Hopefully you have read my initial post about becoming an au pair in Europe.
This article is about some of my experiences as an au pair for one year in Brussels, Belgium.
So the popular phrase of 'An American in Paris' has been glamorized by Hollywood. Many people's dream is to go to Paris, and why not? It is an alluring and inspiring city. (Read more about Paris here) I ended up in a city and country that is quite overlooked by the world. I somehow got to Brussels, Belgium.
So why Brussels?
Well I did not match with a compatible family in Paris, but I did find a great one in the next best city….Brussels! Now you are probably wondering, why Belgium? (Look at that picture! And read more about all of Belgium here) I honestly had no real idea what was in Belgium except waffles, chocolate, and beer. I liked chocolate and waffles beforehand, but hardly drank beer. I did not know what to expect at all or how much I would come to love working in Brussels.
After asking the family the other questions I had written down, I felt that they matched well with me. I asked them more about Brussels and what they personally like and dislike about it. It seemed like a good place to start my European dream and it sure was. Not only was the au pair pay better than most countries in Europe (€450/month), the cost of other things like public transport (€2), trains(€10 return with youth pass), and local activities (€5 beer and frites in the local square) seemed to be more reasonable, too.
I accepted the job offer and completed a contract stipulating my work hours and time off, duties, and what benefits I would receive for my work, such as medical insurance, full visa reimbursement, half of my flights and half of my language classes paid for by the family. I arrived the week before school started for the three children I needed to help take care of. This was perfect since this was my first time living and working abroad. I got to see and go through the three separate routines for each child as well as get my directional bearings in order. I also got to explore the city and the area around the house a little bit.
How was it when you first got there?
Settling into life in Europe was a fairly simple and easy transition for me. I enjoyed the café culture and just walking around and hopping on buses or trams to see more of the city. It was hard to meet people at first, but then after I met one person, I met four others. The one obstacle when I first arrived was that I had to go to the commune, or the neighborhood city hall. This was difficult since I did not speak ANY French or Dutch at that point as well as there was a really long waiting line to be seen. I just gave them every piece of paper they could possibly need and the small fee for my identification card and was told to come back at a certain time to pickup my ID card.
Settling into life with the family was a bit different as I had not been living with my own family for four years at that point. I was given a rundown of the house, how to take care of the kids, how to care care of the two cats, what cars to use when, and how to work everything else. I had my own little bedroom with shower and sink inside, with my bathroom down the hall and in the cloakroom. I was not given a curfew and the family did not push anything upon me, so I had lots of freedom. I was not treated like a child and my privacy was respected.
How were the kids?
The kids entrusted to me were 11, 9, and 4 years old; a girl and two boys respectively. To be completely honest, they were quite the handful! I had worked with children for many years prior, but living with them full time was a completely different atmosphere than I expected it to be. This was okay though, and I adapted very well to the work routine quite quickly. I had to drive them to and from school, and had a long break from the morning into the afternoon to go and do whatever I wanted. After school, I would drop the children off at their specific activities and appointments for each day. Some days were rough when the kids would not listen and other days were amazing and fun because the children loved to play.
What did you do in your down time?
I explored the city and learned a fair amount of French! Brussels is a great and easily walkable city with beautiful churches and buildings around every corner. There are so many cafés and bars to get some amazing Belgian Trappist beer or you can sit in one of the numerous squares and watch people pass by. At first it was hard to make friends since I had no connections in the city when I arrived. I met my first and best friend at a frites (french fry) stand oddly enough. I also did day trips around Belgium because it was so easy and cheap (€10 return ticket with Belgian train youth pass). On the weekends I took longer train rides or cheap flights (Ryan Air, EasyJet) and made a whole weekend of visiting cities around Europe. Being an au pair allowed for all of these things.
Would you recommend being an au pair again?
Overall, I am so thankful and happy that I took the leap to be an au pair. It was a great learning experience and I got to be fully enveloped by European culture. I learned French fairly quickly because I needed to use it each day. I got to see so many places in Europe that I did not think was possible. It was a great chapter of self-growth, and would recommend being an au pair to anyone who enjoys children, but also wants to be adventurous.