Au Pair FAQ’s (from the view of an Au Pair) – 16 COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS

As a foreword to this post, I get a LOT of questions about au pairing, the Cultural Care Au Pair program, and everything to do with it. A lot of the same questions are asked over and over, and so I thought I might put together a little post with some of the most commonly asked questions.

I was going to start up a blog for just au pair related things, but I don’t really have the time to dedicate to that (and I must admit, that I am a little obsessed with the amount of hits my blog gets, and don’t want to detract attention from here.. haha!!)

So, here you have it, a list of questions, and MY answers. A lot of these questions focus on the aspects of the Cultural Care program in particular. A lot of the answers to these questions are aimed at Australians, but most are applicable to prospective au pairs from any country.

And lastly, as a disclaimer, the answers to these questions are solely MY OPINION, of what I know from my experience, and from the experience of those I know. This is not official Cultural Care advice. This is MY advice.

Cultural Care Au Pair FAQ’s (from the view of an Au Pair) – 16 COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Questions Covered in this Post

How can I get my 200 experience hours?
How long does it take to get your first match?
How long does it take a family to contact you?
What is the best age to become an au pair?
What should I pack? What should I leave at home?
What airline will I fly with? Can I choose my airline? Will I be on the same flights as other au pairs?
Can I request a flight home so that I am flying on the same flight home as my mum/dad/sister/best friend/dog/rabbit/au pair friend that flew to the training school the same week as me?
How many suitcases should I bring with me?
What kind of Australian presents should I bring my host family?
What happens with my references? Do they get called? Emailed?
How much money should I take to the US with me?
My requested departure date is [6 Feb]? Will I get to fly on this exact day?
Is driving in America hard?
What do I do with my Australian mobile phone?
Should I get the extended insurance?
I have a boyfriend at home? Should I be an au pair?

 

***

How can I get my 200 experience hours?

There are many ways to get your experience hours. Just think of it this way – 200 hours is only 5 weeks of full time 9-5 work. It’s not really that much when you think about it that way.

Babysitting for friends and family is a great way to start on your hours. If you want to get a big chunk of hours out of the way, try volunteering at a daycare or childcare centre. In just one week of full-time volunteering you can knock over 40 hours in one go.

Volunteer at the afterschool care program of your local primary school, or, if you attend church, see if you can get involved with Sunday School, holiday programs, crèche or camps.

Most importantly, make sure you ask your boss or supervisor if they are willing to be contacted as a reference for you for the hours you have worked.

How long does it take to get your first match?

Once you have submitted all your application paperwork, photos, references etc., your application is sent to the Boston office and put into their system. This takes a week or so. After this, your application is available to be matched with families. Depending on your available departure date, you may receive a match within a few days of being in the system, or it may be a couple of weeks.

How long does it take a family to contact you?

Once a family appears on your account, it is possible they may contact you. It is also possible that they may not contact you, as each family can have up to 3 au pairs in their account at any one time (whereas au pairs can only have one family in their account at a time).

If the family doesn’t contact you, it may just be that you were a ‘comparison’ match on their account, and you may have not had all the qualities they are looking for (they may have been looking for someone over 21, or someone who speaks Spanish, for example.) Don’t take it too personally if a family doesn’t contact you!

If a family has been in your account for 3 or 4 days and you haven’t heard from them, get in touch with the Sydney office. There may be a glitch in the system, or the family simply may not have had time to get in contact with you. Remember that as well as the time difference, host families are usually pretty busy, and may not be able to contact you until the weekend or a time that suits them AND you!

What is the best age to become an au pair?

There is no ‘perfect’ age to become an au pair, and there are pros and cons for being an au pair at both ends of the age spectrum (18-26).

At 18 you have just finished school, and are ready to become independent and explore a new place. All your friends may be going off to uni in different parts of the country, and it’s a great time to make new friends and see another part of the world. The average age of Cultural Care au pair’s is 18-19, so you won’t be alone. You probably don’t have a loan, or a car, or an apartment full of furniture to put into storage either.

At the older end of the spectrum, at say 22 or older, you have more life experience, may have lived out of home, have probably spent a bit more time working than your average 18 year old. Above 21 you can go to clubs and bars in the US, and drink alcohol legally. Above 21 you can also rent a car in the US, with an age surcharge (25+ is the ‘normal’ age for renting a car without paying an age surcharge). Your host parents may give you more freedom with the car, if you are older and have been driving a lot longer.

