It's a question as old as time: should I be an au pair or should I be an auxiliar? Most people don't even know what these words mean or that they are actual jobs. I've worked in both positions during my three years in Madrid and I'd like to think I've learned something. I'm about to break it all down for you, share my experiences in both jobs, and give advice on how to get them. So let's get to it!
TO BE OR NOT TO BE AN AU PAIR...
WHAT IS AN AU PAIR?
Au pair is French for "equal to" and implies that the person coming to live with the family will become a part of that family, at least temporarily. You're not a traditional domestic worker, but you may have some of these duties depending on the family dynamics and your contract. Usually, your main purpose is to speak with the children (and sometimes the parents) in your first language. Spain has done a complete overhaul of its education system and intends to become as bilingual as many other countries in Europe. If you speak English fluently, Spain is probably your best option for a job as an au pair considering its high demand.
English isn't the only language people want to learn. Many parents want their kids to be trilingual. If you speak multiple languages, this could be a huge asset and you could make more money for your services.
WHAT DOES AN AU PAIR DO?
This really depends on your family and your contract. Some parents make your job 100% about the language. Some parents need your help taking the kids to school and picking them up. I didn't have to take my kids to school, but I did need to pick them up and walk them home.
You might have to make meals for the kids and yourself, you might not. I made breakfast for the kids (usually some toast with jam) and for myself. The kids had lunch at school, so I only needed to make lunch for myself. My family had a housekeeper that came in the mornings and she prepared dinner.
"You need to stand up for yourself and be firm about your working schedule."
My schedule and duties depended on the day. I was the au pair for a 9-year-old girl named María and a 6-year-old boy named Juan. María was extremely (and annoyingly) smart. She had a lot of extracurriculars. She went to a music school on Mondays and Wednesdays after regular school, had private Mandarin lessons at home on Tuesdays, had private piano lessons at home on Thursdays, and went to a Chinese school on Saturday mornings. I know. It's a lot. Juan also had private Mandarin lessons from the same tutor and went to the Chinese school on Saturdays. When the tutor came we would alternate lessons. If he had María for Mandarin, I had Juan for English and vice versa.
When María had to go to the music school, I would take her and Juan on the metro to get there. We'd walk her in, drop her off, and then Juan and I would take the bus to go home. I didn't have to pick her up from the school because her mother or father could do it after work. On these days, Juan and I would just hang out or play outside in the garden.
On Thursdays, I'd take both of them home after school. We'd have a snack and then play outside. After an hour or two, María would have her piano lesson at home. I'd help Juan shower and get in his pajamas. Then around 8:30 or 9 we'd have dinner. Sometimes it would only be me, Juan, and María. Other times it would be the three of us and their mom.
I rarely saw their dad, and honestly, neither did they. When he did come home from work, he'd go to his home office and close the door. He wasn't exactly "helpful" in my opinion. I had a better relationship with their mom. She was super nice and could speak English very well. Sometimes we would speak in Spanish to help me practice.
On Saturdays, I also had to work. I had the mornings free because the kids went to Chinese school until lunchtime. Then we'd have a big Spanish lunch and everyone would take a siesta, minus myself. I'm not much of a napper so I would just read or watch Netflix. Then I'd have to help the kids get up from their nap and make them a snack. Later, we'd go outside to the garden to play and after a few hours, we'd go upstairs to have dinner. After dinner, I was free to go out or stay in. Sundays I had off; however, if I was in the house I noticed myself getting conned into working.
The dad's paella was phenomenal...
This is very important. The parents will probably take advantage of you at some point. It might be unintentional or it might be completely intentional. You need to stand up for yourself and be firm about your working schedule. You will have to do it again and again.
HOW MUCH DOES AN AU PAIR GET PAID?
I feel like a broken record. Again, this depends on your family and your contract. Some families have a shit ton of money and some families are comfortable. In Spain, the average salary is 60-90 euros a week. I made 70€ a week, plus they paid for my transport card, which is 20€ a month (if you're under 26). You don't make a lot as an au pair. The rationale is that you're getting to live and eat for free, so you don't need so much expendable income.
IS IT WORTH IT?
No, it's not. Don't get me wrong, I liked my family and I grew very fond of the kids. I cried when I said goodbye to them. It was gross. BUT, there were so many things about the job that I didn't like: it's very easy for them to take advantage of you, you're constantly exhausted, you barely make any money, you don't have much free time or independence, you have to pay for an expensive language class for the student visa, and you might have to work on the weekends. My family was decent, but the possibility of getting a not-so-great one is incredibly high. I knew many people who had an average experience like mine, not great but not awful. I also knew many people who had an absolute shit experience. I've never met a single person who was over the moon about being an au pair. I think that says a lot.
If you really want to live abroad, there are other ways and I definitely suggest looking into them before you try to become an au pair.
If I couldn't talk you out of it and you are set on doing this, then use aupairworld. This is a very user-friendly platform to help au pairs and families connect. After setting up your profile you will be hit with 100 messages almost immediately. Try to get the highest salary you can with the least amount of hours worked. Don't feel like you're asking for too much. Get both Saturday and Sunday off. Do not settle for less than you deserve! Put some respect on yourself, please.
There are so many ways to live and work abroad. If you have to choose between being an au pair and being an auxiliar, BE AN AUXILIAR. It's a better job in almost every capacity. Let me break it down...
WHAT IS AN AUXILIAR?
Auxiliar is the word they use in Spain to describe an English Language Assistant. Auxiliars can work in public, charter, or private schools. The type of school you work at depends on the program that you are in. I'm in the BEDA program, which only works with concertadas (charter schools).
