Can an Au Pair Manage Distance-Education and Au Pairing? If yes, then how?

by cv harquail on August 19, 2010

Here’s a request for advice from Sophia, a soon-to-be-au pair:

Hi everyone!!

I’ve been writing and reading this blog for a while, and I’m more than happy to say that I have finally taken the step and I’m formally applying with AuPairCare.

I’m now filling my application, and I’ve found trouble with some point, the thing is I’m actually studying psychologies at a distance university, and I plan to continue my studies while I’m Au Pairing in the U.S, my university has an office in NYC, I don’t have to attend classes, just go there two weeks a year to take my exams, I know it wont interfere with my job, because I’m now working and taking different courses while studying on the week ends, and nor my job nor my grades are affected.

201008181735.jpgThe two problems I see with this are:

1. Will HF find a problem with me being a formal student? I know the amount of time I need to dedicate to my degree, and I know for sure it won’t make a difference, but, how do I make this clear?

2. It is easier for me to live in NYC or close to it, because I have to take my exams at their office there, I don’t want to sound like a princess or a spoiled girl that wants to live in NYC because it is a big, famous city, it is just where my college is, how do I bring this up without sounding like I’m making up an excuse?

I’m really looking foward to being an Au Pair at the States, but my degree is also important to me, I wouldn’t like to take a sabatic year, and as I’ve said I’m 100% positive it won’t be a distraction.

I want to be honest, so this is something I want to appear on my application, I don’t feel like bringing it up on a former interview is appropriate, I want families to know I’m clear about it.

What is your advice about this problem? I’m confident enough to know I’d be a wonderful Au Pair (I’ve already been one in UK, and have worked with kids in the U.S.A before, I’ve just arrived from a YMCA Camp in Pennsylvania).

Thank You very much. Sofia, Spain

Hi Sophia-

It’s funny that you should bring this up, because we just had a visit from our AP#2, SD, who was enrolled in two courses in her French university while she was an au pair with us. One of my fondest memories of her time with us was me always having to tell her to move her Economics books off the dining room table herself, because they were too heavy for me to lift!

SD took both Economics and Japanese, for two semesters, and then traveled to NYC to sit for her exams. Although she didn’t tell us during the matching process that she was taking classes, it didn’t bother me. Initially, I really misunderstood how serious her courses were … I thought at first she was doing them for fun and not for credit. But SD studied regularly every day… sometimes when the baby was sleeping, and usually for 1-2 hours each day when she was off-duty. Because SD was so dedicated, and so organized, we never ever experienced a conflict.

One thing I would suggest is that you take less than a full load of classes (SD’s two courses per semester were a half-time load). I honestly don’t think that anyone can work 45 hours a week and take a full schedule of classes and still sleep enough– much less enjoy her au pair year.

Host families will be concerned whether your expectations of yourself are realistic– so think of ways you can demonstrate that you are competent as a student (e.g., mention your grades, talk about your study skills). Host families will also be concerned about what comes first – your au pair year or your studies.

Just like if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend back home, another job/school commitment can cut into your dedication to do a good job as an au pair. Again, you can talk about how you’d put the kids first, and how you’d prevent your schoolwork from interfering with your au pairing… (for example, if you have good study skills you won’t be up all night finishing an assignment and getting too tired to au pair well the next day.)

Those are my thoughts– parents and au pairs, what do you advise?

Image: Day 33- I need to study! from rachel_titiriga on Flickr

{ 28 comments }

Melody August 19, 2010 at 10:58 am

Agencies are kind of against pre-matching, but if you haven’t matched with a family yet I don’t think there is anything wrong with trying to find one on a site like greataupair.com your self, that way you have more freedom to select cities etc. I would always recommend trying to match yourself first than be matched by the agency. You just have more options, then you can match with that family through an agency so it’s all legal. This is how I found my family, who I’m now extending with :)

If you’re worried about having enough time for your studies as well I would look for a family with school aged children, so the schedule leaves a lot more time free. Some families really only need 23-30 hours a week and then occasional babysitting. Maybe you would be fine with 45 hours working though, you know yourself best.

A lot of families would probably be happy that you are so dedicated to your studies, I wouldn’t worry about that part. If it’s a problem then I’d explain it just like you did here.

Good luck!

Sofia, Future Au Pair August 19, 2010 at 11:11 am

Hello everyone,

Thank you cvh for bringing my question up :).

