Why Au Pair Friends Make the Best Friends

Featured imageFriends come in all shapes and sizes, but the ones made abroad last a lifetime. In Amsterdam, I hung out with au pairs exclusively. This year, it’s a fun mix of students, teachers, au pairs and expats. However, there’s something special about an au pair friend (so special that you look at your au pair friends like you’re going to eat them, as I do in the picture on the left). Thanks to Easter holidays, and therefore general partying, socialising and networking, I’ve really been slacking here-so I thought a post to celebrate the ones who distracted me the most was in order. Without further ado, XXX reasons why au pair friends rule all friends

  1. Kid stories. Only other au pairs know how it warms your heart to receive a self portrait from a five year old, or to hear a baby say their first word.
  2. Culture shock. Some of us don’t even know we’re in its midst, some of us handle it better than others, but it’s always better not to go it alone.
  3. Travel opportunities. When the year is over, you can visit each other at home!
  4. Poking fun at the local people together. Now, of course you became an au pair to experience a new culture. However, the deeper we dive into our host countrys’ customs, the weirder things get. Complaining about the natives is, in my opinion, a normal part of culture shock (but not necessarily one you’ll want to share with your host parents!).
  5. #aupairproblems. We all know that some of our struggles aren’t so real, but they’re ours. (top ten au pair problems coming soon).
  6. Getting to know your city is easier when you’ve got back up with you.
  7. Free time is best spent outside of your room, house and the world of childcare.
  8. Crying together. From parties to host families to kids and friends, the drama involved in being an au pair is legit,
  9. Laughing together. After a long week of diapers, it’s easy to feel so off your rocker that you burst into a laugh attack as soon as the weekend starts. When you have your bestie by your side sharing the sentiment, you might look slightly less nuts.
  10. Growing up together. Whether you’re 17 or 27, an au pair year teaches you about a world you’ve probably never seen, socially, geographically, emotionally, and all the other -allys. Just when you think you’re an adult, becoming an au pair pushes you to mature much, much more, causing those who do so with you become  just like childhood friends.

See also: Making Friends as an Au Pair

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Bonding With Kids Who Can’t Understand a Darn Word You Say

Featured imageThose who only want to travel have options on a strict budget have options; WWOOFing, volunteering, teaching,and work-and-travel programs are all rapidly gaining popularity. Au pairing, however, offers the opportunity to work closely with children.Personally, I didn’t become an au pair just to travel. I love children and also wanted the opportunity to use something I enjoy as a means of supporting myself. I hope (and believe) that this sentiment is shared with many au pairs. Often, host families choose us because they hope we can teach their kids French/German/English/Klingon etc., which makes bonding difficult. So, we want to be close to “our” kids, but what’s an au pair to do when said kids can’t don’t speak his/her language?

First, get down on their level. Literally. Imagine living in a world where you have to crane your neck to look anyone in the eye. Standing to talk to a four year old can be intimidating for them, especially when they don’t know what you’re saying. Crouch or sit on the floor when speaking to your host kids and do your best to establish direct eye contact in order to get a better response and hold their attention.

Second, get silly and play lots. Sing songs with the kids, have fashion shows, dance parties and make dumb faces with them. If your host kid likes dinosaurs, perfect your t-rex walk. If she likes cats, learn to meow with abandon.

Thirdly, find wordless ways to show affection. Some kids are super cuddly. Take advantage of this. Tickling, hugging and laughing together are all ways to help a child warm up to you. Surprise them with special activities, like baking cookies together. Participate in activities like digging in a sandbox or jumping on a trampoline rather than just supervising.

Above all, be patient. Learning a new language is hard, and can be both emotionally and mentally exhausting. Remain calm, speak in short sentences and remember that, just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, Latin wasn’t learned in one either.

Poll: What would you like to read about?

