Student bloggers

Life as a student in Bath

Tagged: Travelling

Coming home for Christmas... and revision

  , ,

📥  First year, Rob (Physics)

I’m writing this from the belly of the beast, the valley of the shadows, the edge of the observable universe. My first exam is a week today. I arrived back in Bath this Monday just gone and I’ve quickly settled back in. It felt like I was coming home, not leaving it! I was overjoyed to see my housemates again and we managed to squeeze a game of risk out of our respective revision schedules, however tight they may be.

The tension of war doesn’t wait for anybody, no matter how excited we were to see each other, or how close our exams are...

The tension of war doesn’t wait for anybody, no matter how excited we were to see each other, or how close our exams are...

Just before the Christmas break I went to the lake district with The Mountaineering Club. It was a special trip for me, as I’ve always wanted to go back, since I first visited as a child. I was under the impression that nostalgia had the best of me, and I’d be disappointed on return, but that really wasn’t the case. I think the views speak for themselves. Here are a few of my favourite photos from the weekend. It’s a destination that I’d recommend to anybody and everybody.

Frosty fields on a cold winters day

Frosty fields on a cold winters day

One of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen

One of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen

A moss covered stone roof, typical Lake District fare

A moss covered stone roof, typical Lake District fare

Could it get any better? The weather was like this all weekend

Could it get any better? The weather was like this all weekend

Waterfalls are everywhere in the Lakes

Waterfalls are everywhere in the Lakes

Video timelapse: Stunning. Shot on an iPhone - not too bad.

It was great to go home. I live just south of London so it wasn’t a quick journey by any means (six hours of coaches with an hour in-between, waiting at a rainy bus station!) but I arranged to link up with a friend from home for the second part of the journey. He’s at UCL studying anthropology. We chatted about our courses and who we live with, and traded stories of the first two months, of which we both had a huge number. It really brought home to me how much I’d become immersed in my life in Bath, and the nuances and personalities of the people I’d been living with seemed even more interesting. I really missed them. I arrived home late that night, and by the look of the smile on her face mum had missed me just as much! I quickly opened the fridge and realised what I’d really been missing for the last two months; excessive amounts of food.

I think it suits me, honestly

I think it suits me, honestly

It’s not quite Bath but sunrise is special anywhere, right?

It’s not quite Bath but sunrise is special anywhere, right?

On the 23rd I went to the city with Becky. We soaked in the Christmas atmosphere that seems to ooze out of the bones of London at this time of year, hurrying around and stopping from time to time to warm up with food or coffee. Maintaining a long-distance relationship is testing, especially at University, but a day like that makes it feel so worth it!

Covent Garden…I loved it as a kid, and still love it now

Covent Garden…I loved it as a kid, and still love it now

I spent Christmas day with my family, and I even managed to do a couple of hours of revision. I spent the next few days revising, and the next few nights at the pub. I went out for a couple of meals, which was appreciated as a rare treat. I went to an Italian with Becky and an upmarket sort of place with Mum. Just in case you’re hungry…

Fish in spicy tomato sauce

Fish in spicy tomato sauce

Eton Mess done properly!

Eton Mess done properly!

Pizza, potatoes and Becky…three of my favourite things

Pizza, potatoes and Becky…three of my favourite things

…sorry if you were.

And almost as quickly as it came, it went…I spent new year’s eve at a friends and then it really started. I entered the dragon’s lair- revision. Intense revision.

The last goodbye to a year without exams

The last goodbye to a year without exams

Coffee is something that I don’t think anybody should deny themselves, not at any time of year. But now , the evils of examined physics on the horizon, coffee becomes something far greater than a choice. It becomes the very blood in my veins, the breath in my lungs. I wouldn’t want it any other way. It has been this way since the beginning of time. A constant in a chaotic universe. I share my house with somebody who feels the same, and as such we’ve developed what resembles a cult around the substance. We both have different apparatus and have made a fine art out of coffee brewing, balancing taste and caffeine content with precision. We meet as often as our addictions allow to refresh and rebrew.

Revision has been difficult for me to approach, as I haven’t taken an exam since 2014. I took two gap years to pursue travel and other non-academic interests (something I’d recommend to anybody who’s considering the option!), and I’m somewhat out of practice. It’s surprising how fast things like this seem to come back to you though, and I have managed to gain traction since the start of the year.

To illustrate what it’s like to prepare for university exams I’ve decided to include a F.A.Q in this post, to clear up some common confusions.

Q. I’ve heard that first year doesn’t matter, so why should I bother?

A. This is a common misconception, since the first year of a course doesn’t contribute to the overall degree classification. But what does it do? A good first year grade puts you at the top of the pecking order for employers considering you for a placement year, increasing your chances of securing a placement that interests you and pays well. It’s also important to be considered for year abroad options. Also, the first year of a degree provides knowledge that underpins the rest of the course. Without a strong understanding of the material taught in first year, the remaining years of a degree will be very difficult to grasp.

