Au pair positions can put you into a foreign culture and pay your for it too. If you're a younger woman (under 30), like children and aren't afraid of a little housework, this may be your key to living abroad.
Many families don't want a full-time nanny, partly because of the expense (you pay more for a professional) but also because they'd like small jobs done around the house.
A fille au pair, as they're called in French, could do any of the following tasks:
This is where the au pair comes in. By combining child care with household chores and often a bit of help with English, au pair girls (and they are most often - though not always - girls) are an ideal solution for many families - and for the job-seeking traveler.
While they do have a number of things in common, au pair positions are different from one another.
First, the work itself: the list above gives you an idea of the type of work you might expect, but each family will have its own requirements. One au pair friend of mine taught English to her Swiss charges as her main job.
Second are the hours: you might work as little as 20 hours a week or up to 45. Usually your evenings will be free, as will at least part of your weekends. Au pair positions usually allow you enough time to study- after all, learning the language and culture is usually a major reason young women become au pair girls.
You might also have some out of the ordinary experiences - like the au pair who spent the summer cruising the Mediterranean on a yacht or a month on a private estate in Bali.
Being far away from home - even if you are part of your host family - might be a little disconcerting. Au pair girls often report being lonely, at least at first, which is why in most cities au pair networks have sprung up.
One thing au pair positions have - or should have - in common is that you'll be a member of the family. There is payment and there are chores, but the relationship is definitely not a staff-employer one.
A major decision in looking for au pair positions is whether to use an agency or do it on your own. As with most things, there are pros and cons.
Advantages of an agency
Going with an agency means you'll have some background information about your host family, since they have to register to use the service. You'll also have a contract which clearly outlines your responsibilities, payment and holidays. Some agencies have au pair networks so you can meet others and jump-start your social life. And they'll usually take care of your au pair visa, an advantage not to be taken lightly in countries where it's not so easy to get a job.
Advantages of going solo
Going it alone may earn you more money, since you'll pocket the cut that agencies usually take. And with Skype and other cheap phone options these days, there's no reason you can't talk directly with potential host families and choose the ones you're most comfortable with - and get a contract. But it will mean more work for you, and potentially less security, since you won't have the backup of an established agency.
So if you think au pair positions are for you, you could explore some of these resources for a better understanding.