Exchange to Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy
Semester 2, 2015
To make the most of my time in Europe I flew to Madrid at the end of June, ten weeks before the start of university classes.
Why? Well, I signed up to an au-pair site that connects potential au pairs with families in need. I was contacted by a family in Madrid; a mum, dad and two girls aged 5 and 7. They seemed like a lovely family so I accepted and headed to Spain!
The deal was that I would work between 9 and 3 Monday – Friday, and babysit some Friday nights so the parents could go out. On the surface it was a pretty easy job; I made the girls breakfast, did an hour of English and maths homework with them, and then we spent the afternoon at the pool until lunch time (prepared by the mum). But what I didn’t expect, or prepare myself for, was the culture shock. It was intense. After the first meal I was a bit overwhelmed and spent my afternoon upset in my room talking to family back home. I think the first night was the most homesick I have felt since leaving. The idea of seven months away from home seemed daunting and insurmountable – I did look up prices for flights home more than once. But I persevered.
By the standards of au pair work, I had a really good family. They were kind, they didn’t make me do any cleaning or cooking, and they wanted me to be a part of their family, not just a worker. I can’t say that everyone I met was so lucky, many had families who expected way too much of them, and treated them as mere workers. There was one horror story, where a girl was au pairing for a wealthy family in Madrid, she had to do all of the cooking and cleaning (toilets, kitchen etc). Furthermore, one day the family chastised her for not clearing the table while they were all still sitting down, as if she were a waitress in a restaurant. It isn’t hard to see why she left for home within the week.
My advice for future au pairs is to make sure you and your family are on the same page about everything before you arrive. Sign a contract or something that details work hours, pay days and your freedom to come and go when you are not working.
Looking back on it, I am so proud of myself for sticking with it and pushing myself way out of my comfort zone.
Now this all sounds very negative, but au pairing has more positives! I met so many amazing people, all from different parts of the world. It was a very social experience for me, other au pairs wanted to catch up and travel, so I saw different parts of Spain in good company. As well as that, it is a very cheap way to travel. I was given 70 euros a week pocket money (around $100), which isn’t the greatest pay ever, but it got me food and drinks when I was out, and payed for bus tickets on weekends.
The greatest part about au pairing is that I now have a connection with a Spanish family, the girls were very cute and send me photos and voice messages all the time. I have every intention of going back to visit.