Exploring your new city

Hamburg

This is another guest post by Megan, who recently moved from the US to Hamburg, Germany. 

All I wanted to do once I arrived in Hamburg was explore. I soon found, however, that exploring can be expensive, tiring, and at times overwhelming. There are a few ways to circumvent these problems of exploration, namely: a bus pass, help from locals, and bringing a book along with you.

Once you get to your new city, get a bus or train pass pass. Everyone will tell you that bus passes end up saving you money, and they’re right. Bus passes are fantastically convenient, and the little laminated card can make you feel that much more official in your new home. Be sure to get the best deal on your pass, though. If you are enrolled (even as a guest student) at a local university, you should get the pass for free. Even if you aren’t enrolled at a university you can still get a student price with your old high school or college I.D. Some Au Pair families will buy you your pass so you can take the kids on the subway, and you can of course use it in your free time as well.

Remember that locals are your greatest resource when exploring. Of course the internet is good, too. You can Google “Best places in Hamburg,” or read the New York Times’ 36 Hours in Honolulu (and you totally should!), but a local is almost always the best resource. Not only do you hear what actual citizens enjoy about their city, but you also hear their critiques about these places. The personal interaction of talking with locals about their city also adds more dimensions to exploring than an internet article ever could. And you  have the added benefits of practicing your new language, asking questions, and making new friends.

Exploring and reading are rarely thought of as complementary activities, but the two do go hand in hand. If you’re on a long train ride, reading is like a little mental adventure. Even better, reading a book that takes place in your city (or new language) is like a fictional accompaniment to your real adventure! Right now, for example, I’m reading Königskinder, a story which takes place in my new city, Hamburg. The book was a bestseller here in Germany, so I feel like I’m sort of joining a massive, underground German book club. Not only am I learning about Hamburg, practicing German, and being entertained, but I’m also partaking in contemporary German culture! Find a book that takes place in your new country, or is a bestseller in your country and bring it with you on your adventures. Reading gives you a reason to sit in the park for hours, take a long bus ride, or stop at a café. When you’re finished with the book, it sort of serves as a souvenir from that time you went to the Eiffel Tower or visited Central Park.

There you have it! A few (hopefully) useful tips to help you get to know your new home. We’d like to hear from you too … what do you do to find out about your new city or town? What have you found is the best way to learn how to get around? Please share any tips or ideas in the comments below!

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!

 

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.

Ways to travel cheap as an Au Pair

Bode Museum Berlin (photo property of BestAuPairGuide)

It’s no secret that most au pairs pack their bags and move to another country to live and work with strangers for one reason: travel. Right? As we have discussed before, there are several reasons to be an au pair. And traveling cheaply is the main reason au pairs put up with all that comes along with the au pair job.

For starters, au pairs are already living in a foreign country and their room and board are free. That’s a major expense taken care of right off the bat, especially in expensive cities where the cost of living is high (think New York and Paris). Au pairing makes it possible to see and experience the pricier places to live without the hefty price tag that comes along with it.

But even though expenses are covered, it’s no secret that au pairs don’t exactly make a lot of money. So how do you travel cheaply when working as an au pair? Here are a few ways:

  • Travel with friends – sharing travel expenses with others is a major way to cut costs. In many European countries, for example, you can purchase a group train tickts or even weekend tickets to various places, making transportation super cheap. In the United States, where public transportation isn’t as readily available or affordable, you can join up with a few friends and rent a car for a fun – and cheap – road trip. Sharing hotel and food costs with friends also means a much less pricey vacation
  • Consider camping – if your budget is low, camping is an affordable way to see new places. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of the outdoor lifestyle, the money you save by camping might mean you get to visit places that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Camping made it possible for me and a couple other au pair friends to enjoy several days in Italy, and we had a blast “roughing it” in one of the world’s most gorgeous countries
  • Look into last minute travel deals and deal sites – to get the most bang out of your travel buck, you either need to book way in advance or last minute, and as an au pair with limited cash, travel is overn a spontaneous decision when you have a free weekend. Visit last minute travel websites and be sure to subscribe to services such as Groupon, which often have great deals on holiday packages, hotels, and flights (just be sure to read the fine print).
  • Travel with your host family – if your host family is going somewhere interesting on vacaction and they invite you, consider joining them even if you technically do not have to go. Although you may get suckered into doing a little more babysitting (and then again, you may not!), a free trip would likely be worth it.

What about you? Any ideas for cheap travel when working as an au pair and living on a limited budget? Share your thoughts and tips 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!