A few years ago, like so many people, I had no idea what an au pair was, I had never heard of the word but now, I blurt that word out endlessly to anyone looking for an adventure. The program changed my life and many others, opening your eyes to so much we are blinded from in our own comfort zone. The program is a great gap year option or for someone like me, a way to branch out of your country and learn more about yourself and find your individuality.
What is an au pair?
The term au pair comes from the french, meaning “on equal terms.”
An au pair is a girl/guy between the ages of 18 and 26, who leaves their country to work for, and live as part of, a host family.
What is a host family?
A host family is a native family in need of childcare services for various reasons (parents’ work schedule is usually a huge factor). You may match with a big host family or a smaller family, you will have to decide if you can handle more than one kid and what ages you can confidently take care of. The matching process is definitely two-sided, both you and your potential host family must feel a natural connection.
How does the au pair program work?
Depending on where you plan on going, some places will require you to use an au pair agency and in other countries you can easily find a family on your own through online sites (I have not used this option and will not be able to tell you how well it works and how safe it may be). A country like North America will require an agency because of the US VISA requirements, an agency will sponsor your VISA and in return, you must complete a certain amount of class hours/credits.
You are here to learn a new culture and teach your host family about your own culture, this is the exchange part of the program. Your family will share their traditions with you, like Christmas Baking and Summer vacation traditions. You can show them how to make your favorite dish or teach your host kids a song from your country. It is important to keep an open mind and understand that there might be a huge culture shock, you must try your best to adjust but it is also good to know that sometimes things might not work out.
How long can an au pair stay?
The program is, in most cases, a year-long. If you have completed the required school credit you will be given the opportunity to extend for 6, 9 or 12 months. The longest you can stay is two years in the united states. If you are a European au pair and are placed within Europe, you might not have a problem.
What if I don’t like my host family?
During the interview process, you will only Skype or call your family a few times, you will be excited and nervous. It is hard to base your compatibility in 3 phone calls and most times you will only know how well it works when you finally arrive at your new home and spend more time with your host family. There are many amazing families, like mine, who you will go on to spend more than just the year but in some cases, you will find that it just isn’t working out for whatever reason. In this case, you will need to speak to your host parents and come up with solutions to help each other, if that does not work you will have a meeting with your LCC/Area Director (this is the person who is in charge of the au pairs in your area) where you will all try to find better solutions to whatever may not be working out or if both you and the family agree that maybe it’s not going to work out, you will be able to find a new host family. This option can be very stressful because you will only have TWO weeks to find a new family or you will have to return back to your home country.
Au pairing is not for everyone, it should not be just a ‘travel’ option, the most important part about being an au pair is a genuine interest in children, your life over your time as an au pair revolves around your host kids, you will play the role of big sister, teacher, and friend.
This isn’t a typical job, when your day is over you don’t leave your ‘job’. Your ‘office’ is also your home and you are employed by your host family but they are no different than your own family. There are good days and there are bad days, but it will be an experience that will definitely change your life.