What can you expect from your time as an aupair? Annique recounts her experience.
For the first six months of my gap year, I decided to work as an aupair in Geneva, Switzerland, so that I could earn a little bit of money and improve on my elementary French. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the experience at all, but I found out soon enough that the world of an aupair entails it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Finding a Family
One of the most convenient ways of finding an aupair job is by using websites and online aupair agencies. Finding a matching family works pretty much the same as internet dating. You see a profile you like and you make contact. I used the website AuPairWorld , which has information on everything you need to know about aupairing in Europe. After you have created a profile, the site lets you send a request to listed families and ask them to either accept or decline contact with you (get ready for feelings of rejection). The profiles generally indicate:
- The duration of the job
- Description and photos of the family
- What the family is looking for (e.g. native English speaker, non-smoker, etc.)
Once you are in contact with a family, you can ask them specific questions, for example what your room will look like, or what household chores they expect you to do. If everything sounds good for both of you, then the family will send you a signed contract, which you countersign and send back.
I arrived in Geneva at the beginning of February, smack in the middle of winter. The family lived on a vineyard that overlooks Lake Geneva, with beautiful views. Next to the main house there was a chalet, which was going to be my little private home.
The chalet itself was cute, the size of a bachelor flat, but it was freezing cold and hadn’t been cleaned (I could actually vacuum zebra stripes over the couch) … and let me not talk about the spiders (fat enough to be alarming). If I wanted my room to be warmer than 0 degrees, I had to go collect wood and light up a stove (Medieval Century-style) and regulate it so that it didn’t go from freezer to oven. The family generally believed in old-school heating, also for the main house. I can’t say it was exactly the standard of living I was used to (at all), but the fact that I had some privacy and didn’t have to wake-up to a crying baby every morning was worth a lot.
They had two children, a 2-year old boy and a newborn girl. The family, especially the mom, was very welcoming and kind to me. For the first week she spoke to me in English, before switching to French (which had kind of been the point anyway). On the first day, she and I sat down and went over exactly what my chores would include – I highly recommend sorting this out ASAP, so that both parties know what the deal is.
We arranged that I’d be taking care of the kids from 9h – 15:30h during the week, and have the weekend off. Each country has its own rules on aupair working hours and salary, and you can find that information on the agency website. It’s usually between 20 to 35 hours a week.
My childcare responsibilities included:
- Preparing milk bottles and baby meals
- Changing nappies
- Playing with the kids and taking them for walks
- Putting the 2-year old down for his nap
My household chores included:
- Washing dishes
- Setting and clearing the table for breakfast and lunch
- Cleaning floors and bathrooms
- Taking out compost
Truthfully, I was cleaning too much. I didn’t see why I had to clean their bathroom, for example, when I didn’t even use it myself. Or why I had to pick up used tissues and yogurt cups from the floor and throw it away (because the dad left it there). I didn’t mind light chores, like hanging up washing or doing some dishes… especially in the beginning, because it kept me busy while I was feeling quite homesick. I guess I can’t really complain though, because I never spoke up about it. I just took to being their Cinderella. From the mom’s point of view, I was the ‘Pearl of the Family’…
As with the working hours, aupair salaries are usually country-specific. I received about 750 Swiss Francs per week. From that I had to pay for:
- My monthly bus card
- Half of the medical aid fee (in many countries it is compulsory for aupairs, and generally the host family should cover the costs – in my case they covered half)
- Language classes (it is often compulsory to take up language classes specific to the country or region an aupair is working in)
The rest of the money was mine to save or spend. A chunk of it went to my gym membership, and the rest I used for travels within Switzerland, concerts, or added it to my savings. I used the afternoons to go tutor in town, which allowed me to save up a bit extra. I earned about Sfr 50 per hour of tutoring.
The Thing about Au pairing
Basically, you never know what you are going to get until you actually meet the family and settle into the job. You could end up in a dump, scrubbing floors and watching kids who throw daily tantrums – or you could end up in a city penthouse, with almost no chores, and watch little angels. Or like me, you can end up with some good, bad, and ugly.
My Advice to New Aupairs
- When you browse for families, only contact families that are registered members – they pay for the membership, so it’s more likely that they are serious about employing someone.
- Know your rights! Make sure you have a solid contract to fall back on in case things go South, or in case you wake up realizing you are Cinderella – you are an aupair, not a maid (don’t use websites that don’t offer contracts).
- If things go south, speak up. If your rights are being violated or the family is not honouring the contract, contact the agency – you will not be forced to stay in hell.
- Definitely try to have a social life or a hobby – it can get a bit lonely, especially if you aren’t working in the city (many cities have au pair communities too – there ain’t nothing like a good gossip about your host families over a cup of coffee).
If you are going to be an aupair for a baby or toddler, you might want to do a first aid course. Taking care of those minions is a big responsibility, and you want to feel as confident as possible. Also, we strongly suggest you only consider aupair work if you genuinely like kids!
Opinions from Other Aupairs
“After finishing matric, I decided to take a gap year au pairing in Germany for 8 months. I found a lovely family with three boys in a rural village in southern Germany. Although they were a handful most of the time, I didn’t have a lot of expenses, so that helped save up to travel during my time with them. I helped getting the kids ready for school, did homework with them and made sure that the house wasn’t trashed by the time the parents came home. It was quite the experience! I would recommend it to anyone who likes children.”
– Elke Schwär (former aupair)