Benefits of Au Pairing in France
It was the end of Varsha Patel's first year at university, and she had just moved back home, aware of the extremely long summer ahead of herself.
She had not secured a summer job and had no real plan and her best friend was off interrailing. Heartbroken that the remainder of her student loan would not allow to join her friend, Varsha looked into au pairing in search of a more affordable - and rewarding - summer.
After some research and spending a few weeks speaking to a family, Varsha took an EasyJet flight to Nice, to try to make a little bit of extra pocket money whilst exploring France more. Hands down, it turned out to be the best experience of her life!
She is still in touch with the family, met incredible people and she would thoroughly recommend it to students looking for an alternative way to travel.
Below Varsha shares her top reasons to consider au pairing in France, and also a few tips too!
1. Access to local culture and language
Yes, your French A-Levels taught you to discuss fairtrade and the evolution of the French cinema, but those pre-prepared answers are nothing compared to the debates around the dinner table with a French family.
From discussions on vegetarianism to arranged marriage - it was never a dull day, and it was never straight forward, given the immense amount of vocabulary I was clearly missing. My experience not only helped me out with the daily language that the French actually use (cou cou!) but it also helped me see other points of view, that I may not have experienced had I stayed in London all summer.
I was primarily with this family to teach their son English, as he was beginning school at an English lycée that September. Attempting to translate certain text in ‘The Secret Garden’ to French so that he could understand the context also pushed my understanding of the language more than I could have expected.
I was in a small town near Nice for the first part of the summer with the family, and on my days off there I explored Cannes, St Tropez and other parts of the South.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t have been able to - but the wage I received allowed me to explore, and the family gave me great recommendations. When I was back in their family home in Calais, as I said above, I used my days off to do some work experience. I was a receptionist in a doctor’s surgery for the most part, and let me tell you something - dates of birth and surnames in French can really stress you out!
I also attended a dinner party that the parent’s hosted one evening, and while I’ll hold my hands up and confess that I understood very little of the conversation, it was still a fantastic experience! Additionally, I got to do some horse riding for the first time ever - which was absolutely fab. Who knew you could even do this in Calais?!
Tuuli Liiskmaa, UK managing director at Smartaupairs and BAPAA & IAPA member, says that ‘for anyone who loves travel and looking after children, the au pair program is a fantastic way to explore a new country in a safe and supportive host family setting’.
The family also helped me out with my CV in French, arranged some work experience at local offices on my days off and actually sat down in the evenings to work on my spelling and grammar. The fact that they invested all that time - when typically au pairs don’t get that - really meant a lot, and they supported me so much in terms of preparing for my year abroad too!
But even if your family just want you to work your hours and then go off and explore on your own accord, au pairing can help you with your studies and career. It’s a fantastic experience to talk about in your interviews for internships, vacation schemes and full-time jobs. Tell me about a time where you were outside of your comfort zone?
Moving abroad for a summer with a family who speak no English whatsoever is certainly more intriguing and unique that that group project you participated in for your seminar...
4. Making a difference
It may sound cliché, but it genuinely is so rewarding to see somebody’s language improve so much - especially when you think that you might not be making much of a difference. Victor’s reading improved massively during that summer, and the relief his parents felt at him being more comfortable and confident to join a English school that summer was also very reassuring. I hope they felt that same way about my (hopefully) less broken French!
5. A second family and friends!
I had the best time au pairing with the family. So much so, that I went back the following summers, not as an au pair, but as a friend. I still helped out with Victor’s reading and homework, but mostly we just played sports and walked the dog! I
The family also stayed with and visited me when I was on my academic year abroad in Paris, and we got to explore together! And now, time has flown and I’m helping Victor with university applications as he’s considering studying in the UK. I can’t believe it!
1. Finding the family
I used AuPairWorld to find a family, and I definitely recommend it. However, some safer ways may be to see if your school/university offers an exchange/au pair programme, or go on recommendations from friends, family or even an old language teacher!
Liiskmaa adds that ‘using a reputable and accredited agency means that you will receive support and guidance both before and after arrival to your host family’. For example, at Smartaupairs, Liiskmaa says that ‘you will only be put in touch with families who themselves have been checked and reference checked, and you will be able to read the references on each family before applying for the positions’.
Liiskmaa also advises to ‘look out for national and international au pair associations before you apply, such as IAPA and BAPAA in England’.
2. Know before you go - as much as you can
Once you’ve ‘matched’ with a family, I think it’s important to get to know them before, and what tasks you will be required to do, to ensure you are comfortable with doing them. The family video called me, sent photos, explained what they do for a living and why they wanted an au pair, and were exceptionally transparent about the whole process!
It’s also important that you’re honest about what you want out of the experience and that you ask as many questions as you need. For example, if they’ve not mentioned days off - it’s probably worth outlining that you want (and need!) days off at the start.
Importantly, there will likely be several families who want you to join them as an au pair. So weigh up your choices carefully to what suits YOU best. Don’t feel any pressure - you can even say no to all of them if it doesn’t feel like the right fit.
3. Be prepared
A small part of me was a bit worried that when working in France I could get there and may have been catfished and the family wouldn’t show up at the airport, so I’d recommend taking extra pocket money - just in case! You should also let your family and friends know all the details - dates, addresses etc. Let them know on what dates you are planning to travel to other places too.
Liiskmaa notes that it is extremely important to ‘factor in travel, insurance and possible visa costs and to also ensure you are ready and prepared to be away from home for an extended period of time’.
4. Enjoy it!
You’re unlikely to have an experience like working as an au pair again, so make the most of it.
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