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Foreign adventures in baby-sitting

Follow an au pair on her journey abroad and learn about the career

Foreign adventures in baby-sitting Can you imagine teaching a 2-year-old girl how to sing in France? Or taking a 6-year-old boy to baseball practice in Australia? Or making paella for 10-year-old twins in Mexico? These are just a few of the activities you might be doing if you were an au pair.

An au pair is a teenager or young adult from another country who lives with a family and provides in-home childcare. Many teenagers become an au pair prior to starting college (or as a first job after graduating), as a way to travel, gain work or personal life experience and to earn money. These are just a few of the many benefits of working as an au pair. 

What’s a typical day like? Once hired, an au pair will move abroad to live with the host family. For the duration of the au pair’s journey, this will be their home. Although it can vary, typically an au pair would look after the children for a specified number of hours per week. This can include everything from preparing meals, driving them to/from practices and classes, to reading books, teaching arts and crafts and going on hikes. Often times, the au pair will travel with the host family, as part of working, when they vacation. Part of the au pair experience is that the host family will provide accommodations and meals. They also must provide payment for the services provided by the au pair. The salary will depend upon the agency, or if you do not use an agency, between you and the host family. Remember to factor in the accommodations and meal as part of the pay. Also keep in mind working hours vary from country to country. For example, a working week in America is 40 to 45 hours, while in the Netherlands it’s 30 hours.

At this point, you are probably asking yourself “why isn’t everyone doing this if it’s so great”? Well, you do have to love children. The obvious “work” of the au pair is to look after the children. And typically it is up to the host family to set house rules, such as curfews, no boys in the house, and, well, you get the picture. 

How do you become an au pair? The first step is to decide whether or not you are going to use an agency. While it is your choice, be sure to research the agency option. The benefits of using an agency is that they provide the advertising for you, the families are pre-screened, they assist you in getting your passport/visa and they help with travel arrangements. They will also provide training, such as certification on child CPR. Working with an agency does cost money so you will need to research each agency for the exact fees.

How to find a family? The next step is putting together your portfolio. Include your experience with children (be sure to include photos), your hobbies and interests, and, of course, any skills that would be beneficial, such as speaking a foreign language. You will then have the opportunity to interview with your potential host family. Make a list of questions ahead of time. You will want to know how many children are in the house, their ages, and if there are any special requirements for any of the children. At the end of the day, you will be living with this family for a year or sometimes longer, so be sure you learn as much as you can before you’re hired. 

As an au pair, you will meet new people, taste new foods and you may even learn a new language. Additionally, an au pair also learns abroad by attending classes at a local college.So if travel, experiencing a foreign culture, making money and helping children are your interests when determining your plans after high school, consider becoming an au pair. It could mean a whole new adventure! 


Brittany Forsythe, an American au pair who spent a year in Holland, shares why she became an au pair and what she learned.

Q: What made you decide to become an au pair?
A: After high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. (Becoming an au pair) was a great fit for me because I love children and being an au pair would enable me to travel...and earn money.

Q: What was the best part?.
A: I got to experience a new culture first hand and meet new people. This experience has given me more confidence in myself. During my free time, the other au pairs and I would travel to France and Belgium. 

Q: What was your greatest challenge?
A: Learning the language. And I had never traveled before. My host parents spoke some English but the children didn’t so we were both learning right from the beginning.

Q: What advice do you have for teens considering becoming an au pair?
A: Go for it!

Kim Wise holds a bachelor’s degree in business, marketing from Indiana University. She lives in Los Angeles, Calif. with her husband, four children, au pair and two dogs. Kim is currently finishing her first children’s novel.


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