If you’d told me at the start of the year that I was going to spend this summer as an Au Pair in Spain, I wouldn’t have believed you. Even if you told me that I was going to take a plane flight by myself in a few months, I’d have laughed outright at the stupidity of such a suggestion. Why’d I do that? I’m afraid of flying!
Yet, in the funny way life works, here I am; on the outskirts of Barcelona, spending my summer working as an Au Pair. Now what is an Au Pair exactly? Well, at the start of the year I didn’t know either. What an Au Pair does is a little hard to explain, so I’ll start by explaining what it means. The phrase “Au Pair” itself is a French one, meaning “on par” or “even”. But that doesn’t really tell you much does it?
Explaining what an Au Pair does is difficult because each job really differs from the next. What they all do share in common though is a young (usually female) person, typically between the ages of 18-26, goes to stay with a “host” family and helps look after their children. Some do more housework than looking after children though, whereas some only look after children. Some are required to take language classes, some are required to drive all over the country completing various chores and some are just required to help battle chickens to collect eggs… Okay yes, the last one is probably just a requirement in my job, but you get the idea about how varied the outline of an Au Pair job can be.
Luckily for my job, I adore children. I love watching them learn and their process as they work out a plot for their imaginary games… which is even luckier considering the outlines of my job. Battling chickens for eggs is only a side-chore. My real job is to teach the girls English… along with other subjects. The baby only really says “Mama”, “Papa” and “Water!” so I don’t really have to tutor him as much as just make sure he doesn’t hurt himself or anything around him. They are all home-schooled, which is also good for me because I haven’t passed my driving test yet. They are only 5 and 6, so it’s not like I’m teaching them the meaning of life and other religious theories; it’s just about teaching them the questions you tend to kick yourself for getting wrong when you watch Are you smarter than a 10 year old?
Although the hardest thing about my job has nothing to do with the Children – Not even when the baby chucks his cup of water on the floor because I won’t give him any sweets, and the girls refuse to do any work and decide instead to make a mess everywhere. No, the problem in these moments is that I usually have 5 minutes before my “host mom” (I prefer to use employer though) walks through the door. The hardest factors are language communication, and cultural differences.
My employer speaks really, really good English most of the time. That 10% of the time she doesn’t is usually when I’m trying to explain myself when she’s not too happy with something. It was a real problem at the start. She relied on her 6 and 5 year olds instead, and even at one point the 18 year-old-month baby who speaks about 5 words, to explain what had happened. And children often don’t fully understand the situation. They try their best, bless them, but they can interpret things differently to how they actually happened. Each time this occurs, though, you either learn how to deal with these communication problems in future, or try not to let it bug you too much until the episode passes. I can defiantly say that, after dealing with these episodes and having to try talking to a stranger on the phone who doesn’t share any languages in common with me, I think I’m much more confident with talking to strangers. Suddenly answering the phone (in English) seems a lot less scary. I use to let it ring until they left me a voice mail or texted me the details, and then judge whether it was worth a phone call back or not. Now I’ll probably just pick it up and pass on the message if no-one is home.
I might not be painting the prettiest picture right now, but I’m painting an honest one at least. Because leaving your family for 4 months and going to a country where you can’t speak the language is hard at first. Though, ultimately, it’s thoroughly rewarding. Even if I have to battle chickens and change horrible nappies and deal with not being able to articulate my good intentions, I also get to experience another culture in a way you can’t from a hotel, receive lots of (albeit snotty) kisses, and shape myself to be a much better, bolder me. And I can guarantee that’s what makes a great Summer job.