Irene Buying speaks to Workingmums.co.uk about her experience of being an au pair.
Irene Buying has just won an international prize for au pairs, which promotes the achievements of young people as au pairs.
The Dutch teenager scooped the au pair of the year 2014 award of the International Au Pair Association. The competition draws attention to another childcare option for those people who want greater flexibility and have a spare room.
Irene was nominated for the award by her host family from West Sussex and had to write a letter detailing her experiences.
She came to the UK in the year between school and university. She says she wanted a break after secondary school and felt being an au pair would give her a chance to travel and explore another culture.
She searched for an agency online and found a Dutch agency which had a UK partner, Smartaupairs UK. “I wanted to go to an English-speaking country to improve my English,” she says, “and I thought the best country for that was England itself.” She had also been to England on holiday in 2009 and loved it.
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She wrote a profile for the agency website and gave some references and was matched up with a family who also had to produce a profile. Families choose the au pair they want and the au pair can choose whether they want to work with that family. After that the family and prospective au pair can contact each other and build a rapport. Irene had a lot of Skype sessions with the family which had three school-aged children. She was in part drawn to the family because they mentioned in their profile that her main duties would be childcare and not housework. “I wanted to look after children not to clean people’s houses,” she says.
The family live in a small village near Brighton which also appealed to her as she is from a similar sized village.
The family have two daughters aged nine and 10 and a son aged seven. They had had three au pairs before. Irene arrived in the UK last August and was thrown in at the deep end because it was the school holidays. When September came they all went to school so she had 9am to 3pm free as well as weekends. In the afternoons she plays with the children and makes the dinner before one of their parents returns around six. “It’s one thing looking after children for a couple of hours and another entertaining them for eight hours a day,” she says.
Irene likes looking after children and has done babysitting in the Netherlands, but she has no plans to make a career out of childcare. When she returns home in the summer she will start a degree in engineering. She says she knew no-one when she arrived in the UK, but the family made her feel very welcome. She has her own room in the house and soon made other au pair friends via Facebook. She has also developed a close relationship with her host mum [with whom she is pictured] and goes out with her sometimes.
Her host mum wrote her nomination. Irene thinks one of the reasons she won the award is the fact that her host parents are going through a divorce. She says there have inevitably been some tense moments as a result of the divorcing partners having to share the same home and she has had to look after the children, talk to them about how they feel and give them some sense of stability. “It has made me become more mature,” she says. “I was a child myself when I came here and now I am an adult,” she says. It was only a month before she came to the UK that the divorce was announced and she was asked if she still wanted to come. By then, she says, she had built up a good relationship with the children and wanted to come.
In addition to becoming more mature, Irene feels being an au pair has made her more independent. “I have learnt to live from day to day and to enjoy life,” she says. She has also built up a close relationship with her host family and plans to stay in touch with them over the years to come.