Bonjour 2016, heres to new beginnings, opportunities,adventures, and at least for myself a new ‘job’. This year I embark on what will most definitely be a journey as I Au Pair in the North of France.
There is a popular saying that everyone in France, and those who have watched the film Bienvenue Chez Les Chiti’s, have heard once or twice. “In the north you cry twice: once when you arrive, and a second time when you leave.” I can attest that this is true. When I arrived in a small town near Lille to start my year as a teaching assistant last year, I felt isolated at first, and quickly was surrounded by wonderful people. I must be a glutton for punishment because I am back to complete this ‘circle of tears’ in Lille. Ive packed my bags for a year as a big sister to three adorable French children (and one rabbit).
During my time as a teaching assistant I spent less time than I would like to admit focusing on my personal goals. While living and traveling abroad is a milestone in itself, you should always push yourself a bit further by setting a few obtainable goals for the year so your time abroad isn’t ‘just’ the time of your life.
- Take the DALF C1 Language Exam – This exam is internationally recognized and certifies that I have reached an advanced level of understanding the french language. I would love to have some proof that my time in France was not just spent eating fabulous food, and visiting beautiful places. (For more information on the DALF check out the CIEP website DALF Information.
- Really immerse myself in the language – I have to plead guilty to not committing myself to immersion while studying abroad and again while a teaching assistant. This year WILL not be the same. I will devote myself to french. I will read at night (in french), watch my tv shows (in French) or better yet watch french tv in French! I will speak French with native French speakers even if I know that they are amazing at speaking English.
- Find a job/school – I have no idea what I will do when my au pair contract ends. I have until the end of December to figure out my life after I au pair, but I wont waste the time Ive been given. Be it the start of a Masters degree program or a new career, I am devoting this year to finding my next step.
- Start waking up earlier – Just because the family EXPECTS me to wake up after 10 does not mean I SHOULD wake up after 10. I will say this to myself every time my alarm rings at 6am. I want to dedicate my mornings to my goals instead of dreaming for 4 extra hours a day.
Thinking about becoming an Au Pair? See how I went about it bellow:
My Five Stages of Becoming An Au Pair
So you want to be an au pair?
Step 1: The Search
Typically you should start looking for a host family as soon as possible. French school years run from the beginning of September to the beginning of July. Many families only need an au pair for the school season, and many contracts/visas are only good for a year which means many au pairs leave their position in July. If you want to be the early bird, I suggest starting your search for the perfect family in January the year you want to depart. That being said this is not at all how I found my family, and they are wonderful. I started my search for my famille d’accueil at the end of July, and after a few skype sessions, many trips by my host mom to the work office (DIRECCTE), hundreds of sighs of exasperation from how complicated the french love for paperwork is (trust me it is très compliqué) , and four months later I had an official signed stamped and sealed au pair visa. I would say take a MINIMUM of four months to dedicate to searching for a family and applying for a visa. However if you started your search late, go for it. There are plenty of families that may still be searching for an au pair!
There are MANY outlets to find a family; job search boards, facebook groups, family friends, and agencies. I opted for an online agency that connects au pairs to host families but does not handle the paperwork for you. (There are some that will for a hefty fee). I chose a website called Au Pair World, for $40 you can create a profile and contact families that may fit what your looking for. You can also create a free profile but I found that being able to reach out to the families was much more personal and effective.
Wondering what to write? Here is my message to potential host families (French Version), (English Version) .
When looking for a host family, I suggest that you know roughly what you want. I knew that babies and teens were not my cup of tea. I also knew where I wanted to au pair. If your super flexible great, but make sure that you will be happy with the end result! Also, before you get attached to a country that you would like to au pair in, make sure that you meet their requirements to become an au pair, every country has different rules! I found this host country information page to be very helpful in my search. Don’t see the country your looking for? They may still accept au pairs. I had signed up for a few other websites for free and was contacted by families all over the world! Just make sure to check the visa requirements first!
A note about scanning for bad matches. While they are few and far between there are bad matches. Whether its the family, the au pair, or mixed expectations between the two parties, you should skype or call the family at least a few of times before committing to a year as an au pair. A little extra effort now can pay off boat loads later on. Be clear in what you expect from the Au Pair position, be clear in your understanding of what the host family wants/ expects of you, and don’t be afraid to say no if something dose not feel right. I turned down a position because the pay was lower than €80/week (the minimum wage for au pair’s in France). This wasn’t due to the pay really, it was the fact that the family was trying to underpay me and told me that was the max they were allowed to pay me by law (false). This small deception set off a red flag that there could be huge problems down the road.
