An Interview with Madlen, one of our Au Pairs in Spain!

Where are you from and how old are you?

I’m from Germany and I’m 19 years old.

Why did you want to come to Spain as an au pair and not with a different type of program?

My whole life, I’ve loved the idea of living in another country and learning the language, but I didn’t want to be alone. I knew that I wanted a connection with a family so that I could get to know the culture and traditions from an inside perspective. I also have to add that I really like taking care of children and spending time with them. That’s why I chose the Au Pair Program, so that I could get to know the language, culture, and have a cultural exchange with a family: I can teach them things about my culture and I can learn about Spanish culture. Because of that, the Au Pair Program was the best fit for me. Even more than the cultural experience, I help the family, receive my weekly pay, and I have a lot of free time to do other things.

What does the au pair program offer you that other programs don’t?

Well, a little bit of what I commented earlier, but especially for me it was very important to not start this adventure alone. You arrive to the country and you have a family waiting for you, a house, your bedroom or little apartment.  You eat dinner with the family, sometimes you eat breakfast with them, and sometimes you spend the weekend with them. You always have relationships; a second family in another country… and you get to spend time with children, and if you like children, it’s marvelous!

Each person needs to decide which program is the best fit for them when they decide they want to spend a year abroad. Some people prefer a year of volunteering and others prefer Work and Travel… they’re different programs and they’re also very cool.

Why did you decide to use an au pair agency to find a family and not just through the internet?

I never thought of coming to Spain without an agency. With an agency, there’s more certainty and security. You have an agreement signed and the agency helps arrange things for you. You receive emails and offers from families who like your profile from the agency. It’s an exchange because the families have your profile and you have their profiles, so you can make a good decision based on the information provided. (Such as work hours, type of responsibilities with the children and in the house, vacation time, and you can see pictures of the house and the family.) It’s a very comfortable and secure search. This exchange is arranged by the agency, and you also know that you will be paid a certain amount. The agency will also give you advice if you have doubts or problems.  If you have to leave the family, the agency will be involved and ensure that you and the family have enough time to make other arrangements (usually two weeks).  Also, if you and the family have problems, the agency can help you resolve the issues or find a new family. You talk to the agency and explain what happened, and they will look for a new family for you.

Why did you want to come to Spain?

Three years ago, I did an exchange program with my school between Germany and Spain, and I lived in Almería, which is also in the Andalusia region (like Seville). I became friends with a student there and we got along really, really well! We still stay in touch and every year, I visit her in Spain or she visits me in Germany. We write to each other and this friendship, I don’t know, started the flame, to improve my Spanish. Also, I love Spain and the people here. They’re very open, and I like their lifestyle-- how there are always people in the streets walking or sitting at cafes. I love the life here. The people, the food, everything… so, I chose Spain.

When did you start your au pair position and when will it end?

I left Germany on August 20th and then I visited my friend in Almería until August 31st. Then I went to my host family’s beach house before coming to Sevilla. I’ll return to Germany at the end of May, so that will be 9 months with my Spanish family.

What do you like the most about being an au pair? What do you like least?

It’s hard to say what I like the most about being an au pair because there are so many things I like, and there isn’t one part I like more than the others! I like living with the family and playing with the daughter. I like seeing how the daughter develops every day because she changes a lot. No day is the same for her, and I really like seeing that. I also like spending the weekends with the family and seeing how they live. I learn a lot just by spending time with them and also seeing what other families do. I can see things that are very similar to my country, as well as things that are very different. There’s always something new and you learn a lot. I don’t know, it’s hard to pick one. I also like that I get to know a lot of other people from other countries, especially other au pairs. We have similar experiences as au pairs and I can talk to them about a lot of things.

What I don’t like… I don’t know. I really don’t know. Well, you’ll have good days and bad days. Sometimes you don’t feel like doing something, but this is just something in the moment and it doesn’t last long.

How was your arrival to Spain and to your host family?

Well, I had visited my friend in Almería and then spent time with the family for a few days at the beach. My arrival was really cool! They picked me up at the bus station with a “Welcome!” sign and there was a little gift on my bed and the family welcomed me with smiles. The daughter was a little nervous, like me. Then we went to dinner together. I felt very comfortable with the family from the first minute.

How were your first few weeks of being an au pair? Did you miss your family?

