The Ups and Downs of Au Pairing Abroad
Au pairing is a wonderful way to experience life in another country. You get to live with a host family, who provides you with free accommodation and all meals, plus a small weekly/monthly wage in exchange for doing some light housework and taking care of their children for 30-45 hours a week. It is a good opportunity to understand what everyday life is like in the country, and learn the language quickly as you are immersed and speaking it all the time. What I love about being an au pair is that I feel like I have a second family in a foreign country.
So far, I have been living and working with the family for a month. The children only started school last week, so it has been pretty relaxed with the school holidays. My day starts at noon, when I pick up the five-year-old from the day care center, and then the two older kids come home from school at about one or two o’clock. They eat lunch at school, so when they come home I prepare valipala (afternoon snack) for them. Then, their friends come over and they play together, or I do some activities with the kids until the parents come home from work at five o’clock and we start preparing dinner. Besides the mornings, I also have evenings and weekends free.
What I love about being an au pair is that I feel like I have a second family in a foreign country.
I feel like I have experienced a lot of the Finnish culture in the month that I have been here. As summer is so short (three months of the year), Finns really enjoy and appreciate the warm weather. Many families will have July off and spend it at the kesämökki (summer cottage), which is usually by the lake or seaside, and surrounded by forest. It is a modest abode, traditionally built by the family members.
I have spent two weekends at the summer cottage with my host family, and we have swam in the lake and gone canoeing. I even tried rowing a boat for the first time in my life. The highlight of these trips was when we had an evening sauna, and then went to swim in the lake, and then returned to the sauna. It was a superb way to experience the extremes of heat mixed with the cooling evening breeze.
Some days, I find that I can feel rather lonely and cooped up as I am in the house for most of the day.
As much as I would recommend au pairing for young women who want to live in another country, I would also advise that there are some downsides. Some days, I find that I can feel rather lonely and cooped up as I am in the house for most of the day. And, I also think that you need to love kids and have a bit of patience and understanding when they misbehave. I’ve had to deal with tears, pouts and some push back from the kids, but nothing that I could not handle. Also, as you are living with the family, it is sometimes hard to distinguish between your free time and on-duty time. I feel like I have had to put some boundaries in place to prevent this from happening.
Overall, I think au pairing can be an amazing experience, and, like anything, it is what you make of it. I have really enjoyed my time in Finland so far, and I feel that being part of a family, and having their support, has helped me integrate quicker into the culture and feel more comfortable. It helps when there is someone there at the end of the day to talk to and ask for help if you need it. It has also given me a unique opportunity to see what daily life in Finland is like, and to work with children.