Adventures of an Au Pair: 2010

The First Phone Interview

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Today was a monumental day. Today... I had my first phone interview with a potential au pair family! Whoot whoot for progress. It was a 45 minute long conversation and although I am not interested in actually working for them, I think it was good for me to have that type of conversation with a family. It felt nice to make some type of progress, even if it wasn't the most productive. 

But, I'm not going to lie... I've been a bit conflicted these days. I'm still in love with the idea of being an au pair and I'm still actively looking. But there's a whole other path that appeals to me, too, which is finding a full-time job in event/wedding planning. Which making  a legit salary and not "pocket money." It means making progress in my anticipated career and (hopefully) doing something I love 5 days a week. The confliction started when I heard about a job opening through a friend of mine, which sounded AWESOME and exactly what I would want. So of course I applied, and although I haven't heard anything back it got my wheels a turning... am I ready to be broke for another year plus? Do I want to put off starting a real job? Of course, living in Europe for a year has a strong pull, but the realities of the au pair program have drawbacks, as well.

And I guess the answer is most likely yes. But I've decided that I will search for both the perfect au pair job and the perfect big girl job, and see which pans out the best. Leaving it up to the big man in the sky... and that's fine with me.

parlez-vous fran├žais?

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In case you didn't know.... it's time for these.
The Winter Olympics! I'm instantly transported to days of yesteryear when I was taking ice skating lessons and dreamed of being the next Michelle Kwan. My family and I watched the opening ceremonies last night (all 4 hours of it) and it seemed like the lighting designer wanted to take us on some sort of worldwide acid trip. Interesting. But that's beside my point, my point being that the announcements were made in both english and french and I couldn't understand one lick of the french. How depressing.

Back in the stress-free and responsiblity-less days of high school, I studied French. And I enjoyed it, continuing the classes until the highest and torturous level of AP French 5. I considered it a blessing that I tested out of taking the required foreign language requirement in college. If I remember correctly I even rose to the challenge of enrolling in a third-level French college course, which I attended once and promptly dropped from my schedule. So altogether it's been 3.5 years since I've really been practicing my french speaking skills. Since my goal is to au pair in a french-speaking country, I think it's about time for a refresher...

I've been doing a bit of research on amazon to help me get back in the french groove. Luckily I can get access to Rosetta Stone through my brothers (and avoid the huge price tag, so if I need some more intensive work I have that to work with.
I also stumbled upon a program called fluenz that got really great reviews. 


According to the reviews it offers a more "grown-up" version of learning french that focuses on more than learning "tree" and then "green tree." It also has some pretty interesting screen caps, which will hopefully keep the boredom away. Still, at $177, I might be sticking with that Rosetta unless it fails me. Or more like I fail it.

I didn't really anticipate working on my french until much later in this process. But this week I received an "I'm Interested" click from a family from Southern France that owns a beautiful vineyard. When I say beautiful... I mean srtaight-from-a-coffee-table-book beautiful They would be expecting their first baby a month before I arrived- which is great for me, since I love babies- and live in a beautiful part of France near the ocean. I'd have my own apartment on the vineyard AND they also hold weddings and special events there (once again- planning is my #1 hobby). Sounds like Heaven to me. Of course this would be too easy of a decision, so the fates conspired against me to produce one minor little challenge... the family only speaks french. No english. Refer back to my first paragraph of not speaking french in 3.5 years.

Not easily thwarted, I attempted to write an email back in french and it was a hot mess. I had to send it to my dear sweet friend Jessica for review until it looked like something intelligible enough to send out. I haven't received a reply from there- maybe they took offense to the butchering of their lovely language- but I'm hoping to hear from them soon... it sounds like an exciting yet idyllic job. And the never ending supply of fancy french wine doesn't hurt, either.

Pardon me but I'm off to memorize verb conjugations now. 

step one out of one thousand

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I present to you.... my passport.






Step one down! Here is where you imagine my squeals of excitement that escaped my lips earlier today.

This week I've been doing some major research. I happened upon a website www.aupairmom.com that really opened my eyes about the dynamics of being an au pair. The website is meant for au pair host families (shortened to HF) but I would encourage potential au pairs and current au pairs to read it, as well.