An auxiliar's actual job is to assist the main teacher. Usually, this is not the case. There will be times when you are the primary teacher in the class or the only teacher in the class. You might separate the class between you and the main teacher. Most of your job should be using games or fun activities to help the students practice and utilize their English speaking skills. Some of your job is simply conversation; to talk to the students in English. You might only teach English classes. I've taught English, Science, Technology, and Biology classes in English.
In Spain, the education system is separated by age differently than in the United States. Their preschool is called Infantil and can include ages 0-5. Their elementary school is called Primaria and goes from 1st grade to 6th grade. Next is ESO, which is kind of like their middle school. There are 4 years of it and it's equal to 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th grade. Finally, they have something called Bachillerato. This is optional and they sometimes pay for it. There are just two years and, basically, the students prepare for the special exams they have to take to get into University. The U.S. equivalents are 11th and 12th grade of high school, but they really aren't the same.
I do not like their system. I never thought I would appreciate the shit show that is the United States Education System, but wow. Madrid is another level. The schools are pretty disorganized and very chaotic. This chaos filters into the auxiliar/language assistant programs. There are many programs in Spain and they all have their own issues. I believe the two largest programs are the Ministry program and the BEDA program.
WHICH AUX PROGRAM DO I CHOOSE?
I only have experience working with BEDA; however, I have heard many things about the Ministry. This program is run by the Spanish government. English assistants that work for the Ministry do make more money and work fewer hours, but they don't always get paid in a timely manner. Sometimes people don't get paid for months at a time. I don't understand how anyone could live like that here, having rent and bills, but some people do.
BEDA also has problems. It's messy. Depending on who you email, you may or may not get a response. They constantly lose important information like job applications, copies of diplomas or background checks, your name. Despite all of this, it's pretty well-known among auxiliars that BEDA is the most organized program. I would suggest working for them.
You can follow this link to see their website and apply to the program!
Infantil / Preschool
Little children are the worst. They have an unlimited amount of mucus and they will get it on you. They feel everything to an extreme amount. When you enter the class they lose their fucking minds. They’re jumping and screaming and dancing and throwing things and some of them might even piss themselves (I’ve seen it). When you leave the class they lose their fucking minds. They’re jumping and screaming and crying and throwing things and grabbing your legs so that you can’t leave (fire hazard). They’re not exactly intelligent. It's not their fault, they're brand new human beings, but it's annoying. Anything you teach them they 100% will forget fifteen seconds after you leave the class. You end up teaching transportation vocabulary for three months.
Some people love Infantil. These people concern me but I suppose they have a right to exist. I believe it is the worst age group and I am correct. It’s both boring and fucking exhausting. You use all of your energy attempting to capture their attention for just one moment and it never works. Use videos and songs. They’re all repetitive and horrible, but they help. Have them draw pictures or try to make animals out of play dough. It’s funny watching them fail and get frustrated. You have to find joy where you can.
I don’t think that I’m a sociopath but I genuinely hated going to that school and seeing their little faces, covered in booger’s and drool. I wanted to die.
ESO / Secondary
This is THE BEST. I love older kids. They’re so funny and weird. Don’t be all authoritarian with them. It won’t work and they’ll dislike you. Just relax and be yourself. Make fun of the ones who cause all the trouble. Not in a mean way, but a quick one-liner. The other students laughing makes them think about what they’re doing. If they make fun of you too, don’t take it personally. If they’re saying it to your face it means they like you and want to have a repertoire with you. If they’re saying it behind your back, who cares, you can’t hear them.
"Don't be all authoritarian with them. It won't work and they'll dislike you. Just relax and be yourself."
If they disrespect you, that’s different. Once a male student told me to calm down and this royally pissed me off. He’s also a little shit in general. So I told him to gtfo of the class (obviously I didn’t curse, but my demeanor certainly changed). He argued with me about it. Don’t listen to them. They never think they’ve done anything wrong. They could stab someone in the eye with a pencil and they’d still complain about getting in trouble. Just keep telling them to leave the class until they finally go. It’ll take a few (thousand) times but eventually, they’ll leave and you can get back to the class.
You don’t have the same authority that the Spanish teachers have and the kids know that. I always threaten to send them to someone meaner and more serious than me. This usually works. When it doesn’t I actually send them to that person. That always works. This is also smart because you’re never the one giving them the punishment, so they can still like you.
Of course, there are students that don’t love me, but they’re probably the ones that I don’t particularly care for either. Some of them are just asshats. Let it go. They’ve got shit going on in their lives. Some of them have hardcore behavioral problems and they don’t like anyone. Most of my kids I really love and enjoy having in class. The “difficult” ones are usually my favorites. They’re annoying, but they’re funny and engaging. If you use their energy instead of trying to subdue it, you’ll have an exciting and fun class.
The super quiet ones are more difficult to get to know if you have a lot of students. Try to talk to them one on one. Sometimes they’re very outgoing but they just can’t express it in the classroom. Even if you feel like you’re not connecting with all of the students, you’re an important person in their life right now. If you’re fun and relaxed, then maybe they won’t leave hating the English language forever. I think that’s the goal.
I hope you've learned the specifics of each job and feel more confident making a decision on what you want to do abroad. From my experiences, being an au pair is not worth the struggle. On the other hand, being an auxiliar is worth the struggle if you work for the right program. At the end of the day, you need to pick the one that is right for you. Good luck and safe travels!
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