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3 Things They Don’t Tell You About Life as an Au Pair

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The biggest challenges I've encountered working as a nanny abroad. 

Remove the theme of friendship or budget travel, and at the core of every article I write for Verge is me trying to understand my life as an au pair. It’s hard—if nearly impossible—to narrow almost a year’s worth of living and experiences neatly into one article. Yet, I’m constantly asked, “What’s it actually like to be an au pair?”

When I decided to be an au pair, I knew I was signing up for a rather unconventional life and all the perks that come with that: living in a foreign country, learning a new language, more vacation days and forging diverse friendships. I was also agreeing to the bumpy divots and twists of uncharted territory. I couldn’t have prepared for what my life is like as an au pair. It’s not just like the experience I had nannying for a family one summer, and it doesn’t resemble my homestay when I studied abroad. 

Each au pair experience is going to be different, but I do wish I had been better equipped with a more accurate version of what the nitty-gritty everyday would be like. I talked to so many people who had been au pairs previously and I was given pretty vague advice; all encouraging, but not terribly specific.

Here are a few of the most crucial challenges I’ve attempted to come to terms with over the past eight months.

1) There is no work-life separation

Working as an au pair means that I live with a family. There are three young children and my work consists of helping my kids get ready for school in the morning; carting them to after-school activities; doing dinner, baths and bedtimes. Almost all of this takes place in the house—the same space where I live.

I wish I had been better equipped with a more accurate version of what the nitty-gritty everyday would be like.

On weekends, or other times when I’m not "on duty" I’m still living in my workspace and all the people I work with are still there. It’s a slightly odd concept to explain because, well, it’s pretty strange. In most jobs, you leave your workplace after you finish your hours for the day and don’t return again until the next day. As an au pair there is no separation—for better or worse.

Sometimes it can be quite nice; there's no commute (and who doesn’t love wearing leggings to work?), but it often feels quite necessary to have a work and life separation. And as an au pair, that’s simply something that doesn’t come with the job. 

2) I live with my boss

Even if you love your boss, you can still imagine how unsettling and sometimes uncomfortable this can be. I don’t think it’s something I’ll ever quite get used to and I know it will make me appreciate the concept of designated work and home spaces that I used to take so for granted.

3) There is no such thing as "normal" working hours

My work schedule is determined by my girl’s school schedules. This means starting work at 7:30 a.m. and not finishing until 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. During the day, I attend Spanish classes, write blog posts, run and then at 4:00 p.m. I’m picking my girls up from school. I’m working earlier and later than normal nine-to-five hours but, again these are all part of the perks, and challenges that come with being an au pair.

One of the first blog posts I wrote for Verge was called “Escaping the Nine-to-Five Grind.” I wrote about how excited and ready I was for a working experience that wasn’t traditional and allowed for an atypical lifestyle focused on cultural immersion and travel. Working as an au pair has allowed me to do those things. It's also given me the time and space to gain clarity in areas of my life that were more than foggy a year ago.

I would never, for a second, change the decision I made to au pair; it has been one of the best choices I’ve made and I can’t imagine my life any other way right now. However, I want to encourage more honest conversations about what life living and working abroad is really like, because it’s certainly not all fun Instagram photos. Knowing these three things wouldn’t have deterred me from my choice, but I do wish I’d known them before my journey began.

In that first Verge article I wrote these kinds of jobs “tend to require more grit, perseverance, and audaciousness”—and that most certainly holds true now.

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Justine Hall

When she’s not immersed in life as an au pair, Justine Hall can be found wandering the streets of Madrid, practicing her Spanish with anyone who lets her and chronicling her experiences as a freelancer.

Website: instagram.com/justinetherese11/

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