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Au Pair. What does that mean? I first heard this word when I was a child and, not realising it was French, I assumed someone was exclaiming at a piece of fruit. Some years later, I’m more in tune with words and their definitions, and now know "Au Pair" to literally mean "on equal terms." More simply, an Au Pair is usually a young person, between the age of 18 to 30, who travels to a foreign country to live with and work for a host family. This is seen as a cultural exchange, whereby the au pair’s main purpose is to look after the family's children, often helping them to improve their language skills. The host family provides their Au Pair with meals, a place to stay, weekly pocket money, and the opportunity to learn their language. Simple!
So, why did I decide to become an Au Pair?
I always knew I wanted to work abroad at some point in my life, however, I had no idea what I would do. With my language skills lacking, I assumed that I was pretty much doomed and that my only opportunities would be bar work on a Greek island that I couldn’t pronounce (no judgement for anyone that has done this, I went to Zakynthos as a 'leaving school holiday' with my friends and loved every minute of it).
However, whilst at university, I saw my recently-graduated sister successfully move abroad for a year. As I was hunched over books in the library, my sister, Ailsa, was living it up in Paris, working as an Au Pair, eating macrons in her spare time whilst strolling down the Champs-Élysées, and doing every other cliché French activity on a daily basis. As you can imagine, the jealously was unreal. As I studied rocks, my sister was having cheese and wine by The Seine. In between essay breakdowns, she was bumping into Kim Kardashian at Paris Fashion Week. Whilst Ailsa gazed at the sparkling Eiffel Tower at night, the brightest lights I could see were those of my local Tesco supermarket in the West End of Glasgow.
So of course, when it was my turn to graduate, I decided that I would also jet off on my own Au Pair adventure.
Where Did I Go?
Despite not knowing a word of Spanish, I ended up in Spain. Before you assume, no I didn’t go to Madrid. Nope, not Barcelona either. Instead, I ended up in a small city that I had never heard of. I matched with a Host Family on an Au Pair website who were amazing. They had two young boys and were living in a city called Cartagena. I immediately googled pictures of the city and was in awe at it’s colourful streets. I could almost picture myself walking down them. It turns out I was looking at images of Cartagena, Columbia, rather than Cartagena, Spain, however I was so eager to leave behind cold, rainy Scotland, that I accepted their invitation to become their Au Pair.
I was so excited, I told all my family and friends straight away, and I even changed my instagram name to have a Spanish twist to it (this did not last long and I still cringe with embarrassment). After confirming my move to Spain for a year, I rushed to Oxfam books and bought a second hand Spanish dictionary and started listening to Spain’s Top 40 on Spotify, religiously. I could not wait to begin my adventure, to live with a wonderful Spanish family for the year, and to learn all about the country’s culture and language. It was the beginning of my adult life, marking my independence.
September soon came around, and it was finally time for me to pack up my life and get on that flight to Alicante. I flew out on a Sunday, my stomach in knots. The night before, I had a celebratory Indian Takeaway with my family to say goodbye, which I soon regretted as I woke on Sunday morning, feeling sick with anxiety, panicking at my decision to move some 1,700 miles away.
Nevertheless, I headed to the airport, feeling like a scared little girl going to school for the first time, not wanting to leave my mum’s side. My dreams that had once seemed so faraway were finally becoming a reality and I couldn’t quite believe it. Finally, the moment came to step on the plane, put my phone on flight mode and buckle that belt. Up into the air, I went, in search of a Spanish adventure.
Gracias for reading my ramblings! I’ll be writing more reflections about my time in Spain that I hope can help with any of you out there considering becoming an Au Pair. But for now, adiós!