Featured imageHooray, it’s our very first poll! I want to thank all those of you who follow AuPairAnswers through email and WordPress, and also those of you who check up on the blog through the web. In order to make AuPairAnswers more helpful and fun for everyone I’ve made a poll to see what all the au pairs out there would most like to read about. Please take a second to vote, share your ideas in the comments, or email me at:  apanswergirl@outlook.com. 

Merci,  danke, bedankt, gracias, grazie, abrigado, and many, many thanks for your input!

Arrival To-Do List

Featured imageVisas and registration aside, au pairs should keep in mind that there are housekeeping items which, when taken care of early, will make life much easier. So, as a quick, “spring cleaning” themed post, I’ve compiled a list of things I did put off for several weeks when I arrived in my host family’s home. Taking care of the following items in your first two weeks of au pairing will help break down that pesky barrier between tourist and local and help you integrate into your new country.

  1. Unpack. (My host mom will get a kick out of this one)
  2. Purchase a public transport card. Consider how often you will travel to your nearest city, what kind of transportation you will use most (bus, train etc.), and whether cards are offered in monthly, yearly or top-up options, and what will saveyou the most money.
  3. Arrange a SIM card and mobile phone. Your phone from home might not be usable in your host country, but in most of Europe, simple, SIMlock-free phones are available for 25 Euros. A pay-as-you-go card is the smartest option for au pairs.
  4. Work out a schedule with your host family.
  5. Meet the kids’ teachers and any other caregivers. It’s important that they know who you are, even when child pick-up/drop-off  isn’t part of your regular hours.
  6. Choose a language course. While you may not be able to start right away, picking one early a) guarantees you a spot b) allows you and your host parents to discuss creating a schedule around your lessons, and c) gives you time to have your language level assessed to ensure you choose an appropriate course.
  7. Pick 2 things you would like to do your first weekend. Choose one rainy-day activity such as a museum or cafe, and one sunny day activity, like an outdoor market or park. Beginning to explore your surroundings from week one, even when you have to do it alone, will help you make the most out of your AP stay.

Get these out of your way so you can put your best foot forward into your time as an au pair, and share in the comments what else APs need to do to set the stage for their adventure!

Tips for Improving Your Language Skills

Featured imageMany au pairs choose a host country in order to learn a new language. A second language can improve career prospects, enrich one’s life and broaden one’s horizons. My personal belief is that in knowing a country’s national language and speaking it with locals earns respect and helps an au pair transition from being viewed as a “tourist” to a “cosmopolitan”. However, upon arrival, using your skills can be intimidating, confusing and difficult. Even when you have all the words, sometimes the confidence to say them aloud disappears. As a language lover, I feel everybody deserves the privilege of saying “Hi, my name is X and I can speak two languages”. Or better yet, three/four/five/eleven/one hundred. I want to share with you some of my own tips and tricks for learning a new language.

When You’re Just Starting Out:

  1. Enroll in a Language course. In some countries, your host parents are responsible for bearing part or all of the cost of your language course. Sometimes, the au pair pays for his or her own course. Discuss what your HPs are comfortable paying as early as possible, and before you arrive, have a little money put away specifically for a language course.Universities, libraries and tourist information centres can usually provide information on local options. Alternatively, research free and low-cost options online.
  2. Watch TV and movies with subtitles on. I tried subtitles-free learning through movies, but I found the combination of hearing a word aloud and reading it in my native language helped me expand my vocabulary faster.
  3. Learn to spell. Understanding the spelling of words is vital to understanding their meanings. As you learn to spell, you may have an easier time relating words in your new language back to those in your own language. This will also help you begin to distinguish advjectives/adverbs/nouns and verbs based on their endings (-ly as in friendly becomes -lich in freundlich, and also appears in farblich, and sportlich; these are all adjectives).
  4. Try to read the kids books. They may not have the patience for you to read to them while you’re still stumbling over words, but, just like in primary school, the pictures will help clarify the meaning of the words.
  5. Listen to music. Learn some songs in your new language, and sing along!

