Au Pair Travel – AWord to the Adventurous

So, you’re young, you’re bright, and you’re adventurous. You’ve studied the foreign language and are determined to learn it proficiently. You’d like to travel the world and see new places, and not just see but experience them to the full – which means you have to find a way to stay in a country long enough. Au pair programs seem to be a good deal – you get free room, free food, 50 to 100 Euros per week in pocket money in exchange for something obscurely called childcare. Shouldn’t be more difficult than the babysitting with your little niece, right? In most countries au pairing isn’t even considered a job, so it’s not like you’re becoming a nanny or a maid – surely your hosts can afford to hire those people as well. You see your role as a native tongue teacher – how difficult can that be? And you’ll probably have plenty of time to experience another country and maybe – just maybe – find your other half there.

Well, this type of reasoning makes au pair experience hard on everybody. Yes, au pair is not a job per se, usually there’s no contract with the family, au pairs don’t need a work permit. Yes, the families are to treat an au pair as an equal, almost like an older offspring. But the reason most families take part in au pair programs is their need for help – mostly with children, occasionally with homecare. In addition, most choose au pairs over nannies for the simple reason that nannies’ help is more expensive per hour – meaning they aren’t that rich, and even if they seem rich to you, they may have lots of other expenses you don’t even consider.

Every situation is different, of course, but it is better to go au pair with work-oriented attitude. This way, if your workload won’t be quite as big, it will be a pleasant development, which is much easier to take than other way around. Another important part of being a successful au pair is an open mindset – remember, you’re going there to learn about their culture, not to enforce your own. If their food is different, for example (another very common grievance among aupairs), you can’t really insist on cooking your own if they don’t want it – and if your gastronomic preferences are too dear to you, well, find out theirs in advance, and if they are so different, look for another host family. And this is just one example – many au pairs can say they wished they knew this or that little thing in advance, so – communicate!
Au pairs should be: a) mature, b) adaptable. Mature enough to coordinate their own desires and even needs, such as exploration, adventure, and fellowship, with the needs of others, particularly their host family. Naturally, there is time for both, but there should be a balance: you can’t very well party till 3 a.m. and get your host’s kids ready for school at 7.

A lot’s been said about au pairs’ workload: some au pairs claim they’re being exploited, while the hosts perceive them to be less than industrious, mildly put. The reason? As with most everything else, cultural differences and misconceptions about au pairs. “Au pair” or “on par” means, among other things, equal workload, at least in theory – and it seems to be fair enough if an au pair shoulders some home care as well, including the dreaded bathroom cleaning. The rule of the thumb should be “You use – you clean” (the life would’ve been so much simpler if this rule was being followed in every family). Of course, if you’re moving into the mansion full of servants, you can probably skip this paragraph, however, most au pairs aren’t. So there it is – cleaning is a part of life (in most cultures, anyhow). The same can be said of other house duties. Those au pairs who were used to this at home will have much easier time abroad.