North America

Why Au Pairing?

*This article looks at the experiences of one of our successful Au Pair in the USA candidates. Please read on to find out more on Jody Williams experience in the USA, and why he loves the Working Holidays experience.

Have you ever found yourself in a place of not knowing what you’d like to do or study one day? Would you like to travel without having to spend exorbitant amounts of money? These are some of the questions I asked myself before I started the au pairing journey.

After studying a year and completing a 3 year internship I still found myself feeling unsatisfied and unhappy with how stagnant and confused I felt about where I wanted to be. In my 3rd and final year of my internship I went on a cultural exchange program to America – my first international experience – I absolutely loved it. I wish I could have stayed forever. Coming back home I couldn’t help but wonder what life would be like to live abroad. Would it be as amazing as social media creates it to be or is it just fictional?

Having been back home for about a week I realized that there’s more to the world than just South Africa. It felt as if my mind and eyes have been opened and I wanted to experience more. So, I started my journey of exploring jobs abroad such as cruise ships, teaching English, working at theme parks and doing summer camps but nothing was as enticing as au pairing. I’ve heard a lot of pros and cons about au pairing and it beat all my other options by far, in my opinion.

Having travelled to America last year I realized how much money I spent to go on the trip (10 days). The au pair program fee + your visa is lower than an American return flight and that is a bargain in my eyes. Choosing to be an au pair you get to live in your own space, food is provided, flights are payed for and you get to live and travel in another country while earning money.

Now that I chose to be an au pair obviously there’s a procedure to follow.

I had to fill in a decent amount of paperwork which consisted of: personal details, character + childcare reference (200 hours for females and 400 for males), medical check, police clearance, adding a collage of photos of you and the kids that you took care of and a psychological check. You also needed to make a little video telling the potential host families about yourself and the work you did. As soon as the paperwork is filled in and submitted with your video, you’re 80% away from becoming an au pair.

What was really amazing was the fact that my agency, STA Travel, was super helpful in making the process of filing my paperwork as quick and easy as possible. As much as my agency helped, I still needed to put in the effort to complete my paperwork. I had to do a lot of driving and arrange dates to visit my 3 references. I had to arrange an appointment with my doctor to complete the medical form as well as doing a few medical checks. I went to the police station to do my police clearance. Made the video – making the video was one of my favourite things as it presented an opportunity to showcase my personality in a more realistic way.

NB* Make sure to checkup with your references as they tend to forget to complete your form because they’re busy – one of my three references took long to complete mine.

Once all the paperwork was handed in, I skyped with the international agency, cultural homestay international (CHI). They basically asked similar questions to what STA Travel asked me and STA Travel prepared me for the type of questions that CHI would ask me.

After the skype session I got put onto CHI’s online platform where host families can view your profile, email you and/or setup a skype session if they want to get to know more of you.

Now that majority of the work is out the way all I had to do was wait for a family to take interest, so I could choose my family.

I waited for two weeks and got no response. I was disappointed and confused as I thought that I would’ve heard from at least one family, but I didn’t. Not long after that my agency linked me with a family that was absolutely perfect in what I was looking for. The host mom and I emailed each other and arranged for a skype session. The skype session went fairly well and I seemed quite optimistic that this is the family for me. We arranged another skype session with the entire family. We remained in frequent contact and I no longer paid interest in any other host families. Two to three weeks later and we matched. It was a lot of early mornings that I skyped with the family as they’re 7 hours behind RSA time. Everything was moving so fast. Normally you’ll wait close to a year before matching with a family and I matched in about 3 months.

The online training course.

Another thing that wasn’t mentioned was the fact that you don’t do orientation in New York. Instead you do an online training course that is just as informative if not more. It’s a bit of a bummer if you’ve never been to New York but you’ll be going straight to your family so it’s a bit of a win/lose situation. This is 10% of the journey as it takes 2 weeks to complete at a good pace.

Since I mentioned the online training: the online training is a course that informs you on childcare. It’s generally a good reminder and learning opportunity. The course needs to be completed before you leave RSA. If you don’t complete it then the agency won’t arrange your flight tickets until it’s complete – there’s ample time to complete it so you won’t be put in a position where the agency will have to book a different flight.

The last 10% of work is getting your visa done, your international driver’s license as well as packing your bag.  

You’ll have to go for a visa interview/appointment at the closest US embassy. It’s not as scary as people make it out to be. Just make sure that you have all the necessary documents – STA Travel will help you with this as well as prepare you for the type of questions they’ll ask you. Don’t worry you’re in good hands. The international driver’s license is quick and easy. You can get your international license at an AA (online or instore). All you’ll need is your RSA driver’s license, 2 photos and some money.

Finally, packing of the bag.

What do I pack? So, when I packed my bag I knew that I wanted to buy clothes in America, so I only packed a week of clothing. Always make sure you know what season America is in (opposite to us: winter for us summer for them and vice versa), what the weather is like in the State that you’re going to be staying. Make sure to take one thick jacket as you’ll want to travel and it gets really cold in some States. I also bought and took some South African gifts for the family i.e. South African mugs, rugby ball, SA sweets and chocolates, local clothes and accessories. Be creative with your gifts and always get local things that they won’t be able to find anywhere but RSA. PS, keep all documents in your carry on as well as your laptop, if you’re taking one.

The flight to America is ridiculously long ±15 hours and then additional hours dependent on where you’re going in America. I went to Houston, Texas and that was an extra 4-hour flight. PS, you’ll be doing a lot of flying so get used to it.

I’ve been living with my host family for a week now and I’m settled in.

I ‘m doing all my duties without supervision or help. I’m driving on my own with the help of GPS of course. I’m doing the laundry. Making breakfast and dropping the kids at their necessary bus stops. It feels like I’ve been here for months already because the family is so welcoming. One of the weirdest things is phoning friends or family back home because midday is night time back home. It takes a lot of adjustment to get use to the time zone difference – something I haven’t got used to just yet.

All in all, I’m having a great time. I get along well with the family and I made a few friends already. I just know that I’m going to have the best time ever.

Was I just lucky or what? I don’t think it’s luck.

I was just being as honest as I could be about myself and the family really liked who I am. The biggest reason is definitely my agency, STA Travel, that assisted me the whole way and even connected me with the right family.

I’ll recommend STA Travel any day!

Want to Au Pair in the USA? Find out more here.