The Au-Pair program is an international cultural and educational exchange program that provides an opportunity for Ukrainian youth to live for a year or two in Europe and the United States. Like any phenomenon in this world, the Au-Pair program over the years of its existence, which is almost half a century, has generated a considerable set of stereotypes in society, which will be discussed in today’s article.
At its core, this program is a very interesting international project, as well as an affordable cultural exchange program, because most of the financial costs are borne by the host family. And this is what many see as almost the greatest deceit and they begin to take the duties of an Au-Pair too literally to explain in their own way the main goal of the Au-Pair program.
Stereotype # 1. The Au-Pair program is a work program and its participants are employees
Those who put forward such assumptions refer to the fact that in the agreement between the Au-Pair and the host family there are clearly defined days and hours when the Au-Pair must fulfill his/her obligations, the amount of money that the Au-Pair will receive monthly, etc. That is, this contract is no different from a standard work contract for employment.
Yes, indeed, in the agreement that is concluded between the program participant and the host family, the rights and obligations of both parties are detailed. However, the Au-Pair is accepted by the European family as a kind of family member, as evidenced by one of the participants’ rights – to provide free housing and meals for the duration of the program conditions. And this, in turn, means that the Au-Pair, who permanently lives in the home of the host family, eats with them, is by no means like an employee who, in turn, comes to the workplace on certain days and does his/her work duties during allotted working hours, for example, from nine in the morning to five in the evening, and leaves his/her workplace, and does not stay there.
Moreover, according to the terms of the Au-Pair program, participants must fulfill their obligations no more than 30 hours per week, that is, 5-6 hours per day (depending on the chosen country) with a flexible schedule. And if we turn to labor law, then the normal working week of workers is 40 hours, that is, an 8-hours working day with a clear schedule.
At the same time, the Au-Pair is constantly learning, because the program participant attends language courses, and also has the opportunity to communicate every day with the host family, thereby improving their level of foreign language proficiency. This is the educational component of the program.
Regarding the receipt of money, this point is clearly defined and explained in the European Agreement on the Accommodation of the Au-Pair Program participant (Strasbourg, November 24, 1969): “Considering that the majority of the Au-Pair program participants are young people, deprived of the support of their families for a long period of time and they need financial and emotional support from the host country. The Au-Pair program participant will receive a certain amount of pocket money ”. Pocket money is not a salary, but a fixed amount for each country that the Au-Pair receives for her own needs, because accommodation, meals, travel to language courses and language courses are paid in most countries at the expense of the host family.
Stereotype # 2. “Au-Pair is a governess, housekeeper, servant”
This conclusion, at first glance, seems logical, because among the responsibilities of the Au-Pair program participant is taking care of the host children and easy assistance to the host family in maintaining order in the house. However, should the above be taken literally as a cleaning or babysitting job?
The program got its name from the French word “au-pair”, which means “reciprocity” (mutuality). What is this reciprocity? A program participant travels to an unfamiliar country not only “to give” something, but also “to get” something – an interesting experience of living abroad, improving his own level of proficiency in a foreign language, knowledge of a new culture, and the like.
Almost all those who have younger brothers or sisters, without knowing it, already have experience of being an Au Pair. And for sure, absolutely all of us in our families had and performed household chores, for example, vacuuming or washing dishes. Then what is the difference between what you did at home and what you will do as an Au Pair? Almost none. The host family, just like your own family, transfers part of the responsibilities to the program participant as an assistant, and not a servant, as a family member – an older sister or brother. A request like – general cleaning of the whole house, work in the garden or roof repair – this is not for the Au-Pair and should not be expected. The rights and obligations of both parties are clearly and in detail indicated and declared by a formal agreement between the Au-Pair and the host family, with which these parties are familiarized in advance.
It should be understood that Au-Pair is a unique concept in its own way. The host family does not invite a housekeeper or nanny. Things and facts should not be oversimplified. The fact that an Au-Pair participant can clean the home of a host family or look after their children does not make him a hired labor.
The main idea of the Au-Pair program is to integrate the participants into European society through direct acquaintance with the culture and traditions of the country and improving their knowledge of a foreign language. This should be remembered very well, and believe it or not stereotypes are everyone’s business.
However, remember the phrase from the famous cartoon “As you name the ship, so it will float.” The Au-Pair program has a number of advantages and one indisputable fact is that among the majority of the participants there are very few of those who were not satisfied. However, to answer the textbook question “To be or not to be an Au-Pair?” only you can, in all other respects we will help you.