Choosing to spend a month of my summer Au Pairing in Geneva was arguably one of the best yet most terrifying decisions I have ever made. I was putting myself into the hands of a strange family, who I found through an online agency and then Skyped with once (a situation which felt it could quite easily star in its own Catfish episode). Despite this, it turned out to be one of the best and most bizarre learning curves of my life. If you're like me and enjoy making impulsive decisions to announce out of the blue, here are a few key things I learned from my trip that are, in my opinion, essential for any wannabe Au Pair.
1) Public Transport abroad takes some getting used to.
Don't get me wrong, if anyone had told me that this was a 'thing worth mentioning' I would have laughed smugly in their face; reeling off my National Rail repertoire. Alas, the public transport of Genève takes no prisoners. Prepare yourself for approximately four journeys of missing your stop and one incident of frantically running up and down the length of the bus trying to get in because you didn't realise the doors don't open automatically when it stops. (In this case cue a scowl from the driver who eventually opens a door to let the hapless foreigner on.)
2) You find yourself having all sorts of awkward conversations
"Do you mind if I wear my pyjamas?" was a genuine question asked by my employer, to which I had to assure him that I didn't have an aversion to indecent night time wear. If you're fairly naive like myself, you might have imagined yourself Au Pairing for a millionaire in a mountaintop palace, living it up in your own personal annex. Unfortunately, the reality is that you're a stranger living in weirdly close confines with a family who don't know you.
3) You get really good at being on your own
Once you've got over crying in your room because you're completely alone in a strange country and have just been reprimanded for not watering the pot plants twice a day you begin to feel fairly liberated. You stroll around with your sunglasses on, feeling mysterious and sophisticated. You go to Rembrandt exhibitions and do a solo tour of the UN. You soon realise that the tourists don't give a flying saucer about whether you're on your own or not - trust me, they're far more interested in the three legged chair outside.
4) You resort to desperate measures to meet people
No matter how independent you get, human beings do actually need contact or they tend to lose the plot. You start to notice this if like me, you have spent a disturbing amount of time talking to the next door neighbour's foot-biting cat as your employer only tells you where you can meet other Au Pairs in your final week of work. Thus, to replace the hole in your heart only filled by drinking Sauvignon Blanc with your pals, you may end up resorting to desperate measures. Desperate measures in my case included chatting to people in cafes and on park benches. Tinder also featured, and although entertaining and an interesting way to meet some different people, it led to more last ditch attempts to escape horrendous dates than I'd have liked. Swiss Tinder is markedly more pleasant than British Tinder, but the brutal reality of it is that you won't be finding any mates on here (at least not in the platonic sense).
5) You have last minute decisions sprung on you
I.E. The host mother decides to go to their skiing apartment in the mountains on her own for three weeks, leaving me with her husband and two children. Unfortunately, as she confided in me, her husband was useless at anything vaguely domestic and often forgot to do the shopping. With this parting memo I was left basically managing the entire household. You've got to be prepared for all eventualities - even if these eventualities may include trying to put a 20kg robot cleaner in the swimming pool.
6) Your language skills go on a crash course
Forget bragging about your A-level French, you don't really understand a language until you've used it to negotiate with a child having a strop or asked an ice-skating rink attendant to break into a locker after you've forgotten the padlock key. Initially, I experienced complete word blanks, and had to madly gesticulate to get a point across (try explaining how to skim a stone without words) but this rapidly got easier, and I soon found myself perfectly able to split up a sibling punch-up on the pavement after a Pokemon hunting trip went awry.
7) You will have multiple disasters
I wouldn't say I expected to be the perfect Au Pair from day one, but I certainly wasn't prepared for some of my monumental disasters. Some memorable experiences included smashing an orchid and subsequently cutting my feet on the glass, which led to a très chic set of bloody footprints all over the pale wooden floors, wrongly tumble drying a very expensive dress and not washing the host father's work shirts. Events like these do unfortunately happen and it's just a matter of dealing with the situation as calmly as possible. Resist the urge to beat your head against a wall whilst screaming because you'll remember it's all worth it when you're swimming in the LED lit-up pool that evening.
If you're planning on trying your hand as an Au Pair, whether for a gap year or for a month, be sure to research the country you're going to thoroughly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Travel Aware advice here and have a look at some of their guides to working abroad.