!

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