Many of us are dreaming about staying in a foreign country and enriching our lives with new meaningful and unforgettable adventures. An au pair programme is a really great way for making this dream come true, of course, if you like taking care of children, helping and you can be a little flexible as well. We believe that if the host family is great and welcoming and you like the work, this should be the best job ever, right? Meaning the kids love you back, your basic living needs are covered and you can explore the new places, practice the language and meet new friends…
This may sound very appealing to a lot of people but in reality it can be complicated. Once you start living with a host family, struggles may arise due, for example, to different expectations, homesickness or the work being too difficult.
Andrea, the founder of the UK based au pair and nanny agency Supremely www.supremely.co.uk was an au pair in London, UK herself some years ago too. She said that besides expressing herself in the non-native language, the most difficult part for her was adapting to the fast paced big city, cultural differences and different expectations. Andrea admits that she had an idealistic, very hospitable host family picture in her mind. She remembered that it was initially daunting to live with a family she hadn't known before, their hectic life, children misbehaving, witnessing happy moments but also less of them and cultural differences such as reading 'English' people who tend to be more indirect as in other countries. She then came to realization that it is just another family with their own ups and downs, living in the big city where an extra help to go on school runs and afternoons while the parents are still at work is almost a necessity. It took some time to overcome the initial shock but she came over it. It was about being a little more flexible, changing her perspective and just enjoying the time abroad and taking advantage of it. She got to know the family more and created a great bond with them. She had an opportunity to fly to Corsica for a week, had a lot of laughs with the kids who liked being funny, played games with them, went to the park with their cute dog regularly and she had a lot of free time to spend with her new friends. She even met her future husband during that time! She stayed with the family for more than a year as she was able to combine the au pair work with her additional teaching work and babysitting on the side. It was definitely a worthwhile and unforgettable part of her life. For Andrea, the family definitely turned out to be her ideal host family.
This was one person's au pair experience. As an agency, we spoke to many host families up to now, we listened to their wishes well so that we match them with best candidates possible, however we also ensured that they understood the au pair programme. Our goal is introducing nice, welcoming host families which in our view are ideal. We would divide them into two groups:
1) The families that are fair, respectful and are there for you if you need any help, however they wish to have some privacy and their own family time too, normally because they are very busy on weekdays and they would like to catch up on quality time with their family. This type of family can work for some au pairs as this way they too get a lot of privacy! Au pair may not be invited to family trips or events as much but they have plenty of free time on the weekends to meet their new friends, explore places and focus on courses, as they always wanted to do.
2) The other type of family are the ones that are extremely welcoming and often very sociable. They invite you to spend time together at their family gatherings, show you around and really treat you as a real family member. There are not many of those families because families are normally too busy, but if you are placed with this kind of family, it can be a truly amazing experience.
Both families are really good as long as you have relationship based on respect, commitment and some flexibility to adapt. As you probably know every relationship needs some work. It is about matching wishes and core values between both of you but also having an understanding and being able to adapt! As mentioned, in most cases there are some struggles, especially at the beginning of the au pair placement, however as long as the family is respectful and understanding and so are you, issues should be able to be resolved. You should understand that the family most likely hosts an au pair every year and they are completely aware that you will be leaving at some point too, and the family too should understand that an au pair comes from abroad to live with a family they never have known before, that these can be vulnerable times but happy and rewarding times.