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How to travel and experience life abroad: The life of an Au Pair

How many times do we hear that an experience of living abroad helps people to grow and enrich their own cultural knowledge? A lot. But what if you don’t have the opportunity to do that? It’s not that simple to just choose a country, find a job and an accommodation, which will also require sufficient funds. Among all the opportunities made for students like the Cultural Exchange and Erasmus programs, there’s another world which is getting a bit more popular nowadays among young people: the au pair world.

  •  But what does being an au pair mean exactly?

Working as an au pair means that you can move to a foreign country, start to live for free in a host family and in exchange help the them to take care of their kids (yes, this job involves kids, so you have to like them!) or do normal household chores like grocery shopping, cooking or light cleaning as well. Normally the au pair is in charge of doing different tasks like taking the kids to kindergarten or school, picking them up, taking them to their afternoon hobbies (if they have any), helping them with their homework and if required doing the laundry/cleaning/cooking. Obviously it is not as stressful as it sounds, as you’re seen as an extra family member who can give some help a bit here and there but you don’t have to do all by yourself! In fact, every host family has their own schedule and of course you’re going to have your deserved free time. Au pairs don’t pay any kind of rent and they get a weekly or monthly salary, or as it’s usually called, pocket money. Most of the times the host family is the one to decide the amount of the pocket money they want to pay you, based on the country and the working hours, but there are some limits (click here for more info). You also get to sign a real contract and you can accord with the host family how much time you want to spend with them. (In my case the contract didn’t have an ending date, as we got along so well that I could choose when it was time for me to leave).

The best way to explain how this whole world works is to tell you something about my experience. I’m Helena, 21 years old and at the moment I’m writing just a week before moving out of the first and only host family I’ve had in the past two years. Yes, you got it right! I have been an au pair for two years here in Helsinki, Finland.

  •     The origin of everything

It all started in July 2015, when I finished my studies in high school in Italy, where I am from. I didn’t have any kind of idea of what I really wanted to do after finishing school, I kept asking myself: should I find a job or keep studying? I wanted to have a gap year in which I would have enough time to think about my future, and a gap year abroad would have been the best idea. Before starting to tell you about the whole process I should mention that I’m half Finnish so before moving to Finland I had already been here many times during my life and already been speaking Finnish (even if not perfectly). So I kinda represent an “exception” to the standard au pair because I already knew the place and the culture I was about to dive into. 

I was ready to start this new adventure!

  •     The choice of the country to live in and the future family

During my life, Finland always represented my second home, but a home where I could only go one time a year to spend my summer holidays. But this time I really wanted to start a new life here so I made the important decision of trying to apply as an au pair in Finland.  While reading so many positive experiences online I got to know every aspect this job would require and I became very excited about it. Before even thinking about moving I had to find a family ready to host me. There’s a free website I highly recommend (click here to check it out) and it’s one of the most used by host families and au pairs. Basically it works like a dating website; you create your profile, fill out documents about your experience with kids, your personality and skills, your working and family preferences, and last but not least the most important one: the country where you want to be an au pair. It’s actually pretty easy as you just sort of introduce yourself to all the families out there. I started to get a lot of requests and I also contacted the families that looked good to me. It was November 2015 when I found this family in Helsinki that looked perfect, so we organized a first meeting via Skype where we talked about many things. It didn’t seem like a real job interview, more of a nice chat between friends. The host mom of the family told me that she would have to choose between me and two other girls and that made me a bit nervous because I really wanted to get the job. I waited for a week (or maybe two?) and then finally got a response: I was warmly welcomed to be part of the family starting from February 2016. Couldn’t believe it!

  •   How do I feel after the whole experience?

Almost exactly two years have passed now and I have so many good memories about the time I’ve spent as an au pair. I grew up a lot mentally and became more independent, learned how to make compromises and also to sacrifice myself sometimes and not be selfish, that’s part of the job. Being an au pair has helped me to reach the main goal I had: decide what I would do with my life after. In fact in September 2017 I happily started my studies at the University of Helsinki and I’m soon moving to my very first and own student apartment. I would never have imagined doing that two years ago!  While being an au pair, not only do you learn to do new things or to take care of kids, you also have the opportunity to take a look at all the chances you might have in the new country after you stop being an au pair; like job opportunities or schools.

Did I convince you?  Here are some tips I can give if you want to become and au pair:

  •  Think hard about it as it is an important step in your life. Make sure you’re mentally ready to move to a different country and face a culture that might be a bit distant from yours.
  •  Once you’re 100% sure about your decision, sign on the website that I linked above and create your personal profile.
  •  Be patient. Many families can contact you and then change their minds because they’re not totally sure.
  •  Be honest. Don’t lie about your experience and skills, just be yourself!
  •  If you’re going or coming from a country outside the EU make sure you take care of the Visa procedures, your future host family will help you with all the documents you need!
  •  Make sure you clearly specify how many hours you want to work and the free time you need (discuss it with the family). 
  • Usually it’s more fair that your host family pays for your flight, sim card, transport card etc. Be sure to agree about everything before moving, just to avoid misunderstandings.
  •  What about the language you have to speak? Usually the language required is English but the host family may offer to pay you language lessons of the country you’re living in, which is amazing if you want to learn a new language!
  • The first days you will feel a bit lonely and disorientated, but don’t worry! You can check on Facebook the au pair groups in your city to make new friends from all over the world and share your experience! I met some amazing people during these years.
  • Every possible doubt or question you have, click here to take a look at the Au Pair’s A to Z guide.

Good luck to everyone who’s thinking about starting this fantastic adventure, you won’t regret it! 

Photos by: Jenn Evelyn-Ann, Thiago Cerqueira

 

Born in Rome,Italy and half finnish as well. Have been living in Helsinki for two years and started my studies at the University of Helsinki last autumn. So nice to take part of the community! :)
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