I don’t really understand the half-full load, with my university it is just buying the books, studying them on your own and going to take the exams twice a year, so I make my own schelude, usually studying during the week-ends, I’m really organized, and always start studying from the begining of the year so that I don’t get overload when exams come.

Of course kids come first, and I’m determined to study only on my free time during week ends, but my career is something important to me, something that doesn’t interfere with my childcare provide.

About pre-matching…I don’t feel really comfortable with that, I have the feeling that I don’t really know who is on the other side for real. I’m know applying with Expert AuPair, that let me choose where I want be matched, let’s hope I’m lucky with it, I have a lot of childcare and special needs childcare, I’ve been abroad since I was little and been an Au Pair before, so it would be sad for me if I can’t find a HF because of my studies.

Thank you everyone, I really appreciate your opinion.

Melody August 21, 2010 at 6:47 am

Just another comment on pre-matching – they do the exact same screening process of the family on this end (meeting with them and the children, seeing their home etc whatever else) before they approve them for the program, so it’s all just as safe. But if you’re as comfortable letting the agency find someone too then doing it what way works too obviously :)

ExAP August 19, 2010 at 3:40 pm

CV, how did it work with the college classes au pairs have to take during their year? Did your APs classes for her university back home count as credits?

Amelie ex-au pair August 19, 2010 at 6:36 pm

I wouldn’t do it. Not because I think I wouldn’t be able to, but because I would prefer to fully enjoy my year as an au pair (is not just about working…), and THEN go back home and study.

I couldn’t imagine my year as an au pair if I had to stay home and study on the weekends instead of travelling (witch I did a lot), shopping, hanging out with my friends, etc… 45 hours of work is A LOT, and I really needed sometime to unwind.

If you’re applying to be an au pair, you’re probably very young, so I bet you have time do do one thing at a time.

My opinion. =)

2boys2girls August 19, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Sofia! You sound like an amazing au pair – you have already been an au pair and you have travelled abroad. You are a successful student so you clearly have wonderful time management skills. But to be honest as a host family looking at your application alongside many other applications, and without knowing you, we would most likely not pursue your application. One important criteria we use in sifting through the 100+ applicants in our agency is the “fewest complications” criteria. And by complications this could include things like: serious boyfriend back home, significant allergies, no driving experience, needing to return home for sister’s wedding, daily religious services attendance, wanting to be placed near a friend etc. And it is not because we believe that these issues mean someone would make a bad AP – and certainly an AP with some of these characteristics could simply not disclose them on their application – but just that we try to reduce the amount of applications to really give our attention to. And of course this “screening” works both ways – we have had very positive experiences as a host family but many APs screen us out because we have four children without pursuing that the scheduling of their care does not ever involve watching more than two at a time.
I also want to support Amelie’s position that given our experience, APs have a lot on their plate already, they really need their down time to come back recharged to be a great AP! Best of luck to you with both your AP year AND your studies!

Mom23 August 19, 2010 at 11:07 pm

I think you sound like a great au pair. In our situation, where our children are in school most of the day and we don’t have an au pair who works 45 hours/week most weeks, I think someone who has something to do during the day, and who can manage time/responsibilities well would be preferable to someone who might not be as focused. I tend to think that someone who has ambitions will be more responsible.

It is easy to get to New York from most metropolitan areas along the east coast, so I wouldn’t discount families in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and DC and areas in between.

CO Host Mom August 20, 2010 at 8:41 am

Our previous AP was with us for two years and was actively pursuing a degree from a college here in the States online during her time with us. She took two courses a quarter, and it was never an issue. In fact, I’d say it made her a better AP – she was responsible, committed to both her studies and her job, and wasn’t spending her evenings and weekends out partying.

I wouldn’t have concerns matching with an AP that was pursuing distance education while being our AP as long as that individual knew the kids always came first.

Sofia, Future Au Pair August 20, 2010 at 9:24 am

First of all, thank you all for your responses, they are really helpful.

I would like to share with you my profile on greataupair.com (Thank cvh for letting me do so), I would love to know what you think about it I want to be realistic, and have real perspectives about my posibilities.

http://www.greataupair.com/showProfile.cfm/locatorID/1124254

Thank you so much, again :D

Busy Mom August 20, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Sofia, Your English skills are excellent. I would suggest that in your profile, you remove Union City and Long Island City. If you feel strongly about being in the NY area, then you shoud include New Jersey and Connecticut, but not specific city names. Also, the “office in New York city” got cut off in your profile.