Step 2: The Contract and Work Order
Preparing your contract is simple. Your family drafts a contract, they sign it, and finally you sign it once you approve of the terms. Next, the host family hands it to the french labor office (DIRECCTE) to receive the final stamp of approval.
The process would be a breeze but French paperwork is notoriously hard to navigate. The family may hand in all the requested paperwork, only to be told that they need to hand in additional things (after waiting a few weeks of course). Be patient and persistent. My host family badgered the local office and we had our documents stamped in a month and a half.
Paper work I needed to hand in with my contract:
- A medical certificate signed by a doctor no more than three months prior to your contract being handed to the DIRECCTE. (translated)
- A document confirming your current education level. (translated)
- A copy of your passport.
- A motivation letter written in French.
Step 3: Finding a Language Course
A mixture of (somewhat)formal education, self study, and language exchange was my combination of choice this year. With an end goal of testing for my C1 diploma (Advanced Certificate in French) at the end of the year, I hope it goes well. I was lucky enough to find a family who had many previous au pairs, they showed me multiple options for language courses.
- Formal university courses – these are courses taken at a french university, they run around €700/course
- Accessible Learning Courses – these courses are run by professors donating their time. Usually at night these fit perfectly into my schedule as an au pair. I chose UFJ-Formation Lille, which cost €60 for three courses for the year! The downside is that they are a little less formal. But the teachers are very willing to help. Combining this program with self study was the perfect option for (broke) me.
Step 4: Applying For Your Visa
Applying for your visa will (most likely) be the simplest part of your process of becoming an au pair. Book your appointment with the consulate and check their requirements for the au pair visa (check it twice). My visa took a week to complete because I fulfilled all the requirements during my first visit to the consulate.
Paperwork I handed in for my visa:
- Two copies of everything.
- A passport issued NO MORE than 10 years ago, valid for at least three months after your return to the United States, with at least two blank pages.
- Two ID photos.
- Stamped au pair contract.
- Proof of previous studies (your most recent diplomas).
- Proof of enrollment in a language school with exact dates of attendance. Au pairs are required to take French lessons for the duration of their stay in France.
- Residence form (for France).
- A self addressed pre-paid express mail envelope, if you are unable to pick up your visa yourself.
Step 5: Heading out, and Settling In
The next step is where the fun begins. Book your ticket as soon as you can. This will save you BIG BUCKS and will be the best motivation in the months leading up to your au pair stay.
Settling into an au pair position can be difficult. Your not a sister but not a babysitter, not a daughter and not really an employee either. To make your stay the best it can be, make sure things are working for you AND the family. Ask for a list of your typical hours and what is expected of you. Check in every few weeks and see how the parents think things are working out. Don’t be hesitant to ask questions or bring up concerns. The major problem with au pairs/ host families is lack of communication from what I can see. Make sure its never a problem and remember if things really aren’t working out, you can find another family (your not trapped). Its going to take at least a few months to figure out the families schedule, your schedule, and what works for everyone so give it time, be flexible, and be patient.
Don’t forget the gifts – Ah what exactly makes a great gift for a host family? I like to make the gifts a real treat, something that they either did not know existed or cant get in France. I try to bring a little bit of me to the table as well. This time around I brought Salt Water Taffy (a candy made in my state, Massachusetts) because I love food, and a puzzle of America. They LOVED it.
What I Saved, and What I Spent
If your concerns about funding your stay abroad are what’s stopping you, DON’T LET THEM. Im not saying that you shouldn’t be concerned with cash flow (thats reckless), but it can take surprisingly less green than you think to support yourself during your au pair year.
I saved $3,000 for this year. Thats DOUBLE what I saved for my seven months as a teaching assistant AND I will not be paying for rent, food, or my cell phone. (High roller I know!) I spent less then $1,000 in total for a ticket to Miami to visit my sister, a ticket to Brussels, and a round trip ticket to the states/back to brussels during the holidays!
*I opted to not pay back my student loans this year.* You can apply for an income based repayment plan through your loan provider. While this plan accrues interest, you most likely will not be required to make monthly payments. You will be accruing interest however so keep that in mind.