Adventures of an Au Pair: February 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 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!