Au Pairing, then and now
As you probably know, au pairing, or the ‘au pair programme’ has been around for ages! It actually started way back in the 1960’s and was one of the first forms of cultural exchange and gap year. The programme was ground-breaking, and offered au pairs the possibility to live abroad, safely within a family environment, become fluent in the local language, by being surrounded all day every day with native speakers (how could you not!) and attending a language course. It was – and still is – the best way to really learn the culture of a country. You cannot truly achieve this if you are not living with people of that culture and in their country.
How was au pairing in the early decades?
Back in the olden days, most mothers were not working. The au pair was her helpful pair of spare hands. The au pair would assist the mother with looking after the children and with some light household chores. As the au pairs in those days generally only came from wealthier, ‘upper class’ backgrounds themselves, this would often be their first foray into the world of housework and childcare. They had a lot to learn!
In many ways, the fundamentals of the au pair programme has not changed. In the intervening decades there have been times, however, when the au pairs themselves have changed very much.
There was a time when young graduates in Spain were suffering from Spain’s high levels of youth and graduate unemployment. This lead to many a graduate completing a year or more’s au pair placement in the UK. An au pair stay enabled them to increase their employability by increasing their fluency in English.
Or the years when young Eastern Europeans, being lowly paid in their own countries would apply to be an au pair in the UK. The pocket money of £80 was a very attractive ‘salary’ compared to that being offered at home.
These times are past, and we have turned the circle. Au pairs are now again young people coming on a cultural exchange, usually before starting university or other higher education.
Internet has helped au pair agencies. Selection process now efficient and fast with better choice of verified au pair and family applications
The advent of the internet and the general increase in affluence of both au pairing candidates and hosting families has lead to the most significant changes.
Before the internet arrived, placements were arranged solely by post and telephone. All the application forms were filled in by hand and sent to the au pair agency. The agencies abroad would send files to partner agencies at home in order to match host families with ‘foreign’ au pair candidates.
This was a lengthy, time consuming process! The host families would receive just a couple of au pair files to select their au pair from!
Now agencies can send password protected links to prospective au pairs and families. Not by post, not even by attachment. This system is secure and fast. Links to all supporting documents and copies of drivers licence, medical, references etc. all contained in a folder on-line.
Foreign languages were not previously taught very well, so most au pairs on arrival, had a very low grasp of the local language. The family would have to spend many months on training their au pair to be able to help in their home and in order to know the basic language.
Being away for so long, with little chance to communicate with family back home must have been tough. Was it worth it?
Home sickness was more prevalent, but the au pairs knew from the outset that they would be away for the best part of a year. They simply had to learn to live with it.
On the upside, after a year, these au pairs from the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and 1990’s had grown up a terrific amount. They learned resilience and independence, a new language and new skills with children and homecare.
Furthermore, they had seen sights and experienced things which their friends back home certainly had not. It always looked good on a CV and really said something about the type of person you were.
Much of the above has not changed either. These days au pairs are in far more contact with their family and friends at home, and they might fly home more than once in the year to visit home, as flights are comparatively far cheaper than in other decades.
It is still a significant feat, however, to live with a ‘foreign’ and previously unknown family, to be away from home for 6-12 months, to learn another family’s routine and ways, to bond with previously unknown children. And, crucially, for these reasons it is STILL something which looks good on a young person’s CV!
Au Pair as a Gap Year experience
Au pairing took a bit of a knock with the rise of an ‘competition’ from a variety of other gap year programmes. However, au pairing is again rising to the fore as it enjoys increased popularity, once more. This is due to many more young people taking a gap year than in previous decades, coupled with people valuing the specific benefits that the au pair programme offers. Namely, a safe and secure family environment, complete language and cultural immersion, plenty of free time and a good amount of money paid by the host family on a weekly basis.
It is a testament of the success of the au pair programme that many of our families, in particular the host mothers, turn to us for an au pair as they themselves were once an au pair and had a fabulous experience. Or check out these Facebook reviewsFind Heavenly Candidate now