I’m not looking now, but I am sure that you will find a family who will appreciate your experience and your English skills and be able to work around the studying and the exams. I agree that your best bet is school-aged kids because you will have free time every day while the kids are at school – this will ensure that you have enough time for your studies. Just to give you an idea, uring the school year, our au pair works an average of 35 hours/week.

If I were interviewing you, I would want to know what specific weeks you needed to be in New York, so you will want to have that information or at least give people an idea of when this will take place. If you need to be in the city for a full week, I would suggest that you take aposition in a nearby town so that you can go back and forth every day or else be prepared to pay for a hotel during your stay.

Best of luck!

MommyMia August 21, 2010 at 12:34 am

Sofia, I agree with Busy Mom–you sound wonderful, and if I hadn’t just found our next au pair, I’d be very interested in you, although we also live on the west coast, so your trips to NYC would be a bit pricey! I think it’s great that you’re so ambitious and dedicated to your studies. Buena suerte!

Melody August 21, 2010 at 6:53 am

Oh never mind, you made one. It looks great – I’m sure you will have plenty of interested families!

Melody August 21, 2010 at 6:55 am

Also I’m in DC area and I think that this area would be fine for you to get to New York easily. So far I go on average once every other month.

maleaupairmommy August 20, 2010 at 1:01 pm

sofia,
First of all congrats! I think it is exciting and great. For me I look for au pairs who are studying and have goals and dreams. Thus encouraging my kids to have goals and dreams. I live in WA state on the west coast. If I had an au pair do this I wouldn’t mind at all and in fact encourage them to the best of their abilities as education is very important in our family. Going to New York to sit for exams not a problem in fact I would encourage you to spend at least a day or two there for fun to see the sights. Though I’m lucky in that my husband and I have flexiable schedules to do this and with enough advance notice not a problem. Almost got all the kids to school but we have great back up care or we take vacation time or like this year they went to day camp while the au pair was on his 19-21 day vacation. I was glad to his him back though. Anyhow dream big, you have great qualifications so be picky and be up front of your needs. I just feel if the family didn’t pick you becaue of your studies than it is a huge loss to them and they weren’t right for you in other areas as well. Good luck with your search I know you will find a great one.

Sofia, Future Au Pair August 20, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Thank you for your encouragement comments :)

Maleaupairmommy, it’s too bad you look for male au pair, it sounds like we would do a great match!

I take my studies seriously, but when working with kids, they come first, safety and well-being are really important to me, as well as making sure they are having a great time.

CS Nanny August 20, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Sophia, I was an aupair in Switzerland, and for the 3 years I was there, I took online classes through my home university. I will say that while it is challenging, it is completely do-able. I worked between 25-35 hours a week (except during school holidays when it was much more) while taking 6 credits (2 classes) online, and attended German classes 3x a week. It all has to do with time management. It sounds like you would have not have a problem with that. I also managed to find time to “enjoy” my year with friends, and travel. As someone else suggested, either find a family with school aged children, or a family with young children who nap everyday. Good luck, and you can do it!!

Aupairgal August 20, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Well, my family particulary chose me because I was so dedicated to studying. I wasn’t at a university, but I had to pass a German language test(very hard test) so that I could begin studying the following year. They had had previous issues with party girls and wanted someone a bit more focused. I think it was also beneficial because my weekly personal schedule was the same because of my need to study which meant I never went on surprise “outings”.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 22, 2010 at 11:51 pm

We’ve had 2 APs take a full load. While we were waiting for the U.S. Dept. of Labor to review and clear our sponsorship application for AP #1 to go forward to Homeland Security, we put our AP on a student visa so she could legally leave and return to the US. She had worked two jobs and attended university in her home country, so she was incredibly organized and generally received As in her courses. I paid her tuition, and we agreed that if she did not pass a required course, she paid to take it during summer school (happened once).

AP #5 did it accidentally – she signed up for two 5-credit ESL classes and we required her to take a swimming class because we have a pool and she was a non-swimmer. Even though she had a 3-year degree (not quite a BA) from her country, she was unprepared for the differences in education systems and how much time Americans spend studying outside the classroom. She aced one class, failed the other, and passed the swimming class on the dint of the good will of the instructor.

