The Au Pair Experience

Lillian Vigil standing in front of a Cathedral in Spain.

By Hannah Owens

“It’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world.” ­ – Lillian Vigil, a recent graduate of UNC-­CH.

Being an au pair has become an easy and cost-efficient way for college students and recent college graduates to travel and be immersed in a new culture. While working in such a casual environment, students and grads are gradually transitioning from school life to the “real world”, but are also given the chance to explore a new way of life that they may never be able to experience again.

For most families, an au pair is a live­in nanny. As an au pair, one would work part-time or full-time as a respite for the parents or guardians, and possibly take classes on the area’s language in conjunction with teaching the children English. Lillian Vigil, a recent UNC­CH graduate, traveled in Madrid almost every day from the small village of Soto Del Real to learn conversational Spanish, and then would help the children practice their English.

Au pairs in Europe tend to work during the week while enrolled in a few classes locally or online, and au pairs in the United States often work full-time, but both positions typically have most weekends off.

For some, traveling to a city that they have never visited, possibly had never even heard of before researching online, to live with a family that they have never met, can be pretty overwhelming.

Sarah Osborne, WPU senior and Peace Times editor, has been interested in becoming an au pair, but her “fear of the unknown” is stopping her.

What if her experience is completely different than expected? And unfortunately, that is quite possible. Lyndsey Cross, former student at Winthrop University, just moved back to South Carolina after a horrendous experience in California.

“Apparently they wanted a maid and slave not childcare,” she said on Facebook, and looking at her schedule, she was right.

Lyndsey was under the impression that she would live in her own guest house, take care of four little girls during the day, have most weekends off, and get to learn how to milk cows, feed the pigs, and other exciting jobs around a California ranch.

By her second week, not only was she running after-school activities for the children, she was cleaning and vacuuming out cars, unassembling, moving, and reassembling bed frames, and cleaning out the main house refrigerator… and none of these tasks, or anything remotely similar, were in the job description when she applied.

When looking for an au pair position, it is very important to find a family and job description that is compatible with one’s qualifications and personal needs and wants.

When Lillian Vigil, a recent UNC­CH grad, discovered her host family online, she got in contact with the previous au pair, and made certain to ask a lot of questions, so that she would be well prepared for what she would experience.

“This helped me go into it with of mindset that I wouldn’t just be “the help” but a member of the family,” she said, which was a main priority of hers.

Also, when researching au pair availabilities, use sites that match families and apply for au pairs, like AuPairWorld. This agency screens both the family and the applicant, to make sure that both parties will be satisfied and have a great experience.

Being an au pair can be life-changing, in either a positive or a negative way. But whatever comes of it, chances are it will be unforgettable, and will always be an experience to learn from.

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