AuPairing 101: Part 2 - What to Consider When Choosing a Host Country

Aupair, aupairing, countries and cultures blog
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o…. you’ve decided you want to be an AuPair…and now you are faced with the decision…which of the hundreds of countries in the world do you want to become your host country for this incredible experience?? And within that country, which of the thousands of cities should you choose??

For any just stumbling upon this article, this is Part 2 in my AuPairing 101 series. You can read Part 1 here: Part 1 – How to be an AuPair. A decision that may seem quite simple, but can dramatically effect your AuPAir experience in more ways than you may think. Which is exactly why I wanted to write this post. In my humble opinion, taking the time to research different countries (and cities within that country) before committing to living there for any extended period of time is crucial.

Main Factors to Consider:
  1. Geographical Location/Time of Year
  2. Culture (norms, beliefs, traditions, etc)
  3. Infrastructure
  4. Safety
  5. Language

So let’s break these down and talk about why each of these factors should be researched and considered when choosing a host country to be an AuPair in. Below each main factor I’ve listed questions that should be considered and researched with brief comments below to further explain them.

Aupair, aupairing, countries and cultures blog
Plaza Mayor - Madrid

Geographical Location/Time of year

1. What are the seasons like?

  • I know it goes without saying that being an AuPair in a beautiful country is one of the biggest draws. Something to consider in addition to the surrounding scenery, however, is weather patterns. Maybe Costa Rica has breathtaking beaches, but in the summer they are swarmed with mosquitos and sand flies! Maybe Germany has incredible castles perched on the greenest hills, but in the winter you are trying not to lose a limb to frostbite.

2. What kind of activities are there to do during each of the seasons?

  • Maybe that gorgeous beach city is the spot to be during summer months with countless activities to keep you entertained. In the winter, however, stores close up and the list of things to do becomes frighteningly short. For me, Madrid was perfect because there were plenty of outdoor places to visit during the summer months and in the rainier/colder seasons there were museums, shops, theaters, etc. I could still visit.

3. Are their dangerous animals or pesky bugs?

  • Without a doubt, research what the seasons are like in a particular city within each country. If you are flexible with the dates you plan to be abroad, maybe you can work around some of these factors. Maybe you decide to visit a completely different location all together. Or maybe you decide you don’t care how many mosquito bites you get, you’re going to Costa Rica baby!

4. Where is your specific city located? Near a big city or out in the country?

  • Are you looking for an energetic city bursting with locals and tourists alike? Or are you looking for a more rural experience with no one but the locals around you? Each location will have a different atmosphere so be sure and consider what kind of setting you want/prefer.

5. What type of shops, activities are in the area?

6. Is this a city tourists frequently visit or mostly just locals?

The idea is to have as much information in front of you so you can decide if any of the information you have discovered is “make it or break it” when it comes to choosing a country.

Aupair, aupairing, countries and cultures blog
Madrid in the summer is beautiful but HOOOOOOT and humid

Culture

1. How does the general population dress?

  • I also realized that dressing nice was highly valued by Spaniards. Coming from Southern California where workout clothes are used as a casual outfit more than they are used for actually exercising, I found myself getting quite a few funny looks from people as I walked around the city in my Nike spandex and runners. I have to say that my host family was absolutely amazing and never tried to force me to dress a certain way to fit in. But I realized that dressing nice was a sign of both respect for yourself and respect for others. Learning this definitely changed the way I dressed, particularly when I was with my host family.

2. What time do they eat dinner?

  • As an AuPair, you will be living in the home of your host family and as such, will be thrust into their daily routines. I did not realize that in Spain, many families eat dinner between 9 and 10:00 at night….the time I am usually getting into bed! The first few weeks, I found myself practically chewing my fingers from hunger waiting for dinner time to arrive.

3. What kind of food do they usually eat?

  • You will be eating most of your meals with the family. If you are a picky eater or have allergies of any kind, you must communicate these with your host family and be sure that your eating habits are something that can be accommodated.

4. Are they known for being a social culture or more private?

5. Is there a national religion that many of the population adheres to?

6. If so, what are the core ideas within that religion?

These are the seemingly minuscule questions that should definitely be taken into account when choosing a country to AuPair. I’ll say it again, the main goal behind researching these questions to to ensure that you are as prepared as possible.

We each have our own habits and beliefs that have been instilled in us by our family and surrounding culture. And while some of the cultural differences between countries are unimportant, others can be huge “deal breakers” when it comes to the selection process.

