When you can’t go home for the holidays

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(photo from It’s A Wonderful Life)

Some au pairs have enough money set aside to fly home or family who will cover tickets to go home to visit for Christmas. Other super lucky au pairs have a generous host family who will fly them back to their home country for the holiday season to see friends and family – I was one of those.

When I was as an au pair, I had a fab host family who did just that – they flew me back to the States for a short surprise trip home over Christmas and it was SO. NICE! I was having too much fun as an au pair to ever get really homesick, but as soon as Thanksgiving came along in November during that year, I was ready to visit and catch up with friends and family.

But what if you don’t have the cash to travel back home or generous folks to cover the cost? As I am currently living outside my home country (I’m from the US and living in Germany), and I will not be traveling back this year, this is my plan – and maybe you’ll find this helpful.

Connect with family regularly – Thanks to Skype, FaceTime, and even free calls on Whatsapp, it’s easier and cheaper than ever to chat and talk with your loved ones. I try to connect with family at least once a week, and more if I’m feeling homesick. Staying connected regularly helps you not feel quite so isolated and lonely.

Plan a future trip – If you can’t afford to travel at the holidays, start saving for a trip at a later date, so that you know you won’t be missing everyone forever. Having something to look forward to makes the missing now much more bearable. For my family, we can’t do a Christmas trip this year, but we are making plans for a visit next fall, when travel is more affordable. Knowing that we’ll be back within a year keeps us from getting too sad about not seeing family now.

Enjoy where you are – Keep in mind that although you have moments of sadness and missing home, your time as an au pair is limited, so take advantage of the country you are in and the people you are with, even if they aren’t your “real” family. Take in the surroundings, celebrate with them, hang out with friends. Make the most of it! Family and friends back home will be there next Christmas. That’s how I think, anyway. 😉

Hope this helps as we move closer and closer to the most celebrated time of the year!

Tips for starting out right with your Host Family (Adventures in America – Part 2)

picagaThis is another guest post from Agnieszka, who is currently working as an au pair in Georgia, USA. Enjoy!

When I first met my host family, I of course was nervous, like all au pairs are. These are things I learned that help me get through the initial strange getting-to-know stage, and hopefully they will help you if you are getting started out in a new place and with a new family!

  1. Be yourself! Nothing is worse than pretending to be someone completely different than you are just because, this is what you think others want to see. If you start out pretending, you will have to do it all the time for the whole year. Is that worth it? I don’t think so.
  2. Be honest! This is a new situation for you, and it is normal to be anxious at the beginning. If there are problems or you don’t understand things that are being said, say that you do not understand and that you need them to repeat themselves. No one expects you to be perfect, so it’s ok to be honest if there is an issue or if something isn’t clear.
  3. Talk a lot! Communication is the most important thing when it comes to relationships with other people. If you do not share anything, it is impossible to get to know and be able to trust, and to be trusted. If you have any problems with your host family, go and talk about what is happening. Of course, communication is important not only when you have a problem! During normal days, when you are happy about something be sure to be open and share.
  4. Listen, too! Talking is just part of communication. The rest of it is listening. Occasionally your host family will have things to discuss with you about their household and children and maybe even how you are doing things. If they have problems to discuss, do not defend yourself immediately, but listen to what they have to say and share your opinion afterwards. Stay open and be willing to hear what they have to say!
  5. Spend my time with your host family! If they eat dinners together – eat with them. If they go somewhere on the weekend and invite you to join, then go with them. Of course I am not saying that you should be with them all the time, but do be sure to spend time getting to know them and having fun with them. The au pair/host family relationship doesn’t have to be all work and no play!
  6. Have fun! Remember, living abroad as an au pair is something you really wanted, so stay relaxed and go with the flow. Living in another country and working and living with people you’ve just met can be challenging, but you will get used to the new place and have a great time. Just remember to stay positive, even when it gets challenging.

 

Adventures in America – Guest post from an Au Pair in Georgia

au pair in Georgia This is a guest post from Agnieszka, an au pair from Poland currently working near Atlanta, Georgia. She will be writing regular posts for us, and you can read more about her au pair experience – as well as advice for others – at her personal blog.

