We hear many stories about au pairs, from them feeling like a member of the family, to going through nightmares with their hosts. Each of them lives a completely unique experience and, even with the bad ones, lessons are learnt. We have interviewed five au pairs, and they all have their own story to tell and advice to give.
Au pairing typically consists of moving to someone’s home to take care of their children. The vast majority of au pairs come from foreign countries, and they generally have previously arranged some conditions with the host family.
The number of au pairs has increased significantly in time, and the amount of host families demanding au pairs has grown too. Ireland is one of the most au pair-demanding countries in Europe, and being an English-speaking country, it is very appealing for au pairs when they choose where to live their adventure. On the other end, au pairs come especially from Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom.
Being an au pair is a great way to live in a different country, getting to know the culture from the inside, meeting new people, and improving a language along the way. But there are many questions and doubts that arise when someone thinks about becoming one. To all that, today we must add the concern regarding Covid-19, which also affects the au pair way of life.
Isabel, a 30-year-old from Spain, was an au pair in Killarney five years ago. Her decision to come to Ireland was based on improving her English. She found her host family through AuPairWorld, where you can create a profile and match with the families, get to know them, and choose the one that suits you the most.
Before coming, she was quite scared of things being different from what she expected, going to a home she did not know with people she had just met. When she finally chose a family, everything was clear for everyone from the beginning: they gave her a contract with her schedules and chores, which met her expectations. Her role was very clear, and the contract was followed with no surprises.
Her experience was supposed to last longer, but she decided to leave halfway, as she was not feeling completely comfortable with the family – sometimes she was even ignored by them – but now she says she regrets that decision. She thinks she should have stayed for longer, even though the situation was overwhelming for her.
Today, she is an au pair again – now in the UK – and her experience is being completely different so far. She took the decision to leave Spain due to the loss of her job right before Covid-19 started. She felt the motivation to go, and au pairing seemed like a great way to start in another country.
When she first arrived in Ireland, the family told her to meet other au pairs – she had plans every weekend: trips, meeting other au pairs, going shopping, going to the pubs. Now, she feels it is going to be really hard to meet new people, and she is wondering how to manage the situation.
With the current circumstances, she is worried about the Christmas Holidays. Things change really fast these days, and she is concerned she will not be able to go home to her own family. She has just arrived and is trying to find her place, but the thought of not going home for Christmas is very hard for her. She has learnt not to plan long-term, and live day by day.
When asked if she has any advice for her past-self, she says she would have given herself better tools to go through everything; manage the stress of the situation, cope with the loneliness of some moments – which she now says are necessary sometimes – and not letting the children’s behaviour affect her so much: “before getting angry at a three-year-old, breathe and count to ten, you are wiser than a child.”
Fia is 19, from Sweden, and she wanted to go abroad for a year after graduating high school. Her first choice was going to Canada as a volunteer, but Covid-19 came and the borders closed, so she had to find something else. She thought au pairing would be a good option, so she created a profile on a website. Ireland was one of her choices because she wanted to be surrounded by nature.
Before her arrival, she had been talking to the family. Her main worry was for the family to be different than what they were on the video calls – she had heard many stories of families mistreating their au pairs – but everything turned out fine. The family was very welcoming, and she felt included.
There are, though, things she did not expect, like spending so much time with the family, and not having the opportunity to go out. Also, working with children is very hard – she felt tired all the time during her first week, and children are not always sweet and loving. She is getting used to it, and there are great moments too; they are very fun to work with sometimes.
Of course, as she arrived during Covid-19, her experience has been a bit more difficult. The hardest thing she finds is not being able to meet people so quickly, and not having the freedom to travel and get to see the rest of the country.
Her suggestion to anyone who wants to be an au pair in Ireland is knowing that working with children can be hard and tiresome, and she also says “bring more rain clothes!”
Irene is 24 and also from Spain. Her studies in tourism had led her to work in a couple of hotels last year. Her contract ended, and Covid-19 arrived with a lockdown in Spain. As her sister also lives in Ireland, she decided to become an au pair there to get started and save some money, and find a job later on.
It was hard for her to find a host family due to the two-week quarantine. Not all families wanted that, but she eventually found one using AuPairWorld. It was all very fast, “I met them, and the following day I had already bought the plane tickets.” She knew she had to ask many questions about her role and what she had to do, to ensure everything was very clear beforehand.
However, when she arrived, there were some things they had not told her. The family had four children, and the younger ones – two-year-old twins – were not supposed to be her responsibility. That was true at the beginning, but eventually, they ended up leaving them with her. She was also told she would not have to do any chores around the house, but they began asking her to clean and do laundry. It all escalated, and she was feeling more and more anxious and uncomfortable, so she decided to look for another family.
This time, she found the family on a Facebook group. Now, she is feeling much better and is well-treated by them. They do not require her to spend so much of her time taking care of the children, and she does not have to do things outside of her pre-established conditions. She also feels much more integrated with them.
Her advice for future au pairs is to “ask more, and more. Things can be misinterpreted, especially with the language barrier, they may not completely understand what you are asking. If you need to repeat it, do it. You must know the conditions.” She adds “don’t go with the first family, you need to see other options and choose the most suitable for you. If there is something you don’t like about them, don’t go, think you are going to be living with those people”.
Silvi Kruizinga and Paula Ulbrich
Silvi, from the Netherlands; and Paula, from Germany, are both 19. They met here in Ireland thanks to being au pairs, through a Facebook group and living really close to each other.
They both arrived in the summer. They wanted to take a gap year, go abroad, and explore new cultures; and they also wanted an English-speaking country not far away from home, which is why they chose Ireland. Silvi, who studied Education Assistance, had previous experience with children; it was something she enjoyed, so being an au pair looked like a great choice. Paula saw this as a great way to start working with children, as she wants to become a childminder when she returns to Germany.
They agree that Covid-19 did not stop them from being au pairs, they were determined to do it, so they did. There was no reason not to come, and they had the opportunity, so they went ahead. When they arrived, it was much more relaxed with Covid-19, but they were prepared for it to get worse. They expect to get to travel in the future, once everything settles.
They both used agencies in order to find host families, and then there was a matching process with video calls. They tell us that the agency prepares you for what you may encounter, and even for how you may feel – like homesickness – and how to get through it all. They even help them get in touch with other au pairs in the area. Meeting people, they say, is quite easy thanks to that, and Facebook groups.
Silvi thinks everything went well. She had two matches before the family she is in now that did not work out. Her expectations as to what it would be like with the family were correct, with no surprises. The two-week quarantine was hard, but she says the family took good care of her. She loves her host family.
Paula, on the other hand, had problems with her first family. When she arrived at the house, the mother did not seem to like having her there. The next day, she was told she had to leave. Some days later, they drove her to the city centre, leaving her there all alone. Even though she had that experience, she now says “every experience is a good experience,” and claims this is something to learn from; that not all people are going to treat you well.
She is with a new host family now, and it is as she expected, she thinks it is “sometimes even boring” maybe due to Covid-19, as she cannot make many plans. “The work is as you really expect”, she says.
They advise being prepared for anything but to talk a lot with the family before coming. Above all, they say “go for it!”
With all of their testimonies, we get to have a little insight into how the au pair world can be. They go through many different conditions and experiences, but they all seem to learn and take the best from it. One thing they all agree on is that they would recommend for anyone who is thinking about it to not hesitate and seize the opportunity.