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!

 

How to learn a new language without losing your mind

languages and continents(photo by dreamstime)

If you are working abroad as an au pair, there is a good chance that one of the reasons you are is to learn a new language. Right? Or you may be there to perfect a language that you already have started to learn. OR – you’re an au pair simply for the fun of it, and learning a language is part of the deal.

Whatever the case, learning a foreign language can be challenging. And interesting. And overwhelming some days too. Some learn languages more quickly than others, but even those who learn foreign languages easily still have their days.

So how can you learn to speak your new language like a native? Because let’s face it, even if you are taking a language class (which you should be, it’s one of the benefits of being an au pair) you are still going to have to work hard outside of class if you want to learn to speak the language fluently.

Here are a few things that help speed up the language-learning process:

Stop speaking your own language with your host family – if your host parents speak your language well, it’s tempting to stick with the comfort of your mother tongue when speaking with them. Give yourself a set amount of time to learn the basics of the new language and get comfortable with it, and then stop speaking your own language with your host parents so that you are forced to speak the new language. It’s a bit scary at first, but it will make a difference.

Meet locals and speak their language – Getting out and meeting people is important – not only socially, because you want new friends – but also to speak the language. And just like with your host parents, even if your new friends and acquaintances speak your language, do your best to converse – at least as much as you can – in the local language. As they say, practice makes perfect, and with languages, it tends to be true (as long as your friends are willing to correct your errors!).

Watch local tv shows and movies – Even if you don’t understand everything that is being said, watching TV and movies in your new language is a fabulous way to learn the language, especially because you will learn the language the way it is actually spoken – not school-book language. To baby-step it, you can even rent movies that you have already seen in your own language and change the settings to watch it in the local language. You’ll know what is going on AND benefit from learning new words and expressions. Give it a try!

What do you do to learn a new language? What other ways are there to become fluent in the language of your new home?

 

Be careful, because you just might fall in love

love photo(photo courtesy of dreamstime stock photos)

When you take the chance and move abroad to work as an au pair, there is a pretty good chance that you will fall in love. And I don’t just mean with the adorably cute foreign guys and girls you will meet, although there will likely be plenty of them, with all the drama a foreign romance entails (more on that another day … ).

But a recent article about an au pair working in Rome reminded me how the loves you gain while living abroad can be many and life-long. The story was a short one about a New Zealand student wanting to travel abroad before beginning her university studies and moving to Rome to work as an au pair for one month.

She ended up falling in love with a new country and family. And although her experience is recent, I would be willing to bet that ten years out she will be just as fond of her experience as an au pair. Although no host family or host country is perfect, there is a good chance that your new home and family will become very dear to you. So consider yourselves warned!

Staying Safe Abroad

happy womanPhoto by dreamstime

Safety is a concern for nearly every traveler, especially au pairs, who are typically young women traveling solo. And even if the au pair herself (or himself) isn’t overly concerned about their safety, there are probably parents back home who are! Below are a few tips for staying safe overseas:

Make sure you are healthy before you leave

It’s important that you start out your au pair journey healthy. Adventures Abroad recommends seeing your doctor at least three months prior to leaving your home country in order to check your overall health. Not everyone is organized enough to plan a doctor’s visit that far in advance, but the important thing is that you do get a physical exam and check up with your doctor before leaving for your trip. The last thing you want to do is get to your new country and have a health issue that could have beeen prevented or treated beforehand.

Another benefit of visiting your doctor is that you can get prescriptions of any medications you will need to have for the first little while overseas. It can take some time to get health insurance coverage through your host family, so you will want to have several weeks of any necessary medication that you take regularly on hand.

Remember dental and eye health as well. Visiting your dentist and/or opthamologist to check for any problems will also help ensure that you arrive to your new home in as good a shape as possible. If you are a contact lense wearer, be sure to take a copy of your prescription with you, as well as extra lenses.

Get travel insurance

Even though your host family will provide you with health insurance while working as an au pair, it can take several weeks for coverage to start. Even when coverage does start quickly, it often will not be in effect until you actually start your job. Having travel insurance will ensure that you are covered in the event of an emergency during the first weeks of your journey. It is usually not very expensive and is worth the small investment.

Safety while en route

Use your street smarts when travelling to and from your home to your new destination, and while you travel during your stay. The U.S. State Department suggests traveling light, dressing casually (affluent-looking tourists are more likely to be victims of theft), and keeping as few valuables as possible with you while traveling. The State Department also has the following recommendations for being out and about abroad, and the list is pretty complete:

  • Don’t use short cuts, narrow alleys or poorly lit streets.
  • Try not to travel alone at night.
  • Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.
  • Keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments.
  • Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers.
  • Avoid scam artists by being wary of strangers who approach you and offer to be your guide or sell you something at bargain prices.
  • Beware of pickpockets. They often have an accomplice who will:
    • jostle you,
    • ask you for directions or the time,
    • point to something spilled on your clothing,
    • or distract you by creating a disturbance.
  • Beware of groups of vagrant children who could create a distraction to pick your pocket.
  • Wear the shoulder strap of your bag across your chest and walk with the bag away from the curb to avoid drive-by purse-snatchers.
  • Try to seem purposeful when you move about. Even if you are lost, act as if you know where you are going. Try to ask for directions only from individuals in authority.
  • Know how to use a pay telephone and have the proper change or token on hand.
  • Learn a few phrases in the local language or have them handy in written form so that you can signal your need for police or medical help.
  • Make a note of emergency telephone numbers you may need: police, fire, your hotel, and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
  • If you are confronted, don’t fight back — give up your valuables.