I'd love to say that browsing that website left me inspired and even more enthusiastic about this gig. But it didn't. I'll preface by saying I think host families in the US and host families in Europe have different attitudes towards the arrangement (at least I hope so.) The systems are set up to reflect that- most European au pair programs put the working hours at around 25-30 per week. In America the limit is 45 and the pay is not too hot. In general I see American HFs looking at this as mainly "cheap childcare" with the added benefit that the au pair will always be around if you need her.

Let me just say that I would never be a foreign au pair for an American family. For me, cheap childcare isn't what it's all about, and neither is working my butt off all the time. Of course, I expect to put in long and many hours being a great "big sister" to the kids, and I don't expect to be making the big bucks. But my philosophy is this: if I wanted to be broke and over worked, I can certainly find that job in America.

But, to be more positive, the Au Pair Mom website opened my eyes to some aspects of this job that I hadn't ever thought about. I'm a fiercely independent girl, always have been, and now I know that some families don't let you be that independent. They set curfews and require check-ins, limit your travel time and all kinds of other restrictions. This free bird wants to FLY in Europe, not be locked in a cage. So now I know to ask potential host families about their rules and expectations in regards to that.

The general au pair philosophy, in all its glory, is that an au pair is supposed to be treated as "part of the family." Now I know that this definition can hugely vary from family to family. Do they expect to be taking on another child, and therefore treat me as their own? Or do they look at an au pair as a mature adult moving in with them and participating in "family" activities? I'm sure if you and I were to explain what it means to be "family" within our own relatives, it wouldn't be the same, so figuring this out is definitely something to discuss BEFORE booking an $800 plane ticket.

There really is SO much to think about, and so much to discuss with a family and it kind of makes my head spin.

....But at least I have my passport.

unexpectedly overwhelmed

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Now this... I wasn't expecting. The amount of emails I have received from au pair sites is overwhelming! Since europe is 6 hours ahead of me, I've been waking up to so many notification emails from websites I've joined. And if you know me... you know mornings aren't the best times for me, in any aspect. So organizing and responding to the emails often gets overruled by the other important things in my day. Keeping track of the different families has been the hardest part right now. And it's even harder because I haven't quite settled on all the not negotiables, the things that I won't even consider working without. So far I know that I want..

  1. Easy access to transportation. One of the main reasons I'm doing this whole au pair thing is to see different countries and places throughout Europe, and not to be stuck in a remote part of the continent without any way to get around.
  2. A higher than normal salary. Not to toot my own horn, but I've had a lot of experience with the kiddies and think my salary should be commiserate with that experience.
And that's about all I got figured out. I don't think I realized how DIFFERENT each family listing is. I mean duh, of course all families are different, but some jobs have this but not that, etc. It certainly makes things harder for me to wade through. I have faith, though, that the perfect position will come along and I'll know it when I find it. Hopefully. :)

So, what I've done to organize myself... starting with the wonderful gmail. I created a bright pink "au pair" labeling system, which is a life saver. Even if I can't do anything else right away, I can slap that pink sticker on an email and then I know I can easily find it later to go back to. In addition to the pink au pair label, I also made a "no" label so I can know what emails to ignore. Cut-throat, right?
Exhibit A.

 I've also started an excel spreadsheet (praise the Microsoft gods) to keep track of families that I've begun communication with and are seriously interested in. So far, not many families are on the list, but hopefully with this most recent emailing spree I went on I'll be adding more families soon. 

So that's where I'm at right now. Thankfully I started my search early enough that I don't feel pressured time-wise, but maybe this week will bring some progress!


paralysis to passport

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Once I realized that it's time to get this thing started, and once I forged my way out of momentary paralysis, I had the task of informing my parents. I knew they wouldn't be shocked- I'll admit that I've always been a dreamer and have had a myriad of random plans of things to do once I graduate. A sampling:

- work on a dude ranch
- be a camp counselor
- be a freelance web designer
- attend advertising portfolio school
- move to NYC
- get married and be a stay at home mom

I think I picked the right route, don't you?