Before being an au pair, I had never spent so much time away from home. It’s almost a whole year outside of my country. It’s different from just one month or a summer. The feeling of being away for so long was a little different for me. Of course I miss my family and my friends, but I think it’s normal. In the beginning, I wasn’t used to my bedroom, the family, the city… or anything, really. (Laughs) But with time, everything gets better. You get to know the family better, you make friends, you go to language classes and you begin to create a daily life. When you have a daily life, it’s better than in the beginning, which is a little hard. But it’s not like you’ll spend all day crying in the beginning. I was happy at the start, but you need a little bit of time to get settled. For me, because Germany and Spain aren’t that far apart, I could visit my family and spend time with them during Christmas vacation. My friends and family also visited me here in Spain and it was really fun to show them everything!

You take care of a little girl. What do you do with her? What are your responsibilities?

I take care of a five-year-old girl. I sometimes pick her up from school, make her snacks, and take her to the park or to her activities (such as swimming) during free time. After her activities, I play with her in the house. Whatever she wants, really. (Laughs) We play school, dolls, games like Memory, and we do puzzles and crafts. We also play gymnastics, which she loves! Afterwards, we eat dinner together with the family. Sometimes I make her dinner if the parents are out. I also help out with chores like ironing or washing dishes… really basic things around the house.

What do you do in your free time in Seville when you’re not working as an au pair?

Twice a week, I go to Spanish classes in the morning. You can go to classes every day, but right now I just go twice a week. I work out a lot and volunteer in an elderly residence center. Twice a week, I spend time with an elderly woman in the residence center and we get along very well. I also spend time with my friends. I work in the afternoons during the week, so I have the entire morning free. During the weekends I sometimes go on trips or excursions.

What trips have you gone on or do you have planned?

I went to Salamanca and Madrid with some friends. I also went to Jerez, which is a little bit closer… Cádiz and Córdoba. I also spent some weekends with the family visiting smaller towns around Seville in the countryside or at the beach. Last weekend I went to Lisbon, Portugal with my language school for three days. I’d also like to go to Morocco and maybe Granada or Málaga.

What is your favorite part about Spain?

Well, it’s hard to say my favorite part about Spain because I pretty much only know the Andalusia region and I haven’t spent much time in other areas, aside from a few days in Madrid and Salamanca. But what I like is that there’s a lot of energy. I don’t know if it’s a fact, but I think that in Andalusia the people are more open and they spend more time in the streets (at cafes and such) because it’s so sunny here. It’s just my impression, but I think the people here are a little more relaxed and calm. I don’t know other regions very well, but I do know Andalusia and I like it a lot.

What will you miss the most when you return to Germany in May?

A lot. Life here is very different than in Germany. I’m going to miss living in a big city because in Germany, I live in a small town. I like living in a small town too, of course, but sometimes I think I like cities more. Things are more convenient and the stores are closer. Of course, I’ll miss the family, especially the daughter. I’ve spent a lot of time with them, and I won’t be able to see the daughter develop or live with them. I’m part of the family. I’ll also miss my friends here because I won’t be able to see them every day. And the weather too… here it’s really sunny and the temperature every day is much higher than in Germany. I love the sun, and it’s often rainy and cold in Germany. Also, when you’re in your home country, you don’t say every weekend, “I’m going to another city,” or “I’m going to Morocco this weekend.” You don’t travel as much in your home country, so I’m going to miss visiting other places.

What is your favorite memory of your experience up to this point?

Really, it’s the experience overall. You see things differently and you get another point of view. I’ve loved becoming part of the family and getting to know other people. I don’t have a specific memory that’s my favorite. It’s a little bit of everything overall.

What advice do you have for people who are thinking about being an au pair?

I recommend that they think about what they want. That they think about where they want to live. If it’s very important to you to live close to the beach or if you prefer two children instead of one, or if you don’t want to take care of more than three children. You should have in mind your idea of what you want your experience to be. You’re going to live with the family for a long time, and if you already know before you start that you can’t imagine taking care of four children and living in a small village, don’t do it. You should have an idea of what you want beforehand… although the interview with the family can change your preconceived notions and can influence your decision. The important thing is to think about your decision and to be sure about it.

What advice do you have for new au pairs? 

I recommend that you go to a language school if you’re interested. If you already have a high level in the language, it might not be necessary. But for me, it’s a way to connect with other people and have opportunities to travel. It’s very important. Also, get out of the house some so you’re not alone… don’t wait for someone else to call you. I think it’s important to make friends because you can’t spend all your time with the family! Yes, the family is very friendly, but it’s also important that you have free time and you do different things to develop yourself and have your own life. I believe it’s necessary to have friends your age who you can talk to and spend time with.

Would you recommend the Au Pair Program to other young people?

Yes, of course! For me, it has been an unforgettable experience!

Interview with Madlen (from Germany), who is currently an Au Pair in Seville, Spain. Interview conducted by Allie (from the United States), who is an intern at our agency, Au Pair Conecta.