Au pairing is often the first port of call for enthuastic learners of a foreign language. I was no different when I studied French in college. In my first few months of studying the language at university level, it became clear that I would have to spend significant time in the country to improve my language skills. Quoi faire?
I spent months trawling the internet trying to find jobs in France. Unfortunately I wasn’t successful so I began to consider au pairing. I wasn’t particularly enthused by the idea- I didn’t know how I would find living in someone’s house in a foreign country. That said, I was determined to improve my language skills. Resigning myself to the realisation that I wouldn’t be hired to work on a yacht in Cannes anytime soon, I signed up to http://www.aupairworld.com and found a family within a matter of days.
In hindsight, signing up to the free website above was probably my first major error. Other websites offered a paid service but my financially challenged eighteen year old self was shamelessly lured by the free website.
After a few email exchanges, I met the family on Skype for a brief “interview.” I was then sent a contract that I had to sign and return. This contract outlined my duties and payment. My duties mainly included looking after the two children and some light housework, with the estimated monthly hours of work being 68 hours. Food and accommodation were obviously included and my payment was €40 per week! I also had to pay for my flight over to the family.
I packed my bags and duly flew over to France in June, planning to be there until the end of August. I met the father in the airport and he drove me to the family home. They explained that they had recently had another Irish aupair who had left due to homesickness.
The first few days of work were fine. It took some time to adjust to using the language everyday, as well as adjusting to being part of a new family. The house was situated in a tiny village in France. This offered a great opportunity to improve my French skills as nobody spoke English. However, I did feel lonely and longed for company of somebody my own age.
Over the next few days, my overall experience began to deteriorate. The father of the family worked from home and I sometimes found being with him completely overbearing. I usually tried to relieve myself of his company by going for a walk into the village. He worked away from home one day a week, which I cherished! On one such day, I left the empty house to go for a walk in the village where I sat for a while in a café. The father then returned that evening from work, enquiring about my day. When I mentioned that I went into the village he smirked and told me that he knew that I was in the café. This was completely unnerving. I began to try and avoid him for the rest of my stay which was a difficult feat under the one roof! He would make comments that would make me feel completely uncomfortable- for example telling me that I would have to wear a swimming suit in the hot weather. I didn’t feel at ease with him whatsoever but I put it down to a language barrier. I was determined to make the most of the experience and improve my French to the best of my ability.
The two children were quite challenging at the best of times. The wife of the family was also a lovely person although I didn’t have much in common with her. After spending a week in the house, I began to grow exasperated with the increasingly unnerving behaviour of the father towards me. He told me that it wasn’t possible to blowdry my hair in my bedroom, banishing me to the bathroom. Whilst doing this I could hear upstairs in my bedroom. This was completely unnerving and I began to plot to leave the family early. This wasn’t an easy feat- I had absolutely no friends locally and limited French. I was also miles away from any airport.
I decided to track down the other aupair that had mysteriously left the family. I knew her first name and somehow miraculously managed to track her down on Facebook. I wrote to her explaining my predicament. She wrote back and told me that she had the same issue- she had became exasperated with the father’s strange behaviour and decided to leave. However, the family had been completely hostile to her once she said this- even refusing her food and giving her no help going to the airport. I also increased my Facebook security settings so that only my own phone could access my Facebook account- I really was taking no prisoners (merci Monsieur Zuckerburg!).
The next morning, I woke up and helped the boys go to school as usual. I heard the father upstairs in my room which was infuriating to say the least. Once my duties were completed I tried to access Facebook- but alas, the internet had mysteriously broken. Knowing that the father of the family was an IT expert, I marched into his office waving my “internet illimité” page from my contract in his page. The internet was miraculously fixed within ten minutes. The father then left the house as it was his glorious “office” day. I immediately ran to the village’s tourist office (about fifteen minutes away) and demanded information on trains to Paris. Luckily, one was leaving in two hours. I ran home (approaching cardiac arrest) and luckily I was still home alone. I went to quickly pack my bag and I realised that my pyjamas had went missing since earlier that morning! This was the final straw. I genuinely didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I texted my mother about my plans, and luckily she booked me a flight home from Paris that evening. I rushed to the train station, jumped on a train to Paris and bid goodbye to one of the strangest experiences of my life! I had only lasted ten days in the country but it really felt like a lot longer.
A few hours later, I landed in Paris. This was actually my first time in the city. I had dreamed of visiting it since I was a child, and here I was! I dragged my suitcases along the Seine and I managed to catch a glimpse of Notre Dame. Some kind (and patient) individuals managed to direct me to Charles De Gaulle Airport where I eventually managed to flee the country. Luckily, it didn’t put me off and I’ve spent a year and a half in the country since!
I never heard from the family again. When arriving in Paris I noticed that I had a voicemail from the family, which I chose not to listen to. I posted back the house keys once I arrived in Ireland.
One of my biggest mistakes (as mentioned above) was choosing a family through a free website. While I did sign a contract, I received (as expected) absolutely no support from http://www.aupairworld.com through the ordeal. Myself and the other aupair that had left previous both informed the website multiple times about the family. However, the website refused to even take down their profile. Always choose a paid website- they will be an invaluable support to you if issues arise.
In future, I’d always advise au pairs to go to a city. With a bit of luck, there will be English speakers or people your own age that can provide a bit of help whenever things go wrong.
Finally, I’d like to say that I know many other people who have embarked on the aupair journey and had a fabulous experience. This wasn’t the case for me but I wish to emphasise that aupairing can work out really well if you have the right family. Bonne chance!