About myself

My name is Agnieszka, and I am a 22-year-old from Warsaw, the capital city of Poland. I came to the US as an au pair in November 2013, and I live near Atlanta, Georgia, with a 5-year old girl named Alicia, and her dad, Nathan. We also have one more member of a family – a cat named Cleopatra, whom we call Cleo for short.

Why am I here?

It  all started when my host dad, Nathan, and I decided to create a series of posts about how children should be treated, which I posted on my personal blog (the link is above). I then got in touch with Talya and was offered the opportunity to share my experience as an au pair, which I will be doing on a monthly basis here.

Why I decided to become an au pair …

My life back in Warsaw was not very easy or pleasant, which is why I decided to make a change. I was working as a receptionist in a dancing school for almost two years, working hard, and more or less just scraping by. I knew I wanted to enjoy life, travel as much as possible, meet new people and make my dreams come true. I was not quite sure what to do and looked into different options. Everything changed while I was on a trip to Slovakia with two friends in 2012, when one of them told me she saw a video of a girl who went to the US as an au pair for a year. The girl talked about how much she liked it, how much she learned, and she also said it was a very good way to become more independent.I was very interested, so after the trip I started to research to learn more and more about au pair programs in the states. At that time, I was not extremely interested in living in the United States, but the more I read about it the more I was convinced it was for me.

It took quite some time to organize my life so that I could go to the US as an au pair. I had to work to save money, get my driver’s license, and finish up my schooling. It was a very stressful time but I am happy that I had a goal and did not give up. I knew I exactly what I wanted to reach so I kept trying and by 2013, after finding an agency and then a host family, I made it to the USA as an au pair!

At the time, my biggest dream was to go to California, but I was offered a job with a family in Georgia, and I am very happy here. I’m enjoying new things, meeting new people, and have opportunities I did not have before. Georgia is not California, but it is a great place!

So … that is all from me today, but I will be back again soon to share more about my experience as an au pair in Georgia. In the meantime, I would love to hear from other au pairs living and working in the US, so please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below, or join our forum!

 

Five great ways for Au Pairs to travel on the cheap

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As we all know, travel can get expensive. And for au pairs getting by on a relatively small budget, spending a lot of hard-earned money on travel isn’t an option for most. So here are a handful of practical ways to help you travel affordably during your time as an au pair:

  1. Book travel EARLY – Planning ahead is not a core strength that all of us possess, but really – the sooner the book the more you save. It’s just that simple. Especially with discount airlines such as EasyJet – if you book weeks – or even months – in advance, you can find flights for ridiculously low prices. And chances are that your host parents will want you to plan your trip in advance anyhow, so as soon as you decide when and where to go, go ahead and book any flights or train tickets. You’ll be glad you did!
  2. Shop around – Don’t book the first offer you find. Travel comparison sites such as Kayak, my personal favorite, will list a variety of offers to help you compare and see which would work best. Keep in mind, however, that budget airlines, such as EasyJet aren’t normally listed on the larger travel sites so you will need to check them separately.
  3. Find a travel buddy – Not only can traveling with a friend be a lot more fun than solo travel, but you can save a lot of money. Splitting costs on everything from hotels and rental cars to food can save you a lot of money, so if you’ve got one or more good friend you can travel with then look into it for sure. Sharing expenses might mean that you can had a little bit more luxury to your trip too – think splitting the cost of a decent hotel room 2 or 3 ways, rather than slumming it in a youth hostel on your own.
  4. Look beyond hotels – Gone are the days when hotels, guest houses, and hostels were the only places for travelers to lay their heads at night. Websites like airbnb and couchsurfing make it possible to stay in private homes and apartments for cheap or even free. Totally worth checking out both.
  5. Try car sharing – Many countries have ride-sharing organizations where you pay to ride with private people traveling to specific destinations. This can be more affordable than public transportation, as well as more enjoyable and faster at times. Prices vary, of course, but are very reasonable. One one German ride sharing site, for example, you can catch a ride from Berlin to Prague for as little as 16€.

