As my college graduation loomed nearer, the idea of working 9-5 at a desk after spending the last 17 years of my life at a school desk made me feel increasingly claustrophobic. Instead, I wanted to travel for at least a few months, but also knew that I shouldn’t blow all of my savings on one trip. I found a great solution when I heard about Au Pairing:
- You move abroad to almost any country in the world, work 30 hours per week to receive a small stipend and free room and board in a (probably dope) house. Furthermore, your visa, travel expenses, and a language course could be paid for (depending on the country).
- The work includes childcare and housework. Tasks usually consist of taking children to school and activities, laundry, tidying, and preparing meals.
- You receive weekends off as well as 2 weeks of paid vacation to travel and explore as much as your heart desires!
After deciding that I wanted to move to Europe, I became interested in the Netherlands due to the country’s proximity to many places I wanted to travel to and because I wanted to trade in my car for a bike. I also wanted to experience the liberal, open-minded spirit that Amsterdam is famous for and the non-translateable feeling of gezelligheid. I also knew that most Dutch people can speak English fluently, which would make my life abroad easier both logistically and socially. I am now halfway through my year here and am thrilled with my choice to be an au pair in Holland 1. During my adventures I have seen massive waterfalls in Iceland, toured London, gone on a solo trip to Belgium, popped over to Paris, fell in love with the colors of Lisbon, and swam in the Italian Mediterranean.
When I’m not traveling, I am home with my wonderful host family. Through learning to prepare typical Dutch dinners, hearing about my kids’ days at school, joining in for birthday and holiday traditions, and accompanying them on excursions, I learn something new about the culture or language every day. If I ever have any question or need help translating something, I have someone to ask to right away, and they are always giving me European travel tips or pointers about Dutch adventures. They make me feel included in their family but also give me all the freedom and space a 22 year old would want.
‘Boerenkool met Worst,’ a typical Dutch meal I make about once a week.
Although I am thrilled to be here, I feel I have to point out that it’s not always easy to be an au pair. Here’s a few reasons why.
There’s that language barrier thing
You are constantly facing a language barrier while communicating with the children. In one common scenario, the kids squabble with each other (obviously) in Dutch. This makes it really difficult as the person in charge because when they come to me crying, I have no idea what happened or which child is at fault. I have become a much more patient person through handling the children who are frustrated at moments when they can’t communicate what they want to me in English. Although it can be a challenge, In my experience, the language barrier becomes much less of an issue over time as I get to know the children better and both of our language skills improve.
What part of the world do you want to see?
Choose where you want to au pair wisely: Does your host family live in a location from which it will it be easy to travel around and make friends? I am really lucky that there is an au pair community in my suburban village and a sizable expat community in the Netherlands. My adjustment to living abroad was assuaged because I so quickly made friends with other au pairs from places like the US, South America, South Africa, Spain, Poland, and South Korea. They had all gone through the same steps of adjusting to au pair life abroad and are also such an interesting international crew. I am also happy with my location because there is a train station in my village which is easily reachable by bike. Don’t be that au pair that lives in that tiny secluded village who has a very difficult time getting around on weekends!
It’s like your family, but this time you can choose. So choose wisely.
Although there are many au pair agencies which match you with a host family after completing an application, I highly recommend creating a profile on this website and going through the host family selection process on your own. An agency match is like your freshman college roommate match: It can look great on paper but turn out to be a disaster. Skype your potential host family a few times, discuss your goals for the year, and make sure they are people that you would enjoy spending time with and that you will be able to have open discussions with them. It can really be a trying experience to move in with a host family, especially when there are cultural differences and possibly different expectations of your role within the host family, and you need to be able to communicate honestly with them.
Overall, the au pair life for me has been a wonderful experience of immersing myself in the Dutch culture, bonding with my host family, and traveling and exploring as much of Europe as I can. I have learned so much about myself while being here, and am thrilled with how much I am checking off my European bucket list. I highly recommend becoming an au pair if you also enjoy being around children and have goals of working and traveling abroad.
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So far I have visited 6 countries and have also travelled throughout the Netherlands ↩