I’ve been working as an au pair for about six months now and in this blog, I share my experience and what I have learned so far with you. I hope that it will help you get a better view of what being an au pair is and whether or not it would be something for you.
How it all started
After high school I decided to go study at the Technical University Delft, it seemed like the thing I had to do. I had always done everything the way I thought was expected of me, so studying at the university my dad is a professor at seemed like another one of those things. I had always loved physics so I decided, after honestly not a lot of thinking about it, to study Applied Physics. After three rough years, I finally came to terms with the fact that this was not making me happy one tiny bit and that this was never going to lead to a happy career or life for me. I reconsidered my study decision, Mechanical Engineering this time, and started over, but this wasn’t it either. I had been miserable for quite some time and I needed to clear my head and truly find out who I am, what makes me happy and what I want to do in life. My parents were really supportive of this and my mum even advised me to quit my second study because she saw how miserable it was making me. She suggested that I should take the year off, go abroad for a year and figure it all out. I’m honestly very lucky because I know not all parents would give this advice, especially after their kid just wasted 4 years at uni spending their money.
A good friend of mine – who I went backpacking in Sri Lanka with last summer – told me about her experience as an au pair in Rome. It sounded like something I would really like to do since I’d had been working with kids a lot before and loved that. So after making a profile on au pair world and finding a family, I packed my bags in September and moved to London to start my adventure as an au pair.
Arriving at my new home
After a short flight – from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to London Gatwick Airport – and a little train time, I arrived in Wimbledon. Nynke, the mother of Emilia and Leon, was waiting for me with the car to pick me up and drive me to her home, which would soon be my temporary home too. The children and Nico, Leon’s and Emilia’s father, were waiting for me and were very excited to see me. We had a cup of tea with cupcakes, which the kids had decorated, and afterwards, they showed me to my room. My room was full of pictures the kids had made for me, on every one of them was written: ‘Welcome Nin’. – They call me Nin so there is no confusion between me and their mum for others. – I got some time to get settled and once I was moved in I spend time with the kids to get to know them.
My first week in London, Nynke was still free from work. She showed me around the neighbourhood and taught me the kids’ routine. This week was very easy for me, I was with Nynke most of the time and all I really had to do was take a lot of new information in so I would be able to apply it the next week and all the weeks I would be here after that. I got to bond with the kids and the parents over dinner and had time to explore the area a bit and start making friends.
Week two was a difficult week for me, not because I had to take care of the kids without Nynke’s help, that all went fine, but because Nico’s parents had come to visit from Argentina for a week. You can imagine that even though I had lived in the house for about a week I still felt like a stranger in someone’s home – that’s normal I think. So when more people who I did not know, but who did know the kids, showed up I felt more and more like an intruder. Nico’s parents were around a lot and, when they came over for dinner, Nico and Nynke didn’t ask me to join dinner at all anymore. I would usually find out that they were having dinner halfway through and I am pretty shy so I didn’t dare to join at that point.
Nico’s parents stayed for a week, I felt miserable and left out and started to wonder if I had made the right call coming here. Luckily Nynke came to me at the end of the week to have a chat, I opened up to her about my feelings and she understood and felt a little bad. They had never intended to make me feel this way.
The thing that got me through this week was that I had met some nice people and went out for drinks a lot. I could talk to them about my situation and they encouraged me to stick it out at the times I really really wanted to quit.
After my talk with Nynke I felt more welcome. We made some agreements about dinner and such – they would text me when dinner was ready, if I didn’t cook that night, when they thought I wanted my privacy, so that I could decide for myself if I wanted to join or not – and I started to connect with the kids more and more.
After that it’s been some smooth sailing, of course, I had some moments that I wanted to work with better-behaved kids but so far I’ve been always able to work it out. Leon can be very stubborn but he loves computers and magic, so when he has one of his moments I just ask him a computer question or talk to him about what he would do if he had a magic wand and everything then is fine. Emilia is the sweetest girl ever so I’m very lucky with her. She loves to cuddle and do puzzles and almost never misbehaves when she is with me. She can kick off when she is with her mum though, probably because she is a very emotion child and secretly misses her mum a lot from time to time.
What I’ve learned
This experience has been, apart from everything else, educational. I’ve learned a lot about dealing with and taking care of children and in a way also about dealing with people. But I also learned a lot about myself and have improved some parts that I didn’t really like about myself.
For one, I am more patient with people now. Believe me; you have to be when working with kids these many hours a day. Secondly, I am less insecure and don’t care what people think of me as much as I used to. When Leon gets nasty I used to take it very personally, I don’t anymore. He just needs to let off steam and when he calms down we’re the best of friends again. I also was able to figure out what I want in life and where my passion is at. This is what I really wanted and I’m glad that this year, or past six months, has helped me with that.
I’ve agreed on staying here for another 6 months but to be honest, I’m thinking about leaving a bit sooner. The weather in London can be very depressing and it’s bringing me down more than I would like to admit. Other than that I feel like I don’t have enough time off – I work six days a week – to explore the country and recharge and it’s stressing me out, it would have been much better if I’d work the same amount of hours in a five day period. I have a contract which says I can leave after a month of giving notice, so I might leave at the end of April to work in a hostel in Prague or someplace else. That’s what I’m trying to figure out for myself right now.
Next year I will start an education in Holland – Rotterdam to be exact – Higher Tourism and Recreation Education, where I will learn all about getting tourists to cities and events. This is an education during which I will have the opportunity to travel a lot for internships, during my minor and on field trips.
If you are thinking about becoming an au pair, I would definitely recommend it. I’ve learned a lot during these last six months alone already, I’ve met new people who became close friends and I fell in love with one of the most beautiful cities on earth while living only half an hour by train away from the city centre. One thing you need to know is that you will be spending most of your time working with kids and even during the hours you are off you’ll be surrounded by the children because you’ll live in the same house, there for it utterly most important that you love kids! If this is the case…. Go for it!
Here some tips you might need when looking for a host family
- Use aupairworld.com
Read more about this website on my blog about Working Abroad
- Make sure you have enough time off
When living abroad you will want to explore this new country you’re in, you can only do this if you have some days off. I would say at least two, this way you can go to a different city for the weekend or go on a vigorous day trip on one of your days off and relax on the other.
- Have a contract with a notice
If you are committing to something this big you should be able to leave if you want to. When there is a notice in your contract it means that you can quit anytime you want and leave after the several days/weeks that your notice requires.
- Learn as much about the kids and family in advance as you can
By doing this, you will know better what you are getting yourself into. So google, facebook and email away! Learn all about the kids’ school hours, after-school activities and hobbies.
And don’t hesitate to ask me any questions; I’d love to help you with your travel adventures.