Q. Are there any key differences between A-Level and University exams?

Firstly, university exams are written by your lecturer for each module. The key difference here is that every exam will have a different style, based on the examination philosophy of the specific lecturer. Secondly, full worked solutions aren’t available for past papers! This came as a shock to me as that was my primary method of learning at A-level. Though it has indeed complicated my working process it has solid ideas underpinning it. It encourages students to gain full and deep understanding of the topics studied, instead of just remembering and regurgitating words onto an exam paper. You’ll thank the university in the end, trust me! Deeply understood knowledge is much more valuable.

Q. Generally has it been easier or harder?

A. So it’s a difficult question. The material itself is a lot more detailed and as such a lot harder. But then now I’m studying just physics, instead of three subjects at A-level. I chose physics because I’m passionate about it and also I find it, not easy, but manageable. The nature of studying one subject in detail is that a lot of modules cross over, and as such the knowledge is more general than specific. A lot of concepts from my Vibrations, Waves and Optics unit, for example, are relevant in both Mechanics and Electrical Circuits. This merging of subject areas creates an easier dynamic than rushing between History, Chemistry and Physics, for example.

Here goes nothing! Only five exams until I have enough time to breathe again!

 

Bath Snowsports Ski Trip 2016

  , , ,

📥  Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Hannah, Second year

As you probably know by now the University of Bath has a week’s holiday (inter-semester break or ISB) at the end of semester one (September-January) in the last week of January before semester two (February-May) begins. It’s a chance to relax after exams and recharge your batteries before the second semester kicks off. You have lots of options for your ISB, last year I used it to visit some friends at their universities and I spent a couple of days in Paris with the family I au paired for in my gap year. Some people prefer to spend some more time with their families at home as you don’t get a very long break over Christmas (and most of it is spent revising) and some go on holiday with friends. One of my housemates decided to spend her ISB in the Gambia topping up her tan.

I opted for something a bit different and decided to go on the Ski Trip – organised by Bath Snowsports. This sports club is one of the biggest in Bath and each year they offer the chance to go on a ski trip. In 2016 the trip was to Val Thorens in France. Initially I wasn’t really sure if I would enjoy it, I was worried there would be more focus on the nightlife than actual skiing and before I signed onto the trip there wasn’t a huge amount of information available on what it would be like. In this post I’ve broken the trip down into 5 sections, so that if you do decided to go you’ll know more or less what you’re getting.

Three Valleys Piste Map

Three Valleys Piste Map

Travel

I will not lie to you, this is definitely the worst part of the ski trip. The journey ended up being around a 20 hour journey on the way there and a 16 hour journey on the way back (and I got off early!). However despite those travel times it’s not as bad as it sounds. We were mostly held up at Calais, as the coach takes the ferry over to France, and while we were there we could get off the coach and stretch our legs a bit. It’s also a good idea to use the bus journeys to catch up on sleep as you won’t get a lot of it on the trip! Rechargeable batteries for phone/iPods/laptops are another essential. Some people who weren’t keen on the idea of an endless coach journey, or had a placement to get back to, chose to either fly out there or back or both for around £65-£80 one way if you book in advance.

Food & Accommodation

Before you go on the trip you will have the option to sign up to a “friendship group”. You will get the coach with people from this “friendship group” and it is likely that your rooms will be close together. The size of the group can be as big or as small as you like (although there had to be a minimum of three people). This year there were 5 people per room and you sign up to rooms with the people in your friendship group.

Our great value apartment

Our great value apartment

Although the accommodation was a little cramped, one bedroom-kitchen, one toilet, one shower and another bedroom with bunkbeds, this just added to the fun of the trip and as it’s only 6 nights the size of the accommodation doesn’t really matter. Though I signed up for a self-catered apartment as they were cheaper you also have the option of partially catered if cooking really isn’t for you. Two of the people I was sharing with also chose the “bread in bed” option for an addition £7.50, and two baguettes were delivered to our door every morning, making breakfast much easier. For making meals we brought some ingredients from home (snacks, pasta, pesto etc.) but there were plenty of supermarkets in the resort. I also ate out for dinner twice as you can find fairly inexpensive meals (10-15 euro per person).

Our accommodation

Our accommodation

Skiing

Now to move on to the best part of the trip – the skiing! Whether you’re a beginner or an expert this trip caters for everyone. I went with several friends who had never skied before, some who had only dry slop skiing experience and some who had been a couple of times but still weren’t very confident and they all decided to take three days’ worth of lessons. They all agreed that the lessons were really useful and good value for money. As I’ve been several times before I decided not to have lessons this time and to make the most of my three valleys ski pass. Val Thorens is connected to two other resorts, Meribel and Courcheval (ski map below) and so we made several day trips to try out the runs there. We were incredibly lucky with the weather and had both blue skies and perfect skiing snow. The trip also offers some skiing workshops, such as off-piste skiing.