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Let's just say I didn't have any problem with the Spanish custom of eating jamon and tomato all day long...SO GOOD.

Infrastructure

1. What kind of public transportation is available?

  • As an AuPair, you may or may not have access to the family’s car (your family may not even have a car). Even if you do have access to a car, it may not be at times you need it so you will be relying on other means of transportation. Depending on your location, you may be able to walk every where you need to go or bike or take a quick metro or bus ride.
  • Make note of where your potential AuPair family lives and how far they are from the center of town or other places of interest. When you are relying on public transportation, a home that is just outside of the city and only a 10 minute car ride could potentially be a 30 minute to hour long metro or bus ride.

2. How much does the transportation cost?

  • Many families will cover the costs for transportation, but others may not. So when discussing forms of compensation be sure and cover this topic and be aware of how much the transportation will cost in general if you will need to pay for it yourself.

3. What is housing usually like in this area?

  • Do people live in detached homes? Apartment buildings? Mud huts? You definitely want to have a clear picture of what your living situation will be like (I’ll talk more about this in my coming article “AuPairing 101 – Choosing a Host Family”). You may be in a home with a large yard, private bedroom and bathroom. OR you could be in a flat, sharing the bathroom with the children and living in extremely small spaces. While this isn’t the end of the world by any means, it is helpful to have a clear picture of the space you will be living in.
Aupair, aupairing, countries and cultures blog
Also didn't have a problem with the cafe con leche and drool-worthy pastries.

Safety

1. What are the crime rates?

  • I know the movie “Taken” probably ruined thousands of Americans, I mean people (cough*cough*) from ever traveling outside of their own countries. While most places are much safer than we assume they are a little extra research can never hurt.

2. Is there an established policing entity?

  • If you have your eye on a specific country, try doing a web search on “Crime rates in…..” Even a general search “How safe is ….. country?” can be very insightful.There is plenty of public records posted by countries themselves regarding crime rates, safety levels, etc. So take the time to look into any locations you may be interested in!

3. How safe is the public transportation?

4. How safe is it to walk the streets alone?

5. How safe is it to be out at night?

  • Again, there is so much information out there that I am sure you will be able to find a fair amount of articles/blog posts discussing these different topics.

At the end of the day, this information is meant to help you make an informed decision, not to scare you from traveling. Even a country that may be “more dangerous” than your home country can still be a wonderful place to visit. Again, the goal here is to have a well-rounded understanding of your potential host country.

Aupair, aupairing, countries and cultures blog
I honestly felt safer walking the streets of Madrid than I did in alot of cities in the United States.

Language

1. What is the national language?

  • For many, the prospect of learning a new language can be a huge motivating factor when choosing a host country. Personally, I was determined to learn Spanish and as such, decided on Spain as my host country.

2. Are their multiple languages?

3. Are their multiple dialects?

  • I mention the question regarding dialects because many may not realize that from city to city within a country, the language can shift dramatically. Understanding both the national language as well as regional languages is extremely important. I was interested in a family from Spain that was located in the north of Spain in Basque Country. As I began to research the area I learned that although Spanish is spoken in the region, Basque is the main language. If I had neglected to research the area I could have found myself arriving expecting to be speaking in Spanish with all the locals only to be frustrated and disappointed.

4. Is my language one that may be commonly known?

  • If language learning is not something you intend to focus on then you may want to choose a country and family that speaks your native language. This is particularly key in regards to your AuPair family. Miscommunication because of the language barrier can cause a whole host of problems.
Aupair, aupairing, countries and cultures blog
I absolutely loved just going out and walking the city. Stopping by my favorite cafes and then searching for any new, hidden places.

At the end of the day, none of the facts are meant to dissuade you from choosing a specific country. You can still have incredible experiences no matter where you go. I believe the lessons you learn and time you have is more dependent on your attitude and perspective while you are there.

I want to note that even after doing all your research, there are sure to be moments when you are missing home or completely take back by culture shock. You’ll have times when you want to lock your AuPair kids in their rooms and leave them there until the parents come home, times you may want to leave early and return to your own country. But having a well-rounded understanding of the country and city you will be living in is meant to make the culture shock a little easier to digest.

My next article in my AuPairing 101 series will be discussing the interview process with families: what questions to ask, what boundaries to set, etc. I would love to hear your thoughts on this latest article and any other factors you think should be considered when choosing a country to AuPair in! Let me know in the comments below 🙂

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