After moving in with my Australian host family in June, it was a real adjustment from living with other people my age and was different from any job I’d ever had. At Ole Miss, I was a Community Assistant for a year and a Summer College Counselor for one term, so I’d had live-in jobs before, but there were definitely even more differences being a live-in nanny.
Some living adjustments felt very restricting at first, as you’re not only living with a host family, you’re also living with young children. In my case, this meant the family was not very open to having strangers in their home (i.e. no friends over to study or have a lowkey movie night) and even on the days I was not working, it wasn’t uncommon to be woken by screaming children very early in the morning. There was no option to come in a bit late or call in sick if you were having a bad day because your boss could knock on your door or see you grabbing a snack in the kitchen. This meant that I really had to stay on top of my school and work schedules.
As far as jobs go, a great deal of flexibility is also required. Although my start time many mornings was not until 8am, if the children were wide awake at 7am, it was time for me to start my day and give them their breakfast. Additionally, if the family wanted to have a vacation away from home, I needed to be available to make up hours outside of my usual times in order to still meet my minimum number of hours. This isn’t the way usual au pair arrangements work, at least not in Australia, but it was good for me as a student, as it allowed me to work part time, rather than the typical 30-40+ hour workweeks.
Cultural differences came in to play with the children’s diets and the very strict limitations on their screen time. Differences in home life, discipline, family dynamics, and more were all things I had to adjust to as I went. Additionally, just having three adults running a household, raising children, and living together made many personal differences quite apparent. In the end I realized the family was not for me. Although I truly bonded with the children and the support I had from the family was substantial, differences between myself and the parents made it clear I would not be happy there long term as I decided to extend my studies abroad for a second time.
While I only stayed with the family for around 5 months rather than the 6 months to a year we expected, the experience of being an au pair really taught me a lot, and was a tremendous factor in my ability to not only survive, but thrive in Sydney after extending my studies abroad. It gave me the experience to work in other childcare positions which has allowed me to do plenty of networking and find work as needed on a casual basis. I don’t think I would be in Australia today if it wasn’t for my au pair experience, and I encourage others doing extended study abroad or direct enrol programs to research au pair/bro pair opportunities in their host countries if looking for the immersive experience of living with a local host family, gaining childcare experience, and having employment to help support yourself while abroad. Read Part Three for my advice on being an au pair.
Part Three: https://finsupabroad.com/2021/01/27/australia-au-pair-life-my-experience-as-a-live-in-nanny-abroad-part-three/