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The Au Pair Diaries pt 1

Like most people, I want to experience all the wonders the world has to offer. On the cusp of graduating college I was ready to break free and go. Just go. So, tapping into my six years of experience as a babysitter/nanny, I decided to become an au pair.

Like most people, I want to experience all the wonders the world has to offer. On the cusp of graduating college I was ready to break free and go. Just go. To where didn’t really matter- I longed for anything other than North Carolinian soil. Thanks to four years at a wonderful university, I had a journalism degree, but I knew trying to find employment abroad as a writer was going to be tough, if at all possible. Fearing my wanderlust would be squashed and continuously put on the backburner, I looked for other gigs.

I scoured the internet looking into programs like the Peace Corps, Teach for America, Outward Bound and a handful of others. After exhaustive research and hours of telephone calls, I didn’t feel as if any program was right for me. I wanted some freedom, and I wanted to be able to figure out a new place on my own without a hand to hold every step of the way. So, tapping into my six years of experience as a babysitter/nanny, I decided to become an au pair.

Although there are many au pair placement services, I met my host family through networking. A Chilean family who had been living in the U.S. for many years, the parents wanted to move back home to spend time with their aging parents. I was able to meet the family and the three young girls in the United States and accepted their offer of living with them for a year, speaking English to help keep the entire family bilingual.

The formal offer came a few weeks before the end of my classes. After graduation and a summer of freedom, I packed my life into three bags and came to Santiago in August, a few months after the family moved and settled in. The girls, ages 2, 4 and 6, had forgotten a lot of their English after a few months of being submerged in Latin culture. Especially the two-year-old. And since I don’t know any Spanish, communication and practicing English at the beginning was especially difficult.

Out of all my post grad employment options, an au pair is arguably the most difficult job I could have chosen. Unlike a clear-cut job, where there are firmly set hours and responsibilities, an au pair’s job is fluid and always changing. I have to be a nurse, a referee, an entertainer, a teacher… basically a demi-parent. And for someone in their early 20s who doesn’t plan on having kids for a very long time, it forces a kind of selflessness that is foreign in a decade deemed to be one of self-centeredness and exploration.

Despite the challenges, I set out on this adventure for three important reasons. The first was to learn a foreign language. I took French in high school and Italian in college, and while my grades were fine, I was never naturally talented at picking up a language. So I needed a new method: total immersion. For a whole year I would be living, breathing and listening to Spanish every day by just being at home. I’m taking formal lessons too, to learn those pesky conjugations, so by the end of the year I hope to be functionally conversational without any hesitation.

The second reason was to truly experience a culture. It’s easy to visit a place and miss out on the feel of the place because of the American-inspired attractions and nice restaurants or tourist hotels. I wanted to detach myself from the thousands of other visitors with area maps clutched in their hands and sunscreen stuffed into their fanny-packs. I wanted to get to know the people behind the veneer of glitter that so often surrounds destinations. I’ve never been in a new place for more than a few months, and it was finally time for me to become a true explorer and not just a passerby.

The last reason I wanted to go abroad for so long was the opportunity to be independent. In a place where I didn’t know anybody, the language, popular landmarks- essentially nothing- it will be a test for myself to see how I really fare. I’m away from my friends, family and any type of structure to go about finding hobbies and activities that make me happy.

As a 20-something who has always dreamed of adventure, it’s time to see if I’m actually cut out for the ups and downs and the inherent adjustments of travel.

The Au Pair Diaries is a new series on Vagabond Journey by Alyssandra Barnes. Read new updates each Tuesday. Subscribe to the Au Pair Diaries by RSS

Filed under: Au Pair, Chile, South America, Work

About the Author:

Alyssandra Barnes is a recent journalism graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Drawn to discovery and adventure, she is currently living in Santiago, Chile to explore Latin American culture. Believing that fear should never be a limiting factor, Alyssandra likes to push herself in extreme sports, including scuba diving and skydiving. Read her blog at http://alyssandrabarnes.wordpress.com/. has written 3 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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