Ever wondered about how to au pair in England? Well today we are hearing from Amy, an American blogger who au paired in southern England back in 2006. Take it away, Amy!
Where did you live in England? Describe it for us!
I lived in Southbourne, a tiny village on the southern coast of England. It was completely different than my hometown of New York City, which was perfect for me at that time in my life. You could walk down to the water in fifteen minutes, there were thatched roofs and an alpaca farm, and the ladies at the post office on the corner practically became my friends as they helped me mail letters and packages home. I lived on a half-moon street called “The Crescent,” which I thought sounded like something taken from Harry Potter.
Even though the town was small and there wasn’t much to do (we had only one or two pubs), a bigger town, Emsworth, was just a twenty minute walk away. It had a marina, a downtown area, and a food festival every year, and my friends and I would spend a lot of our time there.
Because Southbourne was between Brighton and Portsmouth, the train stopped there and it was very efficient and punctual. I used it to get to Emsworth and Portsmouth, which was twenty minutes away and had all the shopping and nightlife we wanted. London was just two hours away by train. On the way you passed a gorgeous medieval castle, a wonderful reminder that even if everyone spoke English I was definitely not at home!
How long were you based there?
I was there for six months, as I had a visa that allowed me to work for six months only. I could have switched to a tourist visa afterwards and traveled but I needed to go home and prepare for the winter semester.
I lost my passport two days before my flight home and my host mom joked that it was a sign I was supposed to stay – I adored my host family but after six months I was exhausted!
Did you live with the family or in your own apartment?
I lived with the family. I had a nice large room on the ground floor while the rest of the bedrooms were on the second floor. For the most part this worked out really well and allowed me some privacy.
How did you find your family? Through a website, friends, etc.
I found my host family through a website, GreatAuPair.com. I signed up on the website and started looking casually – but five days later I had found my host family and agreed to work with them. It was a very quick process.
What kind of visa were you on?
I went to England after my sophomore year of college, in a semester break I took while transferring universities. I was on a BUNAC visa, which allowed university students and recent grads to work the UK for six months. Now it looks like the BUNAC visa is much different. It’s for volunteering and internships and it’s much more expensive.
What was your relationship with the family like? How many kids?
I had a great relationship with my host family! My host parents were warm and welcoming. They supported me both as authority figure with the children and as a part of their family. They were used to having au pairs, which I think helped.
There were four children, ages 2, 4, 6, and 8 when I got there – and then they all had birthdays over the summer. I got along well with all the children, though of course there were the typical challenges of managing them. The three eldest were in school already when I arrived but I had main responsibility over the two year old during the day. During the summer vacation, my host mom and I would take all the children on fun day trips to entertain them.
Were there any cultural differences you noticed?
There weren’t too many. My host family didn’t fit the stereotype of stiff and overly polite British people. They were chatty and friendly. The biggest challenge was remembering British English and American English share some words that have different meanings, like pants and pie. I never really got used to calling a cookie a biscuit!
Did you go to any kind of school?
No, as I went to England there was no need for any language classes.
What duties did you have? Did you cook for the family?
I was fully involved in the day-to-day responsibilities of the household during the week. I also did all the cooking for the children.
On a typical school day I would wake up the children (or they would wake me up!), make their breakfast, prepare their lunches, help them get dressed, and help my host mom get them out the door to school. While the three oldest were in school, my primary responsibility would be caring for the toddler. We spent a lot of time playing, doing art projects, reading, going to toddler group, and convincing him to take naps. When the other children arrived home from school, I would make dinner and help them with their homework. Sometimes I would start their baths or getting them ready for bed but usually my host parents took over then.
I also helped with household chores, like the laundry, ironing, and cutting the grass. It was definitely a full day’s work!
How did you entertain/educate the children?
Luckily my host family had a beautiful huge backyard. Especially during the summer we spent a lot of time playing out there. We also did art projects, baked, took walks to the water, and read together. During the school year the children had many after school activities.
How did you spend your free time?
During the week I kept it low-key, getting rest, watching movies, reading, hanging out with friends in town. On the weekends I would usually meet up with my friends in Emsworth or Portsmouth to hang out and go shopping. We’d go to the pub or the club.
I tried to take advantage of being in England to travel. Since the train came right through Southborne, it was really convenient. I spent weekends away in Dublin, Wales, Oxford, Norfolk, and Cornwall. I had a week off and took a very quick trip to Copenhagen, Venice, and Prague. Even if I couldn’t get away for the whole weekend, I tried to take day trips.
How did you make friends?
My host mom introduced me to au pairs for other families at the children’s school. We became a very tightly-knit group. I had friends from Germany, South Africa, France, Austria, but no English friends! Since the town was very small, it was difficult to meet English people our age.
What was the dating scene like?
I’m not sure! I didn’t date while I was in England. I had just broken up with my high school boyfriend and wasn’t really looking for anything. Also, my town being very small didn’t provide many opportunities. That being said, we never had a problem meeting guys when we went out to the club or pub!
What you loved about au pairing in England:
So much! I had a great host family, close friends, and wonderful travel experiences. I learned a lot about myself from those six months. I had broken up with my boyfriend, was transferring universities – many things in my life were in flux and I think getting away to England helped me become stronger and more focused.
Many people might think that the UK is “too close” to the US to provide a rich cultural experience but I disagree! By traveling on the weekend I was able to see so much of the country, its history and varied countryside. I was completely charmed by England and I miss it like a second home.
What you disliked about au pairing in England:
Not much. Because of the time difference, it was difficult to chat with family and friends back home. I either had to get up really early in the morning or stay up late at night to catch them at a convenient time. But that’s to be expected in any country you travel to.
Overall would you recommend au pairing in England:
Of course! It’s a great choice for native English speakers who are looking for a travel experience as well. I was glad I got to travel a lot and not have to worry about communicating. And I can’t imagine trying to care for someone’s children and not being able to speak the language!
I was really looking for a unique experience that would allow me to travel and I found it. My time in England cemented in me my love of travel and is largely responsible for the travel lifestyle I have today.
Any important things to pack?
A good converter or two. The rest of the things you can find there.
Have you ever worked as an au pair in England? Comment below!
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