Hi! I'm Alex and I blog over at Her Wonderful Adventure. I have been many things in my life: foster kid, ghost story enthusiast, and teacher -- but one of the coolest things I can say about myself is that I spent a year abroad in Sweden as an au pair.
What an au pair actually does can vary from country to country and household to household. The sky is usually the limit on where you decide to go, but the basic idea is the same; to help a family with their children and home, usually including teaching the children conversational English. The term 'nanny' isn't quite accurate; actually the word 'au pair' is loosely translated as 'equal' meaning that the worker is treated as family and not a servant or housekeeper. Some au pairs just skip the paperwork and work under the table, others go through agencies. I used a web service called Au Pair World. (It's free!)
I got the idea in my head while in a really bad spot in my life -- crumbling relationship, unhappy with my pointless job, taken over by wanderlust. I saw some agency posting on Craigslist for an au pair and I was like, "What the heck is that? Travel overseas?" I researched and ran across the site, made a profile, and started contacting families. It only took a few months before I found my perfect match (no seriously, we skyped and there were fireworks!) and right around Christmas, I made my way to beautiful Sweden for the winter. I chose Sweden because I've visited before and had friends there, as well as being a little obsessed with the language and culture. It's the land of the Vikings, of course!!
To be perfectly frank, the first month was ran on pure adrenaline and nerves. I had never quite been a family member before, only the awkward foster kid, and I was unfamiliar with how families worked. I did have a ton of experience with kids though, so I just ignored the terrifying feeling of being totally lost, and focused on the wonderful boys I au paired for. They taught me Swedish relatively quickly, and their adorable broken English is probably one of my favorite things on earth! After the two month mark things started feeling normal. We were closer than ever. The family and I went on outings, spent time sightseeing and showing me the culture, and having lots of 'fika' over delicious coffee while discussing the differences in our countries. They were disgusted by things like cool-whip and flavored coffee creamer, and I was horrified at the lack of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cashiers who would bag groceries for me!
The snow began to melt and the days began to get long (REALLY long...sunset at , sunrise at ) and before I knew it this life was normal! Riding the subway to get around, speaking Swedish to store cashiers, taking my shoes off as soon as I entered the house and lots and lots of fika. A sweet sidenote that I feel I should mention here is that I met my current boyfriend, Henri, shortly after moving to Sweden. I had no intention of falling in love with a dark-haired Scandinavian hunk, but it happened. He became a part of our little family as well. My friends and my boyfriend and my au pair family all took me on amazing adventures: overnight cruises to Finland and Estonia, a long train ride to the arctic circle, the Stockholm archipelago where we had our typical Swedish summer house.
I was changed so much by Sweden and its culture and people. The authentic friendships I built, and the genuine family I have over there will never leave the deepest part of my soul. I actually recently wrote some of the ways Swedish culture itself changed me, but I will say this--no matter where you go as an au pair, you will grow and thrive immensely. Of course part of that comes from just being away from home which is important for everyone seeking to learn more about themselves. Another part of it comes from the courage it takes to just plop down in a foreign land where nobody speaks your language or knows the truth about your home. It's isolating, and being isolated is a great learning experience. And of course the job itself, caring for and looking after children, is so rewarding, exhausting, and exhilarating there are no words for it!
How to get started
If you'd like to get started on the road to adventure and finding your own overseas family, I personally recommend Au Pair World, just from my own experience. You can also google local Au Pair agencies, just make sure you do your research on them and if possible interview some au pairs for suggestions and advice. If you do find a family, always make sure you Skype with them first, and prepare a list of questions (What will my pay be? What chores would you like me to do? What hours would you anticipate me working? Can you detail an 'average' day in the household?) Pick a country you'd like to visit and search for au pair families in that country!
The people who are searching for au pairs need someone who is comfortable with kids, comfortable with cohabiting in their home, ready and willing to possibly learn a new language and teach each other their own unique culture. And good au pairs are people who are creative, adventurous, and want something a lot more unique than just a nanny job or a babysitting night every so often.
Rad Gal, Rad Gig is a new feature on The Clueless Girl's Guide where I invite really neat gals to share their really cool stories. Whether your gig is a full-time job or just a hobby, I want to hear from you! If you think you'd be perfect for Rad Gal, Rad Gig, feel free to get in touch or view the information on the Submissions page! Just submit a short description of what you do and why you think it's rad!