By Lorena Villa Parkman
I was 21 years old when I decided I needed an adventure. I was mid-way through my bachelor’s degree and graduation seemed closer and closer each day. I was confident I would have a job before finishing college, but I worried that with the responsibilities that come with having a full-time job it would be a while before I could have a long-term adventure in another country. I didn’t want to enroll in an exchange program since I knew my parents didn’t have enough money to support me in a foreign country, so I started looking for jobs. That’s when I learned about au pairs.
An au pair is a young woman (or man) between the ages of 18 and 26, with limited childcare experience who is willing to stay with a family in a foreign country for a cultural exchange and to take care of their children as nannies do.
The differences between an au pair and a nanny are that the latter makes a career out of childcare work, might be older, and doesn’t seek a cultural exchange. Au pairs become part of the host family. They live and vacation with together and receive lodging, meals, and a monthly salary from the host family. Besides taking care of the children, they perform some household chores and overall can be considered older siblings to your kids.
I ended up being an au pair for eight months in Istanbul, Turkey. It was a marvelous experience for both my host family and me. I will never forget Oktay and Sibel, the two kids who became my little brother and sister, and my experiences there.
With that experience in mind, if you plan to hire an au pair or nanny, here are some things that you might want to consider:
- The candidate must have basic first aid knowledge.
- He or she must have experience taking care of children. Since an au pair will be living with you and will be immersed in your family routine, he or she might have less formal experience taking care of other people’s children. Ask for references in both cases.
- Make sure he or she shares your family values, especially if you plan to hire an au pair with whom you will be sharing your personal family life. Even though he or she might have other customs, since the au pair is likely from a culture and country different from yours, ask him or her about core beliefs and morals.
- Use an agency for both au pairs and nannies since most agencies do a background check. There are many au pair agencies out there like Great Au Pair and Au Pair Care.
- Your family should meet the au pair or nanny before you hire him or her. Talk about your expectations and make sure your personalities are a good fit. If the au pair lives in a foreign country, schedule some Skype calls in advance of the move.
- Before hiring an au pair or nanny, make sure the monetary compensation and list of specific chores expected from him or her are clear for both parties.
If you make sure through extensive research that the au pair or nanny is a good fit for your family, your family and the au pair or nany will end up having a wonderful and enriching experience.