travel

Inside the Life of an Au Pair in Europe

Traveling abroad often costs a pretty penny, but several women found their way around that hurdle.  Becoming an au pair opens a door into another culture, and it includes a paycheck.  (Now we’re talking!)Inside the Life of an Au Pair in Europe Travel

Abano, Italy made sense for Kasey Ervin after enjoying her family vacation to the country several years before as well as studying Italian at her university.  “The country, the sights, the language and the food are all too perfect,” she said. “I wanted to experience the language firsthand and improve my listening and speaking skills.”

Like Ervin, Atti Hauer found her job on aupairworld.com.  After volunteering in Benin for six months, Hauer knew she didn’t want to spend her last few months at home in Germany before university started in October.Atti Hauer Aupairworld Capitole Toulouse FranceAtti Hauer Nice France Aupairworld Travel

“I looked for possibilities to go abroad as fast and as cheap as possible, and so I had the idea to become an au pair,” Hauer said.  After contacting some families, Hauer decided on a family with three children in Toulouse, France.

Unlike Ervin and Hauer, Sam Lucas found her host family in Bozen, Italy through her sorority’s Facebook page.  “She wrote about a cool family with two cute girls who lived in a city in northern Italy and has a summer home in Sardinia,” she said. “Her older sister was an au pair with this family for six months and had a really good experience.”

Sam Lucas Bolzano Italy Travel
Sam Lucas
Bolzano Italy Travel Countryside
Bozen, Italy. Photo courtesy of Sam Lucas.
Bolzano Italy Italie Italien Travel
Bozen, Italy. Photo courtesy of Sam Lucas.

“It was really quite impulsive of me, actually; I didn’t even think about it,” Lucas said. “I was just like ‘Yes. Hell yes. Sign me up.’”

Ervin experienced culture shock, but she’s glad she did. “Facing experiences that you are unfamiliar with helps you grow as a person and understand other people and cultures in the process,” she said.

But even living in Italy isn’t perfect no matter how much pasta or pizza you add to the equation.  With less than a year of studying Italian under her belt, Ervin felt the brunt of these difficulties when out in public.

“When I try to order food, ask a woman at the store for a different shirt size or ask for directions, I find it difficult to form a question or understand answers beyond simple phrases,” Ervin said.

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Kasey Ervin
Kasey Ervin Florence Italy Au Pair
Kasey Ervin

Lucas found the language barrier to be the hardest obstacle.  “It’s much harder because most of the locals speak a dialect of German—not even proper German, which I do have some knowledge of—and Italian,” she said.

Even though Hauer didn’t feel much culture shock, her first several weeks with the children weren’t a piece of chocolate gateau. “For them you are a stranger that suddenly lives in their house; they were testing their limits and didn’t really listen,” she said. “But after some time, they got used to me, I gained their trust, and they understood that I’m like their ‘second mom’ and that they have to listen to what I say.”

Those first two weeks wouldn’t define the rest of her time.  “It’s awesome when the children come to you, say that they love you and that they don’t want you to leave, give you a hug or a ‘bisou’ before going to bed,” Hauer said.

Living abroad has taught Ervin more about her own American culture. “I have noticed other cultures enjoy their food more than Americans. They typically spend an hour or more eating, talking and relaxing,” she said.  “In America, we tend to eat fast so we can move on with our daily lives, or we will work while we eat and not enjoy the food in front of us except for Sunday lunches at Grandma’s house.”

Although her time in Italy included some bumps and bruises, Ervin wouldn’t change her experience and looks forward to returning for study abroad. “I will admit that I miss home more than anyone knows; distance makes the heart grow fonder, right?” she said. “But I would not trade my six weeks and five days in Italy for anything.”

Living abroad is different than simply touring, and Ervin prefers the former.  “While, yes, being a tourist is amazing and eye-opening, actually living with the people of the country is so much more,” she said. “You get to see things that you cannot learn in school or read on the Internet.

For Lucas, this was no chill, casual summer job.  “Traveling is a core value of mine, and I saw this as a way to go experience a new culture and see the world in an inexpensive way.”

Although the job description of an au pair includes living abroad, work is still required (sorry for the spoiler alert).

Most mornings are free for Atti who fills this time with jogs, friends, shopping and laundry.  After picking the children up from school in the afternoon, she feeds the children a snack, plays with them and cooks dinner.

“Staying in a host family gives you a better insight in the culture and their way of living,” she said. “I eat what they eat, I watch TV with them, I meet the people they meet and they take me wherever they go when they are invited somewhere, to the children’s activities or to trips on the weekend.”

A day consists of German, Italian, English and Spanish between Lucas’s host family and friends.

“However, while it is sometimes extremely frustrating and confusing, it’s been really thrilling for me too. I love language,” she said.  “I love being immersed in other cultures; that’s my thing. That’s what I want, but it’s never easy.”

{Have you lived abroad as an au pair?  Tell me about it in the comments!}

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