Elena is 21 years old and came to the UK in the summer of 2017. She has been an au pair, looking after two children of the age six and eight for about nine months now. She was originally going to stay for one year but has extended her time with the family for an extra six months.
Elena, what made you come to the UK and why did you want to be an au pair?
I wanted to come to the UK, because my parents had lived in London before they had me and I always heard their stories about the city. I wanted to experience London and the rest of the UK for myself. I also have a cousin who used to be an au pair, that´s what gave me the idea to do it myself! I thought that by being an au pair, I´d have the opportunity to do something I had never done before, while also having the safety and comfort of a family and a home.
Now you have been an au pair for a while, was there something about this role that surprised you? Something you didn´t expect?
Yes it surprised me how personal it is. You are right in the middle of a families life.
How long did it take you to settle in?
It took me a good three months. Not just settling in with the family, but making this country my new home. When I came everything was new. Although culturally the UK is similar to NZ, I still had to make completely new friends and find familiarity.
Why are you choosing to extend with the same family rather than working for a new family in new place or a completely different job?
I am very happy with my host family and I am extremely grateful for being part of their family. I see it as a privilege to be their au pair and I see this as my au pair experience. I don’t want to go to another family, because I´ve become so comfortable and this has been such a cool opportunity. Leaving New Zealand and settling in here was a challenge but it has been so worthwhile. Now I feel very comfortable and I decided to stay longer where I am because I enjoy it.
What is the difficult part about being an au pair?
That there is no division between work and home. If you feel unwell or upset sometimes, you are still at your work place, which can be a downside.
New Zealand is a long way away, do you deal with homesickness at all?
I do miss my family and sometimes I wish I could just go home for a weekend and spend time with everyone, but it´ s not that I want to return for good at least not at this point. I am not planning to visit home during my au pair time, because the way I see it, this is money that I could use to travel to the US or to Morocco or somewhere else. My mum is coming to visit me soon and I am looking forward to that.
How has this time made you grow?
It has made me grow in many ways. It is very character building. I grew in patience, perseverance and problem solving. Everyday children throw a fair amount of problems at you and expect you to solve them. I guess what surprised me in the beginning is that they get upset about things that I never thought anybody get upset about and suddenly you´re in the middle of two children crying and you need a solution. And the solution is always different depending on the situation. It is a lot about trial and error. You have to be flexible in your approach but mentally strong at the same time. It can be challenging.
How do you make the most of your au pair time?
That´s an interesting question because I think I´m a bit different than other au pairs. Many au pairs come here, they hang out with other au pairs (usually from their own country) and they travel- and there´s nothing wrong with that. But the way I see it, I am making the most of being an au pair by making the place my home. For example when I do laundry or when I look after the children, I don´t think of it as my job. I think of it as my contribution to the family. As my part of being a family member. And from that place I was able to create the life that I live now: I work at a local cafe, I made friends in the area, I travel on some occasions. Working at the cafe is a great way to meet the locals and have an extra income as well. Of course I hang out with other au pairs too, but I am glad I have the opportunity to spend my time in a variety of ways.