Earlier this week marked the 5-month mark of my year in Germany. After much prayer and thinking, I decided to embark on a journey to be an au pair for a year. For those of you that don’t know what an au pair is, I’m essentially a glorified nanny for a host family. However, the benefits are pretty amazing, the best being the experiences you get to have in a foreign country.
Now, travel has been heavy on my heart for quite some time, and going off to university hadn’t been working out for about two years at that point. I had a friend who spent a year in Germany as an au pair, and one night after a fiery mid-week service at my church, her experience became heavy on my mind for the first time. I looked into what an au pair does, and, long story short, I ended up with a host family in the small village of Schornweisach in Bavaria (Bayern). I arrived on September 11th, 2013 with the intention of staying for a year.
Five months and many experiences (both terrible and amazing) later, I’m here writing this blog. Though the beginning was rough, by the third month I’d settled in completely, learned the family’s routine, and am feeling the homesickness less (trust me, it never goes away fully).
I can really see why God led here, not just for my own growth, but to have an impact on this family. I’m responsible for three children aged eleven, six (soon to be seven), and three. The parents are three months away from separating, but that’s a topic for another post.
If you’ve stumbled upon this and are considering becoming an au pair, then here are some things you should consider when searching:
- Europe is the easiest place to find host families. From what I saw, France leads the pack, which is know surprise since au pairing is a concept which originated in la France. However, there are plenty of host families in other western European countries willing to find a match. Outside of these nations though, it becomes increasingly difficult to search. The site I used allowed limited your criteria to your top five countries (Germany was not in the original list, I’ll admit). After being unable to find any host families in Lithuania, Japan, Italy or Switzerland, I amended my choices to include Germany alongside France. You may have better luck though. Search far and wide to see your dream come to light!
- Once you’ve found a potential family, make it a point to Skype with them as much as possible. You want to be able to see their faces in something other than a photo and get a feel for what they’re like. I was able to Skype with my host mother three times, but only in one of those meetings did the children come along. As is to be expected, they were kind of shy and hesitant to talk. The fact that I’m a man in the mostly female world of au pairs didn’t help. The kids, who’d had two au pairs before me, both female, were against having a boy come in at first (don’t worry, they enjoy me now), but ultimately it was the mom’s decision that a male influence was needed in the house (yes, the dad lives with them, but that goes along with the “topic for another day” category). She wanted them to see that women aren’t the only human beings who can cook, clean and be around children. That being said, most host families are more keen on girl au pairs than guys, so being a girl automatically works in your favor.
- Ask questions. I’ll say it again, ask a buttload of questions. One of my faults in the process was that I didn’t know the right questions to ask, since I’d never done anything like this before. I asked what the kids are like, what the village is like, and what my responsibilities would be, but there’s always more I could’ve asked. There are also just some things you won’t be able to know until you start living with a family. For example, I had no idea that my host mother would be so incredibly environmentally-conscious. Sure, Germany is keen on protecting the environment, but this lady takes it to new extremes, even by German standards.
- Agree to a contract. If you’re not working through an agency to find a family, then discuss a contract over email or Skype sessions. Bonus: Talk about a weekly schedule. This could become very important down the road to ensure that your host family doesn’t take advantage of you. Remember, you’re an au pair, not a servant. With that in mind,
- You are not a servant. Sadly, some families desire their au pair to be a form of cheap labor to do all the things they don’t want to. Keep in mind that, under law (in Germany at least), you are to work six hours a day for five days a week. The minimum you can be paid here is 260 Euros per month. If you feel these items will be an issue, talk it out over Skype or email.
- Residency permits. This can be a tedious process. To avoid lots of hassle (especially if your host parents are like mine and have never had to deal with obtaining one even though they’ve led you to believe they have), begin the process before you even leave your country. The whole ordeal can be a little pricey, so also discuss paying it with your family. Some might offer to cover it for you, others will make you do it.
- If you are from a climate that enjoys warm to mild winters (like this Florida boy here), prepare well for your new home. In my case, I overestimated how cold it would be. Research the weather patterns of where you’ll be living.
- Money. It makes the world go ’round. More specifically, it makes the world go ’round beneath the plane you’ll be traveling in. Think about ways to save and afford travel costs. It also helps to have spending money set aside for all the things you’re going to want to experience.
- Dating. If you’re in a committed relationship when you leave and you’ve never had distance between you before, this could be one of the absolute hardest parts about being an au pair. In my case, my girlfriend and I have a six-hour time difference between us, coupled with classes and work and an all-around different schedule. It gets very difficult and frustrating. However, you want to make sure that your significant other is supportive and encouraging. Believe me, that makes a world of difference, especially during the first couple of months. And remember, love is worth waiting for. Nothing worth having ever comes easy.
That’s all I can think of at the moment. If you are considering this journey, I hope my points were useful, and if you currently are or ever have been an au pair, feel free to correct me or add to what I wrote. Any input is appreciated.
From Germany with love,