So! I hope this is helpful, and that you are able to enjoy what is left of the dog days of summer this year … as well as plan ahead for the fall and winter that lie ahead. And I’d love to hear other ideas and ways you travel without spending a lot of money. Please leave your tips in the comment section below!

 

Traits you need to be a great Au Pair

au pair photo(photo courtesy of dreamstime)

This is a guest post by Lisa Kempton, an Alternate Responsible Officer and Regional Director for Au Pair International, an au pair agency designated by the US Department of State and specializing in matching and supporting au pairs and host families both in the US and abroad. She has been working to help host families and au pairs to have successful matches since 2008. Contact her at lkempton@aupairint.com with any questions.

Having working worked with host families and au pairs for over 4 years, I have had many opportunities to see wonderful matches where the host family and au pair end up truly caring for each other like they were family, and I have also seen matches that haven’t been as wonderful.  While each match is unique with its own set of pros and cons, there are some common au pair traits that seem to help ensure success.

  1. An interest in children:  I know that it has been said that you don’t need a burning love for children in order to be an au pair, but you do need a general interest in them.  Let’s face it; most au pairs are alone, in the house, with the children, all day long.  If the sound of a child’s voice grates on your nerves like nails on a chalkboard, then this probably isn’t the right path for you.  This goes for after the au pair arrives, too.  If an au pair acts interested in the children and their activities when Skyping with them before she arrives, but then couldn’t care less once she arrives, the family feels deceived  and wonders what else the au pair has misled them about.
  2. Patience: Anyone who thinks that working with children all day is easy hasn’t ever done it.  It takes patience for crying, sticky fingers, messes, crying, toys everywhere, homework battles… oh, and crying.  Au pairs need to be prepared that most days will be pretty good, but some days will be very hard.  Patience on the hard days will be rewarded when the children put their arms around you and tell you how much they love you.
  3. Flexibility: There are certain rules put in place to protect the au pair and host family.  It is very important that those rules are followed, but there also needs to be some flexibility.  Sometimes schedules change.  Sometimes parents are late.  Illnesses happen and life is sometimes just crazy.  If an occasional bending or breaking of a rule happens, then you just need to let it go or talk to your host family about it in a casual way.  If your host family repeatedly disregards the rules, than that is another issue entirely and should be discussed with your agency.
  4. Interest in the family: Most families really want their au pair to be a part of the family.  If the au pair is distant or spends little of her off-duty time with the family, the family feels that she only matched with them to get come to a new country and not because she wanted to participate in a cultural exchange program.  I worked with an au pair once who would go up to her room as soon as her shift was over, and wouldn’t come out for the rest of the night.  The family would ask her if she was hungry for dinner or wanted to do activities and she would decline and then sneak down after everyone was in bed and go find something to eat.  Needless to say, this match didn’t work out.  The best matches are the ones where everyone really cares for each other.  This is demonstrated when the host family invites the au pair along to different activities or does extra things to help her feel at home, like introducing her customs into their household.  I once had a host family who had a traditional German Christmas for their au pair.  This helped her to feel loved and accepted.
  5. Initiative:  Families don’t want to have to tell au pairs to do every little thing.  If the baby needs changing, the families want the au pair to go change him.  If the kids have homework to do, the au pair should make sure that happens on time.  If the kids are bored, the family wants the au pair to come up with activities to do.  You are in charge during certain hours of the day, so take charge.  Make sure the children are well-cared for and engaged and if you are off-duty still be attentive to the children’s needs, like you would a member of the family.
  6. Maturity:  There is a reason that au pairs must be at least 18 years old.  Families are not looking to bring another child into their home; they are looking for an adult to help make their lives easier.  Successful au pairs are the ones who take responsibility for their needs and happiness.  If you have a problem, don’t expect your family to solve it for you.  First, you will need to research your options (the internet, your agency and fellow au pairs are good resources for this), come up with some possible solutions, and then go to your host family and discuss with them what will work best.  They are there to help you, but not solve your problems for you.

I know I have just focused on what qualities are important for an au pair.  There are just as many qualities that are important for host families to have, the most important being dependability, compassion, appreciation, and trust.  In my experience, matches that have these qualities are amazing experiences for everyone involved and result in life-long friendships.