In the end, using common sense and paying attention to your surroundings will help ensure that you stay safe during your stay abroad. Use your head, be careful, and have fun!

If you have any other good safety tips for au pairs/travelers, please comment below!

 

 

 

 

Poll: What are the top Au Pair destinations for 2012?

travelSince we are starting out the new year, I would love to hear from au pairs – and anyone thinking or dreaming about going abroad in 2012.

Where are you thinking about going? Which places keep you up at night wishing you could see? Is there more than one place you would consider working as an au pair? I worked as an au pair in Germany and loved it, but as I was am pretty much obsessed with all things French, I sometimes wonder whether I should have gone to France instead …

But what about you? If you could go anywhere, where would you go? Please let us know in the comments field – and yes, you are allowed to list more than one top destination!

Why you should consider Au Pairing

Chinese Tea House Potsdam

As 2011 begins to wind down, it’s time to start thinking ahead towards next year. Do your plans for 2012 include being an au pair overseas? If you are considering a gap year abroad, working as an au pair might make sense for you.

Why? For starters, working as an au pair is a very affordable way to see and experience a new place very inexpensively. The only major cost would be that of the plane ticket to your new country of residence. If you’re lucky, that expense may even be covered in part by your host family. You get room and board as well as a monthly stipend. The monthly salary you get won’t make you rich but is enough to be able to enjoy life.

Another good reason for working as an au pair next year is because in the shaky world economy we are in right now, finding a “real” job isn’t as easy as it has been in the past. Unemployment is still very high in some countries, and jobs are continually being outsourced or cut out altogether. So instead of being at home without a job, why not get some overseas experience and learn a new language?

Another – and maybe the best reason – to consider being an au pair in 2012 is because it is worth it. Yes, working living in a new place and working with kids can be challenging at times, but the au pair job can also be incredibly rewarding. You gain a new family, a new language, invaluable life experience, and more as an au pair. So why not go for it?

 

Getting sick on the job

medicine(photo by dreamstime)

Just like the rest of us, au pairs sometimes get sick. It isn’t fun for the host family who might have to find substitute childcare while their au pair is really under the weather, which can be a hassle. It is also un-fun for au pairs, who would probably rather be healthy and working and sick and not (working, that is!).

Making things even more difficult for au pairs who become ill is the fact that they are already out of their element. Being sick is a particularly rough time for au pairs, as their usual support group – family, friends, their usual doctor, medicines, etc. – is missing. They may even feel guilty for being sick, feeling as though they are putting their host family off by being unable to work or by needing any extra attention.

My advice? For au pairs, it would be to take good care of yourself in the first place to avoid being sick as much as possible. Your family needs someone who is healthy and fit most of the time, and your time abroad will be much better enjoyed – and remembered – if you are healthy.

When you do get sick, take time off to get well. And don’t feel guilty about not working if you are truly sick. Your host family will survive while you are sick, so don’t kill yourself. I nearly did – instead of taking time off and visiting a doctor during the week while sick, I waited until I was in unbearable pain over the weekend – when doctors in Germany are all closed – and wound up having to visit the emergency room to get meds for a horrid sinus infection. Not something I would recommend!

Also, sick days also don’t count against vacation days, so there is no need to fear losing precious days off when ill. And if you are contagious, believe me – your host family would rather you lay low than infect the entire family!

Three great ways to meet new people when working as an Au Pair

friends

One of the hardest parts of being an au pair can be meeting people and making friends. Even though you are living with a family, being an au pair can be very lonely, especially at first. Most au pairs who are brand-new to a country don’t know anyone outside of their host family.

Even those who did their homework, asked all the right questions, and landed with a really great host family, getting to know people outside of your new home can still be tough. Especially at first.

For me, I was fine when I first moved to Germany as an au pair. I had a few friends in the country (although none nearby). I also had a great host family who took me out to see the area and introduced me to their family and close circle of friends, which was fantastic and very kind of them. But at some point I was ready to make friends of my own, especially close girlfriends. You may be in a similar situation and wondering how to meet people.

If you are, here are three ways that I made friends as an Au Pair:

  1. Language class – I can’t recommend this enough. My closest friendships were made through my German classes. The courses I signed up for were pretty crappy (my German teacher was actually Russian, if that tells you anything). But I made some great (and lasting) friendships during my classes. Granted, once you make friends you may spend more time skipping class than attending (consider yourself warned!), and you will quite likely have to step out of your comfort zone to meet new people, but language school is a GREAT way to meet other people.
  2. Go to church – Seriously. I met some really great people through a church in Stuttgart and through Bible studies at one of the universities in the city. And believe it or not, some of these people were really cool, and not crazy Bible-thumpers. (For those who do not attend religious services, maybe you could look for groups/meet-ups on things that interest you – either hobbies, sports, or something similar).
  3. Just get out there – Sometimes you just have to get out and talk to people. And although it can be intimidating, you can meet some great people by getting over yourself and talking to strangers. One of my best friends and I made some great friends by going out and talking to people at our favorite hangout. We didn’t have time to wait around to meet people, so we took it upon ourselves to talk to people who looked like fun, and we made good friends this way, even in Germany, where people tend to be a bit more reserved than what we were used to.

I’d love to hear from you. How have you made friends? Was it easy? How did you handle loneliness in the meantime?