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Au Pair Abroad: 4 Stories of Travel and Cultural Immersion

Live-in nanny

An au pair is a live-in nanny. (photo by Ed Yourdon)

Awhile ago, I wrote an article that listed 7 alternative travel methods. On that list, I could have also included the idea of working abroad as an Au Pair, which basically means working as a live-in nanny.

I figured now would be a good time to investigate the job prospect a bit more.

In doing so, I have reached out to a couple of traveling ladies that have spent time working in this field to interview them on their experiences relating to their job, cultural immersion and travel opportunities.

There is no doubt that working as an Au Pair provides a cultural immersion of sorts, but how does it fair when compared to working in other fields abroad, and does it allow for travel opportunities while overseas?

The four ladies that responded to my questions provided more information than I could have imagined, so I have chosen the most important bits to feature below.

Stacey Kuyf

Stacey Kuyf

Stacey Kuyf, worked in Chicago and San Diego, USA for 2 years

Find Stacey on her travel blog, One Travels Far, or on Twitter and Facebook.

Stacey's Au Pair job, besides looking after two children (boy and girl age 4 and 5), seems pretty laid-back. Her duties included dropping the children off at school, having daytime hours off, picking the children up at 2:30pm and working until 6:30pm.

In the middle of that she had to clean, provide snacks, and do laundry a few times a week, but she never really had to work weekends.

When it comes to travel, Stacey felt very lucky, especially since the rules entail that Au Pairs only need one full weekend off every month.

Her freedom on the weekends meant she was able to road trip to new places and even take advantage of US public holidays for long weekend breaks.

Over her two years working in the US, she was able to visit 16 states, take a day trip to Mexico, and spend 10 days in Florida in the middle of winter.

Stacey added, “My focus was on travel though, and a lot of Au Pairs will spend all their money on clothes and clubbing, and only have seen the city they live in when they leave.”

In terms of cultural immersion, Stacey explained:

“I definitely feel that I gained a far deeper insight into the United States by living with Americans as well as working there.

My host dad's a hard core Republican from New York, and I'm very liberal and from New Zealand, so we would have political debates that opened my eyes, and taught me more about the issues that everyday Americans face.

I'm also very thankful that I got to experience Halloween, Thanksgiving and the 4th of July twice while I was there, in two different cities.

These are such “American” holidays, and I'm so lucky to have had the opportunity to celebrate them in the United States.”

Jessica Walters

Jessica Walters

Jessica Walters, works in Aerdenhout, the Netherlands for 8 months

You can find Jessica on her Facebook page, her Au Pair Cooking Channel, or view her Au Pair profile.

Jessica Walters currently works about 20 minutes outside of Amsterdam, in a town called Aerdenhout, where she has been working for the past 8 months.

Here she cares for a 12-year-old girl, taking care of all the ironing, cooking for 4 days a week, cleaning of the kitchen daily, and taking the girl to her various activities and lessons.

Jessica adds, “She is a dream though and it's like having a younger sister. . .”

Jessica is also lucky in that she gets to travel a lot. That doesn't happen easily though on an Au Pair's salary, but the time is plentiful for her.

“I save all my money (well most of it) from each month and take a weekend trip, or if it's a holiday from school then a week-long [trip] somewhere once a month every month.”

In terms of cultural immersion, Jessica explains:

“It's the best way because you are living with the people you work with so you have the culture and language around you 24/7. I have worked in Bulgaria as a housekeeper before, and I didn't live with the couple I worked for.

It was a wonderful country but a completely different experience because all I did was work and on my time off I walked around and did more tourist things. . . it got lonely sometimes.”

Amanda Slavinsky

Amanda Slavinsky

Amanda Slavinsky, worked in Rome, Italy for 4 months

Find Amanda on her travel blog, Far Sickness, or on Twitter and Facebook.

Amanda Slavinsky lived the typical Italian life while working as an Au Pair in Rome for 4 months. Her duties involved caring for two girls (age 8 and 10) that started with breakfast and getting them to school.

Her daytime hours were free, and she resumed work duties when picking up the girls from school, helping them with homework and taking them to their afterschool activities.

Dinner was eaten every day as a family around 8 pm in true Italian supper fashion.

Amanda did find travel a bit difficult given her work schedule, but did manage to take either day or weekend trips around Italy by train. Exploring other countries was much more difficult.

In terms of cultural immersion, Amanda explained:

“I celebrated birthdays with my family (complete with a sheet of tiramisu in lieu of a birthday cake), watched a lot of Italian television that I would've never been exposed to without them, celebrated my host mom's feast day, ate home cooked Italian meals every night, and learned about how things are dealt with on a familial level in Italy.

I've worked in Korea for 18 months and can say without a doubt that working as an au pair provides valuable insight into another culture, much more than just teaching English.”

Jessica Barney

Jessica Barney

Jessica Barney, worked in Paris, France for 2 weeks

Find Jessica on her website, Dream Traveler Jess.

Jessica Barney had a different experience while working for 2 weeks in a suburb of Paris. She cared for 2 children (a boy and girl age 7 and 10), but the communication between them was the big issue.

In terms of travel, Jessica said she could sometimes travel into Paris city, but during the week she worked long hours and had little time for herself.

However, she only stayed for 2 weeks, so if the situation had been different, perhaps she could have achieved more travel.

In terms of cultural immersion, Jessica added:

“I feel like I would have gained a better insight at another job. Interacting with one family, it may create a stereotype.”

As you can see, the Au Pair experience can vary greatly given the family, country, and expectations presented.

For the most part, the girls above had good experiences with plenty of travel (if they made it a priority) and a great deal of cultural immersion.

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Monday 1st of October 2012

I'm strongly considering spending a year as an au-pair in Switzerland, so it was heartening to hear about these girls' positive experiences!

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