When you’re more advanced:

  1. Speak with your host parents. Often, au pairs find it difficult to use a non-native language with their host parents, even when they use it with kids, at the supermarket and in the bar. Tell them that you’re enthusiastic about learning. Ask them to speak slowly if necessary. Initiate the conversation yourself, so that you feel in control. Start when they first come home from work by asking how their day was, and use topics you’re comfortable with, such as weather, kids or food.
  2. Get a library card. Libraries make great outings for kids, too! Young adult novels are great for practicing a new language because they have interesting plots but the diction usually isn’t too high.
  3. Join a conversation group or find a tandem partner. Tandem partners are people who want to learn your language and are native speakers of a language you want to learn. Conversation groups are similar, but usually involve more people and a mix of native and non-native speakers. check Facebook and Google for nearby opportunities.
  4. Write in your journal using your new language. This is great practice and helps you learn to think in a second language the same way you would with your first language.

Growing through another language is a magical experience. Learning the local language in your host country is one of the ways to make the most of your au pair year; you’ll be exposed to a deeper understanding of the culture you otherwise wouldn’t have. Have fun, and Good luck!

Internet Safety: How to Spot a Scam

Unfortunately, au pairs are vulnerable to dangerous scams, especially when searching for a family online. What do scammers want from young people? Best case scenario, money. Worst case scenario, they’re part of a human trafficking ring looking to prey upon travellers (for further education on present-day human trafficking, visit http://www.endslaverynow.org) Scams may be hard to spot at first, but there are a few red flags to watch for that can help you stay safe.

Signs of a Scam

  • Unrealistic pay for a light workload. For reference, the highest paid au pairs currently work in the USA, at weekly rate of 195.75 for 45 hours of work (4.35 USD/hour + free room and board), Switzerland at 500-700 Francs per month for 30 hours each week (minimum 4.16 Francs/4.34 USD/3.88 Euros per hour + free room and board), and Australia at 200-250 AUD for a 30 hour week (6.67 AUD/4.62 Euros/5.19 USD per hour + free room and board).
  • Too-good-to-be-true accommodations. While some families are very wealthy or have spacious houses and are able to offer lots of space and privacy for their au pairs, proceed with caution when a large room with a king-sized bath on a separate floor of the house/apartment is accompanied by other suspicious signs.
  • A family’s/agency’s language skills are inconsistent with other evidence. For example, a family of UK citizens with English names like “John Miller” or “Amy Smith” who frequently use awkward language and grammar are probably not actually John Miller and Amy Smith. If it looks like Google translate wrote it, Google translate probably wrote it. Phrases like “We offer big house and nice child” from a supposedly native English speaking family or “Many rich families look for au pair girl” from an American “agency” are red flags.
  • A family refuses to Skype or talk on the phone. If you don’t want to hear the voice of the person who will be spending 20+ hours with your kids, in my book you’re not actually looking for an au pair.
  • Email responses don’t match the questions you ask. When you ask, “What do your kids like to do best with their au pair?” And their reply has nothing to do with their kids or previous au pair,  it’s probably because they’ve never had one. Limited information on the family and children paired with a long list of perks is an indicator of a scam.
  • A family asks you for money directly. Reasons for asking could be because they need to buy your ticket, insurance, or pay for an agency, but it should be seen as an alarm bell.

For your safety…

  • Never send money to a family, family’s ‘travel agent’ during matching, and in general, don’t send money to anyone you don’t know.
  • Never accept a placement without Skyping or speaking to a family over the phone (preferably multiple times)
  • Do your best to get references on a family before matching with them
  • Have enough money to stay at a hostel for a week in case of emergency (such as arriving to a non-existent placement)
  • Know emergency contact numbers in your host country before arriving

When things just don’t seem right, err on the side of caution and drop contact. Report suspicious messages to the service that you’re using so they can be properly checked out. There are plenty of 100% real families out there, so never “take a chance” on something fishy because you’re not sure you;ll find another host. Be safe, have fun, and trust your gut!

