Going abroad as an au pair can be an exciting and nerve-wracking process. I thought I would share some advice to future au pairs, to help make it the best experience ever. Some of this advice is easy to follow, and others will challenge you, but it’s all about personal growth and putting yourself out there, right? Especially when you’re halfway across the world, and probably all by yourself. I cover everything from making friends (essential), to navigating social situations in a new culture.
1. Be Open Minded and Laid Back.
Maybe not laid back when you’re with the kids, but I digress! When you are thrown into a completely new environment, you will always have a better experience if you are open to whatever happens. Don’t place expectations on what your life abroad as an au pair will be like, but rather embrace how it all unfolds. It’s helpful to be laid back, especially when living with a host family. Learning to go with the flow will keep you sane, and your host family will appreciate this quality, to be flexible and open. By looking at every situation in a positive light, and not comparing it to your life at home, everything will be an exciting new experience.
2. Learn the Language.
I know this is not a requirement to be an au pair, especially because the goal is to teach your kids English, but it will come in handy with blending into the culture you’ve been transplanted into. Because I am learning Italian, I’ve been able to have so many meaningful interactions with locals in Rome. It also came in handy when traveling to smaller towns, and Italians are SO appreciative when you try speaking their language. They may even tell you your accent is cute! One fun tip for learning any language is to download the Tandem app. You can practice your target language with native speakers, and you may even make friends out of it! There are also Facebook groups in many cities for language exchanges. It’s a great way to meet people and have a cultural exchange.
3. Remember Communication is Essential.
Another reason I loved learning Italian was also because I could practice it with my host parents. But regardless, I found communication with them, in English or Italian, to be so important. Communication can be as simple as checking in with them in the afternoon or sending a cute photo of the kids, to chatting with them before dinner if something didn’t go smoothly that day. Be prepared to have conversations when you need to, about the kids or even about the city. My host family was a wealth of information about everything from taking the bus, to suggesting the park I ran in everyday, to the places I had to visit in Rome. A local’s perspective is always the best, so take advantage of it!
4. Be Prepared for Cultural Differences.
As an au pair, keeping open communication about the kids and their activities will have everyone on the same page and hopefully help you avoid any confusion, especially because there will be cultural differences you may not be aware of right away. Be prepared for these, and really lean into the new culture. For example, the first time I took my kids to swim lessons I realized everyone was wearing disposable booties over their shoes in the locker room. I went up to the front desk and asked for a pair, and remembered to respect this rule each time we came to the pool.
5. Don’t Overbook Yourself.
Cheap flights and train tickets that cost less than 10 euros might lure you out of the city, but my favorite weekends were the ones I spent in Rome. I definitely booked a few too many trips, to the point where I was sad to leave Rome even if it was just for a few days. I had made new friends and wanted to spend more time just living in the city and experiencing regular life there. So, my advice is to definitely travel and see the country, but make sure you give yourself equal time to explore the place where you’re living when you’re an au pair.
6. Be Realistic with your Budget.
Along those lines, another great reason to stay put for the weekend is to save money! It’s tempting to eat out a lot (I mean, in Italy there is pizza and pasta on every corner), but your host family also provides meals for you. Plus chances are, at least one of your host parents is a good cook. I swear whenever I decided to eat out, my host mom made my favorite meal, just my luck! Another way to save money is to pack snacks when you’re venturing out into the city or going on a trip. In Italy, produce is very cheap so I always brought fruit with me (okay and a few biscotti, because who can resist?). If you do travel, stay at hostels or split an Airbnb with friends to save money.
7. Take all the Connections you can to Make Friends.
The nice thing about becoming an au pair through an agency is the built-in friends they can connect you with. You will automatically have some companions right away thanks to that! But don’t limit yourself, or be nervous if you are flying solo on this one. I met my best friend because our host moms connected us (our kids attended the same school). This was great because she lived near me and our kids had similar schedules. Then I was able to meet the friends she had already made, and just like that I had a whole network of people to hangout with! In addition, I got to know my host family’s relatives and our housekeeper, so I never felt lonely.
8. Don’t be Afraid to go out by Yourself.
My second Friday night in Rome, I had made plans with a friend for dinner. She cancelled because she had to stay with her kids (remember, be flexible!), and I was bummed out. But my host mom was so sweet and suggested I eat dinner at home, then I could go for a walk. So I did just that and ended up sitting at the place that would become my go-to café, drinking a Spritz by myself and reveling in this new journey I was embarking on. I had been dreaming of this exact moment for so long, I needed to take a minute to appreciate it. I did just that, even if I was alone.
9. Bring Gifts for your Host Family.
I had to include this tip for anyone who is going abroad as an au pair because it’s one of the best ways to get off on the right foot with your host family. My luggage may have been overweight, but it was totally worth it to show the family, especially the kids, that I cared about them! I gave them English books, American candy, some new toys, and a puzzle map of the United States. All of these things came in handy later when we had free time together, too.
10. Make a List of Goals and Plan Ahead.
Things like health insurance, credit cards, and all of those details you have to figure out when you go abroad can be done before you leave. That way when you get there, you’ll be free to enjoy the experience. I made a list of goals on my plane ride over that I kept with me the whole time I was in Rome. Determine what kind of experience you want beforehand and make goals for yourself so that it can be the best time possible, full of personal growth and new experiences!
Are you or a friend going abroad as an au pair? Send this article to them so they feel confident about their new adventure!
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Maggie is the blogger behind The Artful Everyday, a travel and lifestyle blog dedicated to living intentionally and finding beauty in the ordinary. She loves the idea that we get to escape our normal lives when we travel, and that it allows us to be more open to the world and its cultures. Maggie lived in Florence while studying abroad, then was an au pair in Rome last fall. She is very passionate about traveling in Europe, especially Italy, and living abroad. Maggie studied Interior Design at the University of Minnesota, but is currently pursuing a career in writing.