It can be done, but you need to have the good will of your HF. DH and I both think education is extremely important, but we did have to remind both APs that we weren’t paying them to study, and that it was inappropriate to do when the kids were awake and needed engagement on their part. (As someone who tried to work part-time from home while on maternity leave, I must say when the kids are little, it’s extremely tough to squeeze in time. It’s much easier with older children.)

Playmuckel August 28, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Hi,
I have been an au pair for 2 years and then my family offered me to study here for a full bachelors degree. I finished my associate in May and now I’m moving back home because I have to say it doesn’t work too good. My first year classes were easy not a lot of work put in and still aced them but it got harder and my working schedule was 5.30 am -5.30pm or 6.30 pm. So I could only take classes at night and I had barley any friends and it put a load on the hostfamily as well. I have to explain that my hostparents both commute long ways to work and it just didn’t work anymore and I got in a continuous fight with my hostmom about working hours and her need of hiring another sitter and so on. I enjoyed my time here and I will miss the kid but I’m glad I can go home now finish my bachelors there and just have a part time job there.

MommyMia August 28, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Playmuckel, Thanks for sharing your experience. I think you are very wise in your decision to return home, and sorry that you had to learn the hard way that seemingly great arrangements don’t always work out. I don’t know how you managed to take ANY classes after working a 12-13 hour day…but I commend you for trying and completing the first year, at least. I hope the credits will transfer to your educational institution back home. Good luck!

Playmuckel August 28, 2010 at 6:32 pm

It wasn’t easy and I have to say looking back it might have been a mistake after all. Right now the relationship to my hostmom is not even worth mentioning anymore ( She told me right into my face she hates me, I’m a spoiled brat or she doesn’t trust me with the kid) and if I would have left I might have not have the opportunity to live here for 2 years but I would still have a good relationship with her. Studying and working are two different things and you should not do it. Commit to one thing only but than with all your heart

Gianna August 28, 2010 at 6:56 pm

One aspect of the program year that has not come up on this thread yet is the fact that the aupair still ( I think ) has to take 6 credits as part of the aupair program.
How does that work ? Can you use the distance classes toward that requirement.
I ask this because I believe that some agencies disallow distance or internet classes.
Doing all of that would be very tough.

Host Mommy Dearest August 28, 2010 at 10:09 pm

I thought credits needed to be in a classroom (not dist learning) per state department rules (not per agency).

The 6 credits can come from 72 hours of classroom time at an accredited institution. This can range from super easy to very challenging depending on what the AP takes. There are still a few weekend programs that are affiliated with colleges/universities that get counted as the needed credits. If a college offers a “community ESL” program those can count as credits. One school near us qualifies and offers volleyball, photography, cooking, basket weaving and the like – so those can count too.

Playmuckel August 28, 2010 at 7:03 pm

I know most of the agencies don’t allow distance classes but I have read something about new traveling distance classes that are supposed to count as credits

Claire September 24, 2011 at 1:46 am

There’s no such thing as online classes counting as credit for the au pair program.

According to State Department rules, online classes *are not* allowed to be taken in order to fulfill the program education requirements.

The classes have to be taken at a higher education institution. But unfortunately this part of the regulation is bent by many agencies/LCCs.

MommyMia September 24, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Actually, Claire, two years ago we were with APIA, and they had received permission from the DOS for an online “American Experience” class through UCLA as a trial program. I think they were investigating the feasibility and practicality of perhaps offering this option as a regular choice. We switched to another agency, however, so I never learned if it was successful or not. Our au pair(s) at the time didn’t even consider it, though, because they also felt the need to form social ties with people their own age.

Dorsi September 25, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Our AP did this (the online UCLA with APIA). I think she actually spent a lot of time on her course activity (a contrast from previous APs who took painting classes). I have to say I love it, though it is probably not quite in the spirit of the program. $500 and done. I think she actually learned things about American culture in a semi-rigorous way, too. This AP put a high priority on fulfilling program requirements because she really wants to extend. She is quite active in the community otherwise — so I don’t think the lack of physical school really affected her experience here.

MommyMia September 27, 2011 at 12:01 pm

You made a good point, Dorsi, about the cost. In California, it is very difficult for an AP to fulfill the education requirement for less than about $1200, average. (See other discussions on this blog related to education & expenses) We’ve had a few APs who were very focused on the program requirements, which was great, and others who just want to do it “quick & dirty,” and didn’t care what they wasted their free time on (IMHO)!

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