But at 18, you may be more likely to become homesick, if you haven’t spent a lot of time away from home. You may find it takes a little longer to get a match, as some families may be searching for older au pairs (although, as I said before, the average age is 18-19, so don’t worry about not finding a family if you are 18!). You might feel disconnected from your friends back at home if they are all experiencing university and you aren’t.

On the older end, you may find it a little harder to make friends with other au pairs, since a large majority are 18-19 years old, if you are not used to spending time with younger friends. You may already have a job, a boyfriend, loans, a car etc. in your home country. It may be hard going from a job with a “full time wage” in Australia, to living on less than $200 a week in America.

But all in all, it’s a great experience at any age.

What should I pack? What should I leave at home?

What Cultural Care tell you is true – don’t take too much with you, because you will definitely buy a LOT of things when you get to America. Clothing is cheap, shoes are cheap, toiletries are cheap. But  don’t let that stop you from bringing along some of your favourite items of clothing.

If you’re arriving in the US in winter, bring a coat or jacket, but don’t spend hundreds of dollars buying expensive snow gear – winter boots, pants, coats and accessories are a fraction of the cost in the US as they are in Australia (and a lot of other places), and unless you are a frequent snow visitor back home, there is no need to spend the money. Places like Walmart, TJ Max and Target sell snow pants for under $30, and the same with boots.

Bring photos from home, and any sentimental things you’d like to decorate your room with. Don’t bring things like photo frames, because they are super cheap in the US. Bring your favourite pillow if you are attached to it – your agency would probably tell you not to, but a lot of people have found that not only does it make your room and bed feel more like your own straight away, but it could just be the thing that saves your life on the flight over, and at the training school.

Don’t bring too many shoes – they are cheap here, and they are one of the most difficult things to get home in regards to weight and how much room they can take up in your suitcase!

Bring things that you might wear in the US, but are willing to part with when you leave to go home. I personally brought a bunch of tshirts that I am willing to toss out to make room for new things that I have bought!

Bring your favourite jeans – because although clothing is cheap, the brands are different, and a lot of people find it difficult to find jeans that fit like they do in their home country!

Check your electrical applicances – if your hair straightener is an expensive one (ie. A GHD) or fairly new, it probably has dual voltage, and can be used here. Same with a laptop, camera charger, etc. But hair dryers are one of the things that a lot of people bring, and can’t use here. Leave it at home – it’s likely that if you aren’t the first au pair, there is already one in your bedroom (provided by your host family, or left behind by the former au pair), otherwise they are cheap to buy!

What airline will I fly with? Can I choose my airline? Will I be on the same flights as other au pairs?

Australian au pairs fly with United or Qantas. And no. Cultural Care in the US have their own ‘travel agent’ so to speak, and do all their own bookings. I can only assume that they book the cheapest flights, and the ones that get you to New York at the same time. They try and book everyone on the same flight, but sometimes that’s not possible.

A lot of the time, au pairs will fly on the United flight that leaves Melbourne on Sunday morning at 11am, then goes through Sydney and leaves Sydney around 2pm, and arrives in either Los Angeles or San Fran, before connecting to flights from New York.

Everyone wants to fly Qantas, but not everyone gets to. Sure, United kinda sucks, purely it has no individual TVs, but they are a lot easier on carryon baggage because they are a US airline, and in the end, they’ll get you there. So stop your whinging, take an iPod (and a book as backup) and enjoy the ride. It’s only 24 hours, not 24 days!

Can I request a flight home so that I am flying on the same flight home as my mum/dad/sister/best friend/dog/rabbit/au pair friend that flew to the training school the same week as me?

You can, but it’s not guaranteed that you’ll be on the same flight. When you ‘apply’ for your flight home, you choose 3 dates in your 30 day travel (grace) period (Friday, Saturday or Sunday incur an extra $50 charge), and Cultural Care will book one of those those 3 choices for you. The only way to guarantee that you are on the same flight home as a friend/family member is for them to book their flight home after your Cultural Care flight(s) have been booked and confirmed – but this may not be until 2 or 3 weeks (usually 4-6 weeks) before you go home. Cultural Care’s contracts may not allow them to book you onto some flights.

How many suitcases should I bring with me?

I brought 3 with me – 2 large suitcases that I checked in, and a small carry-on. Some people would advise to only bring one suitcase with you, so that you can buy a lot here and take more home. I used my 2nd suitcase coming over primarily for food items and gifts – things that I won’t be bringing home with me, and that way I have an empty suitcase to pack with all the things I have bought here to bring home, plus I haven’t had to pay for a new suitcase! What you do is ultimately up to you!

