By: Courtney Dotchin
Becoming an Au Pair at the age of 26? Are you crazy? Well, sometimes I thought maybe I was…but the thought of not being an Au Pair and staying in Canada to move onto “the next step” is what I feared even more. My name is Courtney Dotchin. I’m a 27 year old Canadian that took the leap of faith in January 2016 to move to Messery, France (10 minutes over the Swiss border close to Geneva – check it out!) to become an Au Pair.
My reasons for wanting to be an Au Pair were much different than what I feel the “normal” Au Pair’s reasoning is. In May 2015, I finished my Teacher’s Education program at Brock University. I was SO happy to finally be able to call myself a teacher, however there was a BIG part of me that felt I was just not ready to start this career. For anyone who has gone to school to be a teacher in Ontario, you know times can be tough when starting a teaching career…first supply work, then LTO before even being able to be considered for having your own classroom. When I really thought about this process, I was not prepared to spend the next year and a half (or more) devoting all my time and energy towards that full-time contract. But, I did know that French teacher’s were/are in HIGH demand, so I thought…”Why not travel abroad and live in France? Further develop my French then come back to Ontario and teach French!” It sounded like a GREAT plan, and one that would get me into the classroom full-time when I was ready for it.
Well, it’s now May 2017 and my one year Au Pair contract was extended another six months because I’ve fallen in love with living and working in a different country…my journey of living abroad has only just begun! Not only did I fall in love with living abroad, but I also created an indescribable connection with my host family (what we call the family we work with) that I will cherish for a lifetime!
I moved to Messery to be an Au Pair for an only child, a little 8 year old girl named Melissa (Meli for short). She has filled my heart with so much happiness and joy that even thinking of leaving her when I move back to Canada in June seems impossible. She will be a part of my life for the rest of my it. We also have a small dog named Queenie!
Our “typical” day is also quite different than the “norm”, because although I live in France and have a French visa, Meli goes to school in Geneva so my Au Pair duties involve lot of driving. I drive Meli to school for 8h15 every morning and I also pick her up after school. Pick up times range everyday because she has different activities after school meaning she finishes at different times (anywhere from 15h30 to 18h00). However, when Meli is at school that is when I have my free time! In the evenings after I collect her from school, we go home and I prepare dinner for her and the family. I don’t HAVE to prepare dinner for my host parents, however I’m already making dinner for myself and Meli, so why not make a little bit extra of what I’m already making (then they don’t have to when they get home from work)! I don’t have any cleaning
duties, other than keeping my space tidy and cleaning up after myself! I make sure she has finished her homework, has a shower, and sometimes even put her to bed if her parents are late. We don’t always have a lot of time after school to do many activities together, but when we do we like to go shopping, swimming, skiing, go to the movies, play games, jump on the trampoline, or just hang out together. We’ve created a very special bond and she’s like a little sister to me!
I take a French course two days a week (Tuesday and Thursday – 9h00 to 12h00) and other than that my time is completely free for me to choose what I want to do! I absolutely LOVE the outdoors, and living where I do makes it so easy to embrace it. What I do depends on the season, whether it’s skiing in the Alps, hiking, running, walking, hanging out with friends, having coffee, being around the lake…I am able to do whatever I want to do in this time! I also have my weekends free, therefore I’m able to take opportunities to travel and see different parts of Europe! There’s also always different social events and gathering going on around my area and some weekends I just decide to stay home!
For myself, the best part of being an Au Pair is 100% the experience I am having. I get to travel with the family, go on ski holidays, experience living in a new country, travel, speak a different language, and make new friends. Before moving here in 2016, I went on a month long European adventure with a close friend of mine. We travelled 8 countries in 30 days, and although it was quite intense, I returned to Canada knowing that I couldn’t just stay there for the time being. I knew I wanted to travel, live abroad and experience a different country but I was also nervous about it! How could I move to a different country where I didn’t know how to communicate and speak the language? Being an Au Pair was the “easier” way I could do this. It allowed me to be independent yet know I would still have people where I was going to be moving that would support me and help me if I needed it. In my time being an Au Pair, I have grown so much! I have become much more independent and confident, more adventurous and outgoing, and I now know (as I take another leap of faith and move to London, England in September 2017 to start my teaching career) that I can live abroad, not know ANYONE and I will be OKAY…I will figure it out. There’s something really rewarding and satisfying about feeling
confident in your own abilities in this way.
Now of course I’ve made my experience sound like it’s all rainbows and butterflies, and it’s obviously not that way all the time. However, I’ve been very fortunate to find and connect with an amazing family, but this is not something that every Au Pair experiences. I’d say one of the worst parts of being an Au Pair is the money that you make. On average, Au Pairs don’t make much money for the work that we do and each country pays you drastically different. That being said, you DO NOT become an Au Pair for the money…you become an Au Pair for the experience and personal growth.
I moved here after completing my university studies and I have A LOT of student debt back home that needs to be paid off. Was it the “smartest” idea to move here with a lot of debt and not a lot of money for 18 months? Honestly, probably not…but would I change it? ABSOLUTELY NOT! There are some ways to make a little bit of extra cash on the side (for example babysitting), but you have to remember you will be on a student visa and working a lot of extra hours on top of being an Au Pair is legally not an option! My biggest advice here would be to do your research. If you want this experience, and also a little bit of extra cash…check out your different options! For example, working in France, Au Pairs are paid on average 270-300 euro per month (I am paid 400 because of how close we live to Geneva, Switzerland and this is where I spend most of my free time – this was negotiated with my family before moving here). Au Pairs in Switzerland are paid 700-800 francs a month (and have a very similar situation to being an Au Pair in France, but some different restrictions on age and visas). If there’s one thing my very expensive Canadian university degree taught me, its to RESEARCH, RESEARCH,
This has been the most amazing experience I have had to date in my life. I have been able to live in an international community for an extended period of time, meet new people, travel and experienced what it’s like to live abroad! It is something I highly recommend for anyone to experience as I think you not only have all these benefits, but learn a lot about yourself and grow as an individual. It was the “right next step” for me.
But what is considered “the right next step” anyways? I mean, I look at my friends back home in Canada and some are in their careers, some getting married, others having babies and buying homes. I look at my life, and it almost looks as if I’ve “taken a step back” in a way compared to them. I think, one of the most important lessons I have learned while living abroad is that it’s okay to be different; it’s okay to not be on the same paths as my friends back home; it’s okay that living abroad and doing what I am doing makes me happy. Now, not only am I happy as an individual but I can also be equally as happy for all of my friends who are living out the paths that they want to!
Whether you’re 18 or 30 years old, have the strength and courage to pick your own path, even if it could be a bit scary. Even if isn’t what you “thought” you would be doing at this point in your life. Be an individual and take that leap of faith. I promise you, it’s worth it and you’ll never regret it! Home will always be there; your true family and friends will be cheering for you and supporting you every step of the way!
Es-tu prêt(e)? Un, deux, trois…ALLER!!!
To learn more about being an Au Pair, contact Adanac Au Pair at email@example.com or