Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas this year

Worldwide economic crises has made this Christmas little sour for most people. Even though Christmas presents became a part of the Christmas tradition, I read about people losing their jobs and having a hard time getting presents for their children all the time. It is sad but Christmas is no about material things. My favorite thing about Christmas is to be able to spend more time with my family and friends.

I remember wondering what I should get my host family for Christmas. Au pair pocket money being small, it is not easy for most of au pairs to ge gifts for the entire family. I used to get something small but thoughtful for each member of the family as I knew there was going to be a gift exchange and I couldn't be empty-handed even though I was like the oldest child of the family. Books are my favorite gifts for the children and they are always affordable. Also new books always gave me something new to read the children. Believe it or not parents can't always keep up with the children's books and you may end up reading the same book million time before you find your way to the library.

Host families always been generous with Christmas and birthday gifts to me. I tried to hold on to their gifts as long as I can. I remember wearing a winter jacket until it got ripped and couldn't wear it any longer. Families always knew I couldn't get expensive gifts for them, but I guess they were happy as long as I loved the children and took good care of them. This is the best gift you can give the parents.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Making friends

The best way to cope with homesickness during my au pair stays was to make friends. Other au pairs are your best choice when it comes to dealing with problems such as homesickness. They are in the same situation as you and they are living in a different country away from their family and friends. You already have tons of things in common not to mention you can learn about other cultures as well as the country you are in now. I instantly feel the connection with my fellow au pairs and make as many friends as I can. I even keep in touch with several of them thanks to the Internet.

Taking care of children all day is a hard work and even the parents need a break sometimes. For me, going out with my au pair friends was one of the best parts of my free time. Exploring a new country with friends is a wonderful way of learning. Sharing our experiences and cultural differences over a cup of coffee or slice of pizza was a must-do for me every week. I recommend it to any au pair who wants to take full advantage of this experience.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Au pair in Europe

Being an au pair in Europe for a European au pair is easy as no visa is required. You have to check the requirements for each country separately before you make your travel arrangements. Make a list of the countries you are interested in, then check to see if they need special requirements for their au pair programs. Europeans can freely travel in EU and some countries have special au pair programs for other countries. You need to make sure you have all the paperwork or visas in order before getting on the plane. It is always a good idea to carry an employment agreement and a letter from the family stating that they invite you to be their au pair.

Monday, December 15, 2008

How much childcare experience do I need to be an au pair?

Even though au pairs are not professional childcare workers, some experience with children is mandatory to prevent future problems. This applies to babies and young children especially. I would recommend prior experience with babies if you are going to take care of them.

Holding and feeding the babies, changing diapers are all very delicate. If the caregiver doesn't know how to handle a baby, she can accidently hurt him or her. I also recomend some transition time where mother and the au pair take care of the baby together to get used to the routine. Babies can easily choke or fall off the changing table if proper attention is not given. They can feel uncomfortable after feeding and padding the back of the baby can help. Babies should never be left unattended on the changing table or sofa. As a matter of fact babies can not be left alone except when they are asleep in their crib. Even then, they should be checked regularly.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

US or UK?

Most of us love children dearly and find the au pair job easy and fun to do. Young au pairs have goals to achieve during their visit such as learning or mastering their language skills. Most of us take many courses in English to be ready or have a basic understanding in our home country. I have discussed many times the topic of where to go to learn English. Two countries are the subject of discussion: UK and US. Even though English is spoken in both countries and one can master English in any of these countries, I gathered some information to compare the pros and cons of both.

UK is a great choice for any au pair to learn English. It is close to many countries in Europe, there are many language schools where most host families live. I personally know and met several au pairs who could get to the school on their own without driving.

The situation might be little different in the US as I hear most classes are held in the universities. Arrangement of time and transportation might not be as convenient as in the UK. There may not be a university close by where host family lives, which is usually the suburbs. We also discussed suburbs being far out to the cities or towns and driving is a must if you live in one.

My conclusion is that many of us find the US very exciting place to go. However, if you need to take language classes you need to locate one before you go and figure out how you will go back and forth between the classes and the house you live in. As Americans work long hours, do not rely on anyone driving you to the school unless prior arrangement is made between you and the person.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Driving in America

If you are going to be an au pair in America, it is most likely that you are going to have to drive. You may have to drive the children you are looking after to their school and to other activities. Other than that, you would need to be able to drive for yourself as the public transportation system is nearly non-existent in the suburbs.

Good news is that roads and traffic are very good compared to the some parts of the world. Drivers obey the rules and most roads are maintained well. Most families provide a car for their au pair and take care of its maintanence. They may out some limits on your driving as they are responsible for the insurance I heard can go high in case of an accident. Most au pairs state that they could get wherever they need and took other forms of transportation when they need to.

It is imperative to drive safely no matter where in world, especially with children on board. Making sure the seatbelts are always buckled and traffic rules are followed. It is best to be honest about your driving skills to the family. If needed, it doesn't hurt to take some driving lessons to get used to driving in a different country.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Is good English necessary?

If you are trying to go to a country where English is the language like US, I highly recommend you have a good understanding of the language. This applies to all countries by the way. However, I get emails from au pairs asking me this questions specifically about the US.

First of all, it is imperative to have a good understanding of the language because of emergencies. Think of an emergency situation where you need to call the emergency services. You would need to be able to describe what is going on and maybe apply first aid. This always concerns me as with children anything can happen.

Naturally, you should be able to speak some English to communicate with the family and children. The more fluent you are the better it is, but most of us become au pairs to learn a language better.

In my opinion, take all the language classes you can or study on your own before the big trip. Practise with your friends and find people who are native speaker of the language before you go to see how well you can communicate. People will be understanding and speak slower if you tell them you are still learning and it will be faster to pick up the language once you live with native speakers.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Au pair in America

I had some friends who were au pairs in America. We share stories to compare differences between cultures and life in various countries. Some surprising things for me to hear about US were long working hours of parents (therefore their au pairs) and transportation.

Obviously people in the US work longer hours, most of them even over 40 hours a week. Adding the traffic and commute to this, average au pair works full 45 hours a week which is the maximum au pair work hours per US au pair program. Most parents just have enough time to their kids to bed during the work week or maybe have a family dinner together.

Keep in mind that majority of families live in the suburbs far away from the cities. Public transportation doesn't exist anywhere outside of big cities. Therefore, being a good driver is a must if you will not be living right in the heart of the city. Driving is easy and comfortable as people are very good at obeying the traffic rules. However, highway driving can take some getting used to for some.