The kids were away for the first week, so this gave me an ideal opportunity to ease myself into my surroundings. The parents were keen to introduce me to family friends, who they would visit in neighbouring towns and sometimes on the coast near the Rias Baxas. What a refreshing beginning, introduced to incredibly chatty, interested 30 and 40 year olds while sipping Estrella. I was a little nervous at first having to speak Spanish all the time (given the kids were away, and I’d asked for only Spanish), but found that putting myself in a situation where I *had* to speak Spanish was the best way to gain more confidence. I soon developed a love for Galicia, its gorgeous green, temperate climate, and especially the beauty of Santiago dC. Once the kids arrived, however, I went more into au pair mode, which was troubling at first given I had never au paired before. It took a few days to earn respect with the kids, which I imagine was partly due to their age, both 13 when I arrived. Despite the fact the two were practically teenagers, I still found the experience different having to look after them - I hadn’t ever au paired before. But you learn quickly, and my au pairing hours were pretty minimal.
About halfway through, I began to feel a little lonely. I found my routine slightly monotonous, and felt isolated in the time I had to myself even though I was keen to have time to myself. Given this was my first time travelling outside of home, it's not a surprise I started to feel a little isolated. I wanted to have my own space a lot of the time, and the family was very happy to give me lots of my own space, but I found that in this time to myself I began to feel rather lonely. In the final week, however, I learned to appreciate how to make the most of this space I had been granted. I began to plan how I would use my free time (far better than twiddling my thumbs); I booked myself onto tours of sites that were more hidden away in the city, I booked a tour to Fisterra and Muxia (would recommend!), I booked myself into local museums.
Moreover, I realised I needed to make some friends in the area. A decent amount of my lonliness came from being away from my friends, not socialising as frequently as I would do. Being in my late teens, as much as I appreciated time with the family and to myself, I wanted something more. My first strategy was meeting other au pairs in the region (Ana was very helpful in trying to link us together), but more fortunately I managed to meet a great group of lads living in Vilagarcia who were visiting Santiago for a night. Making friends with locals your age is a difficult task - best advice would be to go to public social events where you might find people your age. You'll be amazed by how much Spanish teens are interested in foreigners, especially Brits! They invited me to a party one night in Vilagarcia, which was just the kind of break that I needed. Your own space and your own opportunties to socialise are really important, even when you are au pairing.
What I was most impressed by was the ease with which I was paired with a family in Spain. Having spent a while struggling to find potential summer job opportunities in Spain, I found Ana's service - Destino Idiomas - simple, easy, and friendly. All it took was a chat with Ana, and the completion of a few documents. After that, Ana did all the hard work trying to find a compatible family. She puts a lot of effort into this process and made sure I was comfortable with the family she managed to find for me. It was amazingly simple - in a matter of weeks I had gone from searching the internet for ideas to arriving in Santiago.
Regardless, I would offer a few recommendations for anyone planning to au pair in Spain, especially if they haven't before:
- Socialising, family life, and culture - will you meet new friends? how good are you living away from your friends, family, and your culture? I loved working my way through a new culture, a new social scene, a different family life; but I still found myself missing bits of home, missing being around people my age. You might want to think about ways you can bridge these gaps.
- Space - how much space do you want from your host family? You’ll need to communicate this well, and find different activities to fill your free time (you can get bored and lonely quite quickly otherwise).
- Make sure to establish responsibilities from the start. I ran into some minor difficulties when my responsibilities had not been properly communicated. This is why I would recommend also checking in with the parents once every week - my host family wanted a bit more space, but didn't communicate this until much later.
Au pairing was an unforgettable life experience. It might feel like a step into the unknown, but there's plenty of help available, and hey... its all part of the fun.
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