Making Friends as an Au Pair

Everybody needs a friend. While I’m sure I don’t need to provide evidence to support this, I will anyway. Au pairs need friends because…

  1. Culture shock is tough, but it’s tougher alone.
  2. Travelling is better with a buddy.
  3. We need someone to take goofy, touristy pictures with in front of landmarks.
  4. In the beginning, it helps to have a more experienced au pair show us around.
  5. Once we’ve gained experience, it’s fun to pass our knowledge on to incoming au pairs.
  6. Au pair friends make the best friends (more on this later).
  7. The friends we make while we’re abroad will be our friends forever.

It can be intimidating to approach new people anywhere, let alone in a new country. The following methods have served/continue to serve me well. Here’s a list of places to find friends and ways to meet people:

  • Language courses. In the Netherlands, I had the extreme fortune of attending a Dutch course specifically for au pairs, where I met some of my very best friends. Look for a course for au pairs. There are also many classes at universities geared toward young people and international students which would be useful for making friends (I’ll be taking one at the University of Vienna this year).
  • Your host family. These are the first people you make contact with, and they likely want to help you thrive socially. Ask your HM/HD about friends, family or neighbours who have au pairs, and have them help you get in touch with them. The “Au Pair Jones Effect” is a phenomenon wherein when one family in a community has an au pair, others will follow. Even in the village of 200 I lived in there were 3 (now 4) au pairs; that’s 1.5% of the population!
  • A former au pair. The guy/girl you’re replacing probably made at least a couple friends in their year. Get in touch over Facebook, and have them hook you up with some of their buddies. I made my first friend of the year this way.
  • Facebook groups. I’ll save the lecture on internet safety for later. There’s a clever au pair trick for making friends over Facebook; Just type “Au pairs in [insert nearest major city]” in the search bar, and ask to join the group. There are always people looking for someone to meet up with and suggestions for fun outings. Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Vienna, Dublin, Cork and many more have particularly active groups.
  • Your agency/LCC. Yet another great reason to use an agency when becoming an au pair. Your agency will be more than happy to get you in touch with other au pairs. Contact your agency counselor and ask if there are any other APs looking for friends (there are).
  • Just ask. If you’re on the playground and you see a seven and an eight year old who is waaaay too young to have a seven and eight year old, looks nothing like them, and is speaking a different language than they are/with a heavy accent, just ask! A good friend of mine met two other APs this way (she was a bit of a champion in this department). The absolute worst that can happen is they say no, and you have a pleasant conversation about your impression of the city so far.

Remember, by meeting new people you’re not risking much, but there is so, so much to gain from having friends in your year abroad. These people will go through more with you in one year than your family has in your entire life. You’ll be homesick together, you’ll learn together, you’ll grow together, you’ll laugh (and laugh, and laugh, and laugh) together, you’ll share secrets and stories and you’ll bawl your brains out when it’s time to leave. So jump on the AP emotional roller coaster, and hold your best buddy’s hand tight while you do it.

FYI and Topic Requests

Ideally, I want au pair answers to have a new post up every three days. To those of you who are noticing some slacking, I assure you that it’s only because I’m happily settling in with my new host family. In the mean time, I would love to get some topic suggestions. Go nuts on the comment section below, or email me at apanswergirl@outlook.com .

Thank you all for your continued support and patience. Hope to hear from you soon!

Becoming an Au Pair: Your Step-By-Step Guide (EU Edition)

Ah, the beginning of your au pair journey-full of hope and excitement. How can I best describe the emotions a prospective au pair goes through? Enthused? Independent? Free? Fearless? Frustrated? Confused? Daunted? What the H is an Apostille? What have I gotten myself into?!

At least, that was my progression. I did all the fun stuff like picking a family and refining my language skills before properly dealing with the red tape, when things should always, ALWAYS be done the other way around. As a preventative measure for any APs-to-be out there, I’ve put together a guideline of the proper course of action, in chronological order. Note that while much of this guide will apply to most au pair situations, it’s modeled after my personal experience being an au pair in the EU (American and Working Holiday versions to come in the future).