So my mother, who has always been supportive of my fantastical plans, currently has two children on the other side of the world. Somewhere somehow both of my brothers decided to join the military, and then the military decided to ship them out. Although my mom didn't verbalize the huge pit in her stomach at the thought of all of her children being in different countries at the same time, I know it was there. Luckily I won't be gone for TOO long, a year max, and then she'll have her only daughter back at home. Cause you know and I know that I'm going to be broke beyond belief and moving back in with the parents. Ain't no question.

Back to the point. Once we all got used to this living in a foreign country idea, I had to make a plan. Good thing planning is my #1 hobby. First action? Get a passport!


FYI: passports are expensive. $100, to be exact. On top of the ten bucks you spend to go get a horrible picture of yourself taken in a drugstore with fluorescent lights wreaking havoc on your skin tone. What? That didn't happen to you? Guess you didn't go to cvs pharmacy. This passport picture is worse than my very first license picture, and that's saying something. For anyone needing a passport picture, the library recommended Kinko's, conveniently right after I had already got mine printed. Apparently Kinko's is more likely to match the requirements consistently? Here's hoping CVS didnt let me down. Again. So here's what I did:

- With a stroke of genius the government so rarely shows, the us passport website lets you download the application in pdf format and type in your information. Much more convenient. And, if you have horrible handwriting like me, it eliminates processing errors due to chicken scratch tendencies. It took all of about five minutes to fill it out and print. The end.
- Here's where I had to scrounge up an "evidence of us citizenship" and gov. issued ID. Luckily I had a certified copy of my birth certificate at my apartment, so that was easy enough. I didn't realize until the man at the library was taking my birth certificate that this document has to be sent in with your application. As in my birth certificate is floating around in a government office somewhere and will be mailed back to me at some arbitrary date in the future. Weirds me out a bit.
- Took some bloody awful passport photos. There are certain requirements for these, besides being bloody awful, so I was thorough enough to check out all of these deets so I didn't go screw things up.

Thankfully I aced reading comprehension on my SATs and... I submitted my application and should receive my US PASSPORT in a few weeks! Just getting that part done was such an exciting feeling, the kind that puts a ridiculous smile on your face until you realize how dumb you look. In a way that made all of this a reality in my life- the first step to being able to leave this country for the first time. Ever. And that was one step that felt really good to take.

sneak attack

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Have you ever woke up one day and wondered how on earth this day got here so quickly?

As I'm approaching the end of my collegiate career, I can't help but reflect upon the very beginning. The very first day. And how its about to be my very last.

But more so than graduating, I'm shocked that now it's time to put up or shut up. Find a job. Be an adult. Nine to five. As a severely independent (ask my mama) and motivated girl, I've often dreamt of the day when I'd land my first big girl job with the killer wardrobe and salary to match. (Oh thank you, crappy economy, for dashing those dreams. ) As much as I look forward to starting a career in a field I love and obsess about (event and wedding planning!), there are just some things more important to me.

The way i look at it, I have 40+ years ahead of me to work a job. 40. years. That's a long time until the measly institution of social security starts to pay me for putting in a lifetime of taxes. But in 40 years, when I don't have to work so much anymore, what will I really be able to do? Sit around and knit?

That's just not enough. That's not the age or time to do the things I've always wanted to do. So I've decided... the time is now.

I'm just going to do it. I'm going to work through each and every complication in order to do what I want to do while I still can.

I want to travel. See the world. Meet different types of people. And I've found the best way for me to do it... is to be an au pair.

au pair (plural: au pairs) is a foreign-national domestic assistant working for, and living as part of, a host family.

which basically means... families from Europe will hire me to come live with them and help them or their kids speak english. They pay for my room and board, pocket money, and a variety of other things, and in turn I do a little bit of housework and watch the kiddies. Basically they adopt me as a big sister and they're my temporary family. When I'm not working... I'll be jet setting all over Europe. :)

So. Excited.

I don't plan on crossing the pond until late summer, but in the meantime I've created this lil blog here to keep track of the process. I've discovered that there aren't a lot of great resources for us au pair wannabes, but there are plenty of scams and resources for au pair families. So I'll also be writing about what I'm doing and things I discover as I plan out this next crazy part in my life. Maybe hopefully possibly it'll stumble into the hands of someone who can find it useful.

So, if youre still reading this, I hope you enjoy the ride. Lord knows I will!