As some of you might know, I was an Au Pair from July 2016 until July 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States. I often get questions about my year there, my experiences as an Au Pair, things like homesickness and about all the places I traveled to. I thought it would be best to split that up into many different posts, otherwise I’d still be sitting here tomorrow morning answering every single question!
In this post I am going to explain the Au Pair basics so if you consider spending a year abroad or maybe even becoming an Au Pair yourself and you need to know the basics, keep reading! Disclaimer: This is only about the Au Pair program in the United States. The laws and rules might be different in other countries.
What is an Au Pair?
An Au Pair (meaning ”equal to”) is someone who travels to a foreign country, lives with a so-called host family and takes care of their children. So it’s basically like a nanny from a different country. The Au Pair does not have to pay for housing or for food, he or she gets paid weekly and therefore has the opportunity to travel and see other parts of the country on the weekends or during their vacation time which is why it’s very appealing to a lot of young people. The Au Pair program is usually a one year program which you can extend either 6, 9 or 12 months. After you completed your 12 (or more) months, there is a 13th month called ”travelmonth” which allows you to travel even more before your visa expires.
How do I become an Au Pair? What’s the first step?
The first thing you have to do is find an Au Pair agency. You cannot become an Au Pair in the US without an agency. I chose Cultural Care but there are other agencies like AIFS for example. The most common way to apply to the Au Pair program is to attend an info meeting: Former Au Pairs are going to talk about their experiences there, they will give you all the information you need and in the end you will go through a quick interview session (in English) just so they can see if you even qualify for the job. But don’t worry! I never met anyone who didn’t get through that interview process! 🙂
What’s the application process like?
After you got through the interview process (and you will!) you’re going to fill out some forms and papers and you get a personal counselor (usually a former Au Pair who now works for the agency) who will help you with everything you need. You get your own account on the agency’s website and you start your online application. You’re going to need:
- at least three references (they want to check if you actually have some babysitting/nanny experiences)
- a personal letter to your future host family
- lots of pictures and preferably an application video
- your medical records (to prove that you’re healthy)
- your high school diploma/college certificates
- your driver’s license
- your criminal records/background (they don’t want no criminals, ya know?) 😛
Of course, this is what Cultural Care required me to do but I am pretty sure that you’re going to need all of the things I mentioned above even if you choose a different agency.
After you provided all that stuff, you’re going to answer A LOT of questions about yourself, why you want to be an Pair, what you expect from the whole experience, etc. Trust me, that’s going to take a lot of time. After you’re finally done, your counselor will look at everything you wrote, they will check all of your documents and especially references (they’re going to call the people who wrote those references for you!) and they will tell you a TON of things you can/have to rewrite and improve. No matter how great your answers were, they WILL find something that they didn’t like. Sometimes they will also suggest something that you don’t like or don’t feel comfortable with at all. In my case, my counselor told me to write that I would be willing to take care of 4 kids instead of 3, even though I wasn’t at all. So watch out: they will tell you that in the end it’s your application and it’s all up to you, but don’t let them fool you: it’s not just up to you, really.
I finished my online application…. what’s next?
And now you’re gonna wait. Yep, that’s right! Unfortunately, (with Cultural Care) you are not able to match with or even just look at host families profiles, you have to wait for them to message you or match with you. ”To match” basically just means that they liked your profile, they might have sent you a message already, and then you’re able to look at their profile. BUT while you’re matching with or talking to one family no other family will be able to see your profile. So always keep that in mind. To me, the whole matching process was kind of a problem: I didn’t get a match within the first 2 or 3 weeks which made me extremely nervous, especially because I wasn’t able to take matters into my own hands, then after a family had finally matched with me I was not quite sure what to do because I didn’t want to ”lose” them but I also didn’t want to choose them right away in fear of missing out on a family that’s even better for me. But I was also afraid that it would take super long to find another match again. In the end, they were very kind and they released me from their matches which allowed me to be visible for other families again, but at the same time they still talked to me. So if you’re in the same situation, explain everything to them and hopefully they’ll understand. If they don’t, they probably didn’t actually like you/ want you.
The visa process
After you finally found a great host family you’re going to have to apply for a visa, the J 1 visa, to be exact. You simply make an appointment at the American embassy that’s closest to your house, you show up there with all the documents you need, you will speak to someone in person (they might ask you what you need the visa for, why you would like to become an Au Pair or why you chose the United States in particular) and then you just have to wait for them to mail you your visa documents. The appointment at the embassy tends to stress some people out, especially because you have to go through so many security/control points, you literally can not bring ANYTHING, not even your phone, and you have to do all of it on your own. Also, you never know how long you’re actually going to wait for, just a warning: it could be hours. But don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as it seems and many, many people have gone through it before, so you can do it as well!
Time to pack
The weeks and months before your departure date will fly by, believe me. You should definitely start thinking about what you want to bring and what you should probably leave at home. I might write a separate blog post about that though. Now, all you have to do is stay in touch with your host family, enjoy the last weeks you have with your friends and family and maybe even start making plans and think about all the places you’d like to see in the US! There are so many and I guarantee you it will make your goodbyes less painful if you have something to look forward to! I will write another post about all the places I was able to visit, hopefully that will help you get some ideas and it will make you even more excited. Trust me when I say: The USA has SO MUCH to offer and you’re going to fall in love with the country, the culture, the nature, the cities and the people.
That was it for this post! Let me know in the comments if any of you ever thought about spending a year abroad or if you have even done so already! If you have any other questions, feel free to send me a message (either to firstname.lastname@example.org or dm me on my Instagram). I will be posting more about the Au Pair stuff, so if you’re interested make sure to check that out!
See ya soon and thank you for reading! 🙂