Step 1: Do a little research on the basic requirements. Au Pair World is a good resource. Select a country you’re interested in from the list at the bottom of the page and us their “Quick Check” to see if you qualify to become an au pair there.

Step 2: Call the embassy of your chosen host country. Ask them about:

  • Documents required to travel to your host country (may include visas and bank statements)
  • Documents required to apply for a residence permit (may include host family contract, police records check,or legalized birth certificate)
  • Whether there is a minimum amount of personal funds required to become an au pair
  • Whether you must apply for a visa before travelling to your host country

Step 3: Gather together the documents you already have. Some documents and processes like legalization will cost extra money. It’s best to save these for when you’ve chosen a family and are sure you’re becoming an au pair.

Step 4: Choose a family. While most families will start looking for an au pair one to four months in advance of the start date, I recommend an au pair begin their search no later than four months in advance. This will give you plenty of time to arrange any additional documents that you don’t already have. If you can, use a reputable agency in your host country to find a host family.

Step 5: Purchase tickets and arrange remaining documents. Be prepared to spend a fair amount of money on legalization, preparatory language courses and police clearances if you need them. Tickets are cheapest when you book them at least nine weeks in advance.

Step 6: Say hello to your new family!

Step 7: Register with the local authorities. Most EU countries require au pairs to declare themselves at the municipal office in their new city of residence soon (three days to a month) after arrival. Call the embassy or talk to your host family about registration. If you are applying for a visa/residence permit from within your host country, you must do so within three months of arrival. The sooner, the better.

Step 8: Have fun, be safe and learn lots!

I know that this isn’t a very specific or comprehensive guide. I also know that I was very overwhelmed by the process. My hope is that these steps will help shed a little light on how to become an au pair, and more importantly, how to do so stress-free. Get ready for a great year!

For additional help, check out Choosing a Country and Choosing a Family.

This post was a topic request from the author of Days in Deutschland, a feel-good blog about au pair life in Germany. Click here to read some of her witty posts.

Make a Travel Bucket List

Featured imageI had a great time in the Netherlands. I left knowing Amsterdam’s entertainment district like the back of my hand. I visited almost every major city and attended local festivals. My Dutch is good (or at least as good as a non-native’s can get, what with everyone speaking English). However, I passed up on the opportunity to travel around Europe for silly reasons (too much, not interested, no credit card to book tickets). Fortunately, I’m getting a second  chance this year. Vienna is very well connected to several major European cities, so I’ve decided to  make a travel bucket list  this year and hold myself to it. First, some tips for building your own:

Tip #1: Do some research. Pick your favourite places, then look into them a little more. To use Canada as an example: Many visitors aren’t aware that they can’t stay in Toronto and take a day trip to Vancouver. Rather, it’s a 50+ hour car ride or 6 hour flight costing upwards of $600. Look into how accessible your destination is and how much it will cost. Consider turning far-away cities into multiple destination road trips (i.e., Copenhagen/Berlin/Prague by train, then fly home, or driving from New York to Orland and hitting some major Atlantic cities on the way down).

Tip #2: Take advantage of the resources you have available. If you have any friends or family in your host country, hitting them up for a visit is a great way to save on lodging. You’ll also have a personal tour guide! Find out if there are any ultra cheap passes for students, special deals at particular times of year, or discount transport services like Megabus in your region.

Tip #3: Plan waaaaaaaaaaaay in advance. Ask your host parents what their vacation plans are. Usually, you’ll take your vacation time when they take theirs. Allow yourself plenty of time to put enough money away to make your trip happen (as all au pairs know, every penny counts!).

Without further ado, here’s my European Travel Bucket list:

1. Bratislava

2. Prague

3. A tour-of-France (I’m lucky enough to have two very good friends there)

  • Lyon
  • Paris
  • Nantes
  • Cannes

4. Monaco (to finish off above tour)

5. Amsterdam

It’s official! It’s immortalized in the Blogosphere! No excuses this time!

What’s on your bucket list?