The 12 Realities About Being an Au Pair

So you want to travel. You want to see the world. You want to be wanderlust. You have saved up enough money to buy a plane ticket and a few months abroad… but you know what would be better? Getting paid as you lived abroad. So after much googling, you’ve decided the path for you is au pairing. You were really good at babysitting anyways throughout high school, so what a great way to travel! Even though it is a great way to travel and indulge yourself in another culture, here are a few things you really will not realize until you have reached the other side of the world starting your new job with a family you barely know.

  1. The kids will be nothing like the pictures you saw while reviewing their profile. Sure, they will look adorable and have their quirky moments when all you want to do is hug them and you feel great for having chosen to do this, but there will be moments when you believe those cute little photos tricked you. Kids will be kids, they will get into trouble, they will fall and hurt their knees and they’ll do their best in tricking you. I could be rich by now if you paid me a euro for every time I heard the phrase, “but my mom and my last nannies let me do this!” Sure kid, I believe you.
  2. You will realize the way you want to raise your kids. You are working for someone else’s rules, so if the kid is crying and doesn’t want to do things you know they have to do you still have to force it  upon them. You will be the bad guy at times. You will see sides of kids you forgot you had when you were little, and you will realize what you do and don’t want for your kids if you have any.
  3. Do you like paperwork? Get ready to drown in paperwork and give all your information to a foreign government, your family and the organization. It won’t all just happen at once either. It will be months and you will still be asked, “have we received x document from you yet?” You’ll open a bank account and ask yourself, “what did I just do?” Get ready to ask many questions and feel like you are running around in circles.
  4. This is not a vacation and it will drive you crazy when friends and family back home ask you how your year-long vacation is going. Between dropping off and picking up the kids from school, making sure their homework is done, cleaning, cooking and errands to run, by the end of the day you will be exhausted. All you will want to do is go to your room, curl up in bed and watch a good movie. Your actual time to go sightseeing and having fun will most likely be on the weekends.
  5. You will be poor. Accept that now. Sure, you saved up enough money and obviously you are getting paid for your work but you will still feel like it is not enough. Between going out with friends, touristy things, travel and *shopping*, your wallet will just feel like a piece of accessory and extra weight in your purse. Accept that reality now, it is part of the experience.
  6. You will be eating everything and anything in sight… or not. It depends on the kind of person you are. Do you love to try food? Then get ready to indulge in everything and anything. If you are a picky eater, get ready to be extra picky. Half of the time, you will not even know what you are eating. Sometimes, it is better that way.
  7. Get ready to be extremely homesick and calling your parents/friends for 2 hour long skype talks. Also food. You will miss food. You will not be homesick fresh off the boat, but once your life starts in this foreign land and you enter Facebook and Twitter to check up on friends and family, a little part of you will be saying, “I miss them”. I have spent more hours on the phone than I can imagine catching up with my friends and family about life, because they will also miss you and you can hear it in their voices. It is bittersweet but it is an honest reality (especially on difficult days with the kids/paperwork). Also, every once in a while a random craving will show up. Chipotle. That sounds really good right now.
  8. You will make embarrassing cultural and language mistakes, so get ready to laugh it off and save it for a funny story. You might just start getting used to people looking at you strangely when you try to express yourself in their language, or maybe you pronounce something slightly wrong which in reality means a completely different thing in that language and people start laughing at you. Get used to it. It is not personal and it is all about the learning experience. Besides, hours later you will find yourself laughing with friends over dinner about it. It makes up for a good story later.
  9. You will get lonely and you need to know how to deal with it. You will be walking streets alone, lost in your thoughts. Friends will be caught up with their own host families and lifestyle. It is scary but also kind of fun to be *dating* yourself.
  10. You will be living out of a suitcase. Where are you going next week? London? San Sebastian? Amsterdam? Brussels? Nice? Honestly, half of the trips you will be making will be so unplanned and out of the whim you’ll learn to throw out the things you don’t need and live with the necessities. Make sure a camera is part of the necessities. Pictures, pictures, pictures…  
  11. Be prepared to make friends with random strangers. You can’t be afraid to talk to random people. You’re in a new city by yourself and you want to indulge in the culture. The first few months, you will be attracted to people that come from a same speaking country like you but you have to put yourself out there, it is part of the experience. You came to learn the language. You’ll end up talking to people on the bus, metro, train rides, planes, park benches, museums, etc. It kind of is fun talking to people who know nothing about you.
  12. You won’t regret it. You will have your days where you will question yourself, but the moments that catch your breath will take all those uneasy feelings away. You’ll be sitting by a palace enjoying a picnic or walking through a random street discovering new things and your smile will seem to not be able to wipe itself away from your face. It’s perfect and those reasons are why you decided to be an au pair.

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