Preparing for my au pair year in America was one of the most exciting times of my life! It was my first time away from home for such a long time! I was looking for all kinds of information online and joined a ton of Facebook groups to get in contact with other future au pairs to share ideas and thoughts.
Here’s a little list of things that I wish I had known before I became an au pair in America.
You will not need your whole wardrobe
Pack lightly. It’s better to stick to one suitcase and only pack whatever is needed for the current season at your destination. This also saves you some (shopping-) money, as an extra suitcase can get very expensive, depending on the airline.
Compared to the prices in Europe, clothes are very cheap here. The malls are huge and so different from any shopping experience I’ve ever had in Europe. You will probably spend a lot of time shopping with your au pair friends and find many treasures to take home.
Find more packing tips here.
Do you think your school English is good?
When I went to school, I’ve always had good grades in my English classes. I even worked at an airport before I became an au pair in America and talked to the passengers in English all the time. Once you get here though, you will have to deal with the local accent, children learning to speak and other au pairs with accents from all over the world. And then there are all the new words people are throwing at you, that you have never heard before. In the beginning you might feel a little shy asking for the meaning, but with time you’ll get used to it. You can also turn this into a fun game with your host children – have them explain the meaning of words to you that you don’t understand. Once you’re here, you will learn English quickly and naturally, way more efficient than any class could be.
Privacy issues might come up at some point of your au pair year
Living in a house with a family of strangers can be very awkward at first. The kids might not understand that you are off at certain times and some host parents might think that, because you are around, they can just go grocery shopping and leave the kids with you in your free time.
Before you choose to live with a host family, make sure you talk to them about the living situation in your future home. Where will your bedroom be located? Will there be a private bathroom available for you? Do they have any expectations from you in your “off”-time?
You cannot control the host parent’s behavior, but what goes around comes around.
Give your host parents some private time. Don’t hang out with them in the living room every night. Make sure to knock on the door before you enter a room. Always inform them about guests you are expecting, as you would like to know who’s in the house at all times as well.
Another important thing is to keep private talks and information between you and your host family. Do not share this information with your friends.
Hopefully you will have an amazing connection with your host family and you won’t be shy to discuss any issues with them.
It will be easy to find friends
This is one of the many benefits of the au pair agencies. You will be part of an au pair group. The agency will arrange monthly meetings, plan fun activities and you will easily get in contact with other au pairs. When I arrived, I was warmly welcomed by a few of the girls, who were already waiting for my arrival and looking forward to meet me. If nobody reaches out to you, you can ask the leader of your au pair group for contact information of other au pairs, like people from your home country or who are of the same age as you.
Usually, since you are all going through the same experience, you will quickly find something you have in common and it will be easy to get along. This does not mean that it will be easy to find your new BFF, but at least you will have some people to hang out with and discover your new hometown.
First the chores, then the fun!
This should be obvious, but some au pairs don’t realize that in the end we’re all here to work. Please be aware that you will spend a ton of time with your host kids. Your host family’s first priority is to have their childcare covered. Sometimes you might want to make plans with your friends, but the family will need you to work instead. This can be frustrating, but if you enjoy being around children and love to play and discover the world with them, their little smiles, hugs and kisses will make up for it.
You might feel like a child again
Not just because you are spending your entire day with the little ones, but also because your host parents have your well being in their best interest. They worry about you and feel responsible for anything that could happen to you. They want you to get back to your home country well and healthy once your year is over. Therefore they will ask you where you are going, when you will be back, and so on. Some host families have curfews for their au pair, or rules about when they are allowed to use the car and where they are allowed to drive.
Make sure you ask about these rules before you decide to match with a family.
Save up for your travel month
Most au pairs make big plans for their travel month. Go on a road trip on the West Coast, hang out under palm trees on the beach in Florida or go gambling in Las Vegas… oh, or you could take surf lessons on Waikiki Beach!
There are endless options, but of course only if your bank account is filled with a good amount of cash… Unless your parents can help, the easiest way to afford your trip is to put a little money to the side each week, right when you get paid. Set aside $40 per week and you’ll save up over $2.000 by the end of your year. This should allow for a nice vacation!
Adjusting to your home country after your au pair year is harder than you think
You might not realize it, but you’ll adapt to the American culture, there’s no way around it. Once you are back in your home country, you might experience a reverse culture shock. This means that you will have certain expectations about returning back home and if these expectations aren’t met, you might idealize the life you had in the United States and make yourself think that everything was better over there. You might feel like time is standing still and nothing has changed since you left your home. After a short period of time, your friends and family seem uninterested in listening to more of your au pair-life stories.
These feelings are normal and once you have started working or going back to school, or even moved to your very own apartment (You can finally be an adult again and live by yourself! YES!!!), it will get better. I promise.
I really enjoyed the cultural experience of being an au pair and loved both my host families (I extended my time with another family) and especially the kids!
Hopefully these tips will help answer some of the questions you may have. Be very careful about picking a host family and don’t be shy asking questions, this is YOUR year! It is in your hands to make this the best time of your life!
Are there any other things that you wish you had known? Please let me know in the comments below. I can’t wait to hear from you!