What kind of Australian presents should I bring my host family?

It really depends on their interests. Some popular things to bring are an AFL football, Australian lollies and chocolate, Tim Tams, Vegemite (for them to try, and be grossed out by) small kangaroo and koala stuffed animals (these are cheap at local markets), books or calendars with Australia scenery or art.

What happens with my references? Do they get called? Emailed?

Your references will be called by Cultural Care in your home country to be verified. Then, as host families look at your application, they are able to access the contact details of your references. Some will personally call the references (if they have indicated on your application that they are comfortable speaking English), some will email, and some will just trust that the verification that Cultural Care has done is enough.

How much money should I take to the US with me?

As much as possible, haha. And it depends on how good you are with money! If you want to travel a lot, I’d recommend bringing as much money as you can manage to save before leaving. $10,000 over the course of a year sounds like a lot of money (especially if you haven’t worked full-time before) but in reality, the little things add up, and if you are paying $10 a week for a gym membership, spending $20-40 a week eating out, putting gas in your car etc. these things will add up, and limit your ability to take expensive trips around that US. That said, a lot of people have come over with only $200 or $300 and have still been able to travel. You just need to budget well. In terms of what you will NEED, make sure that you have at least $100 in US cash, and if you can, sign up for a USD travel card with your bank, or at least have your Australian VISA/Mastercard Debit card with some money that you can access for emergencies. You will receive your first pay usually at the end of your first working week, so 2 weeks after you arrive in the US.

My requested departure date is [6 Feb]? Will I get to fly on this exact day?

Not necessarily .Your requested departure date is used to match you with families. So if you request to fly on February 6, you may fly on February 6, but you also may be matched with a family who want you to fly on February 20, for example. Put down the EARLIEST POSSIBLE DATE that you can fly, and go from there.

Is driving in America hard?

The hardest thing to get used to is the whole ‘driving on the other side of the road’ fact. When you get here, your host parents will (hopefully) take you out driving. Start on quiet streets, and ease into it. Just always remember to keep to the right of the line, and that when you turn left you are crossing traffic, and need to turn into the far right-hand lane, and vice versa for turning right! Also, if you are going to live somewhere where it snows, make sure you understand about things like black ice, and how snow and sleet affect driving conditions before you take to the roads in that kind of weather!

What do I do with my Australian mobile phone?

If you have a phone that is unlocked and will work on the US network, you could bring it with you and put a US SIM card into it. But don’t bring your phone with an Australian SIM card. I spent $160 in my first 5 days here texting home. I know girls who have received $300 phone bills for an hour worth of phone calls. And definitely don’t put your iPhone on roaming and use internet over here, unless you plan on owing Telstra your life! Most host families will provide you with a phone with limited use.

Should I get the extended insurance?

YES. YES YES YES YES YES. If in doubt, google ‘travel to America without insurance.’ Still in doubt? Check this out – “In America today, if you have an illness that requires intensive care for an extended period of time, it is ridiculously really easy to rack up medical bills that total over 1 million dollars.” (Read more shocking facts about the US health care system here.) Oh, and did I mention that during my au pair year I ended up with gallstones, and had to have my gallbladder removed through laparoscopic surgery before I could return home? The hospital bill alone was nearly $13,000. By the time you add the surgeons fees, follow up visits, ultrasound, xray, blood tests, CT scan… yeah. If I hadn’t had the extended insurance I would have been out of pocket more than $25,000. I still haven’t scared you enough? Fine. But don’t come crying to me when you have $100,000 in bills because you broke your leg. Seriously.

I have a boyfriend at home? Should I be an au pair?

I won’t deny that it’s not hard, but I think another girl on facebook said it best – “Back home in Australia I lived with my boyfriend. It’s been an adjustment but personally I think it’s so worth it. I miss him every single day and it can be tough with the time difference and what not. But if you have a supportive boyfriend and a trusting strong relationship there is no reason why you can’t come to America and have the best year of your life. Skype and Facebook make it ALOT easier.” Just make sure you know what you are doing before you get into it. If you have major doubts, reconsider. And if you do decide to come to the US, and you do decide to get on that plane, make sure you have made a promise to yourself that you will give it a fair go, that you will try, even if you miss him, even if you think it’s too hard. Because it will get better. You CAN live a year without him. And a year goes REALLY FAST.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Advice, Au Pairing, Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s