Keeping yourself safe while moving overseas and living with a family you don’t *really* know is obviously paramount, and it can be pretty scary to think about. Initially, during the beginning stages of the au pair process, all kinds of questions ran through my head. How can I keep myself safe? What if these people aren’t who they say they are? What if I get there and it’s a disaster?
As with everything in life, there’s no guarantee you’re going to always have a positive experience, but there are certainly things you can do to minimize your chances of ending up in a bad situation.
Now, there are two different approaches to being an au pair. You can decide to go through an agency where a professional will set you up with a family, or you can decide to use a free website like Au Pair World to do your own search for your family.
There are pros and cons to both options. How you want to go about this process largely depends on what you’re comfortable with.
I chose to do the free option through an au pair website – and I saw excellent results from this. I was recommended this option by two other friends who also used the Au Pair World website to find their families in Germany and Australia. I found no problems going about au pairing in this way, and most other native English-speaking au pairs I met in Australia tended to use this option as well. Almost all of the au pairs I encountered who spoke English as their second language, seemed to go through an agency. I talked to some girls who were happy with their agency, and others who were extremely disappointed with their results. Regardless of their experience with the agency however, they all paid a steep price to be involved with it. The German girls I spoke with paid thousands of dollars to be matched up with their families (some of whom were unhappy with the results).
I was happy with my choice to use the free website, but other girls were happy (and felt safer) going through a professional agency. To each their own.
So when I first started out, the first thing I did was create an online profile on Au Pair World. Once I completed my profile I was able to use the websites search function to find potential families. Families were also able to find my profile in their au pair search, and so began a process of contacting and being contacted by potential families via the websites email.
As soon as I saw a potential family I really liked, I immediately did my research into them. In order to ensure my safety and weed out who was being genuine or not, I looked into the family as much as I could. Initally, through emails, I asked them as many questions as I could think of. Then the family and I would set up a Skype interview. During the Skype process, I made sure I talked to their whole family – the kids and the parents. I asked for a virtual tour of their house so that I could get a look at their home from the inside out. They showed me my future accommodations and what they would look like. The family also sent me pictures of their home and their property and their neighbourhood.
Then, when they gave me their address, I Google Earthed it to make sure their address matched up with the picture they sent me of their home. I asked for their phone number and then called their home phone to check to make sure it was correct (and then used the internet to reverse look up their phone number and see if it matched their address).
After I Skyped with my first au pair family a few times (I was in Canada and they were in Australia), and had talked to all of the children and both parents, I felt a strong connection with the family and an immediate comfortable feeling with them. Because of the positive connection I felt with the family, as well as the aforementioned research process to verify their identity as best as I could, I felt that this was enough proof to me that they were being honest about who they said they were, and I felt safe enough with them to continue the au pair process. I kept in touch with them over the next few days as I applied for my visa and booked my flights, and two weeks later I flew to Melbourne.
With my second au pair family, because I was already in Melbourne (and so was my next potential family), we talked on the phone for a while before deciding to meet in person. I went to their house for an interview, and once I was there and had talked for a while with the mother, it was evident that they were a genuine family and I once again felt comfortable and secure pursuing the au pair arrangement.
One au pair I met in Australia told me that she flew to Melbourne and lived in a hostel for two weeks while searching for a family in Melbourne to au pair for. This worked out well for her because, since she was already in the city she wanted to work in, she was able to meet all of her potential families in person. Which made both her and her potential family more comfortable.
Once you find your family however, it is important that you draft an Au Pair Contract with your new family. Certain countries have this mandated with official government contracts you need to sign, but with other countries (like Australia) where there is no official au pair program, the contract you draft up with your family is more like a reference you look back on to fully understand your duties and responsibilities and what you’re entitled to as an au pair. (I will write in more detail about the Au Pair Contract in Part Three of these Au Pair articles).
There are many different ways to go about the au pair process, no one way works best for everyone. Different people choose different options because it’s what makes them feel the most comfortable. Either option you choose to pursue has the chance of working out or not working out, in some ways it’s a bit of a crap shoot. But it’s your choice, and only you know what’s best for you. Just remember to be safe!
Oh, and something else to keep in mind… Just like you’re taking a risk on your potential family and trusting who they say they are, they’re also taking a risk on you and trusting that you’re who you say you are. For as many stories I’ve heard from au pairs about crazy families, I’ve also heard equally as many hair-raising stories of nightmare au pairs. Trust is a two-way street.