Pro skiers

Pro skiers

Après

A lot of people’s favourite part of the trip was the après-ski, or the nightlife. Bath Snowsports offer you a £12 wristband which gets you free entry into most of the bar and clubs, discounted drinks and discounts at the supermarket in our accommodation block. I would strongly recommend buying the wristband, even if you don’t plan on partying much, it helps save you a lot of money. The après was divided into three parts; a bar with a DJ up on the mountain until around 5-6pm, live music/DJ’s in one of the bars 10pm-12am and then onto a club. This meant that you can pick and choose what you want to do, if you’d rather focus on the skiing then you can choose just to go and relax in one of the bars, but you also have the option to go out and dance the night away! One event I would really recommend going to is the Mountain meal, dinner in one of the restaurants on the mountain. For £30 we were treated to beef fondue, salad, chips and half a bottle of wine, with night-skiing down afterwards.

Après on the mountain

Après on the mountain

Money

A big worry when going skiing is that it will be really pricey. While I won’t deny that the ski trip is an expensive holiday it’s still relatively cheap for going skiing. I paid around £650 (including a £50 damage deposit, wristband, mountain meal, accommodation, ski hire & lift pass). It’s also recommended that you take around 250 euros spending money for the week. However I only took 200 and I had some left over, even after eating twice in a restaurant so you can definitely manage on less.

I had a really amazing week in Val Thorens and if you’re thinking about going next year, I would really recommend it!

 

Ich bin ein Berliner

  , ,

📥  International student, Mirella, School of Management, Second year

After two horrendous weeks of exams, it was time for the long-awaited and deserved Inter-semester break. Different university societies plan different trips during this week-long break before Semester 2 starts. The most well know trip is probably the Ski Trip to Val Thornes, which I have heard is quite awesome and you can read Hannah's blog post about it here.

As the Chair of the German Society it was my responsibility to plan the trip to Germany’s capital Berlin. The planning had already started in October, so I was really glad when exams finished and my little German society group was able to finally board a bus to Gatwick Airport. After a little detour on the motorway as our bus driver missed the exit to Gatwick and a lot of panic from my side, we arrived at the airport at 11 am and landed in Berlin in the afternoon.

Our hostel was literally in the middle of Berlin – the former East Berlin - just right next to the famous Alexanderplatz with its TV Tower. At the check-in it felt like we had never left Bath as it was a Belushis pub and hostel, which we also have in Bath and most of the staff only spoke English and hardly knew any German. However, once we left the little hostel bubble behind us it hit me hard that we are in Berlin, one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in Europe. You will find a typical East German building called Plattenbau in one street and just around the corner you will find a modern skyscraper.

It was crazy to see how the division of Germany and especially Berlin still has an impact on the city itself. The city itself remembers its famous division wall- the Berliner Mauer – with two brick rows on the street to mark where the wall stood. For me it was unbelievable to imagine that this city was divided into a Communist and a Democratic part for such a long time and that this ended just a few years before I was born.

As this was more or less a study trip to experience German culture and get a sense of living in a German city, we planned a lot of activities. It included a lot of German food – Currywurst, Schweinsbraten and Bread – and of course good German beer and Radler, a mixture between beer and lemonade. Considering I ate meat twice a day you would think that German cuisine only consist of meat dishes, but the vegetarian in our group always found something to eat as well. Even the non-drinkers were able to survive without drinking beer.

Embracing German food and beer

Embracing German food and beer

For me, the most interesting part of our trip was to visit the German Reichstag, the house of the German parliament. In this house you can actually feel the drastic political changes Germany underwent in the 20th and 21st century before it became this European superpower. The outside of the building was built in the monarchy, whereas inside you will find a modern glass cubicle designed by Norman Foster to house the united German government. However, the parliament only started its work in the new building ten years after the reunification. In the inside you will also find Russian graffiti left by the Russian soldiers at the end of the Second World War and you will still see some marks left by bombs.

Russian Graffiti in the Reichstag

Russian Graffiti in the Reichstag

The most impressive part about the building is probably the glass dome. The idea behind it is that members of the parliament should look up to see members of the public walking around to be remembered why they are in parliament in the first place. The public on the other side can look down on the elected members to have an eye on them so that something like the Nazi regime cannot happen again.

All in all, I can only recommend going away in the inter-semester break with a society. You will see a new city, you will meet new people and you are predicted to have some fun and might even make some friends.

 

International Friendships

  ,

📥  International student, Mirella, School of Management

As we all know University is not only about studying. It’s also about making friends for a lifetime. Fresher’s Year is probably the easiest year when it comes to making friends. Everybody is new and probably doesn’t know a lot of people at university, so everybody is looking for new friends.

In Freshers' Week you will probably meet and talk to a dozen people you will never ever see again, even though the University of Bath is not too big.  You might meet them during Fresher’s Week. You might live with them. You might study the same course as them. You might join the same society. You might even meet them in the library. Who knows? I just want to assure you that you should not be worried about making friends. Just be yourself and be friendly!

The University of Bath has a student body of 30% of international students. This makes the chances high that you will make at least one international friend or if you are a foreigner like me you will probably have some more as you can relate to each other. The good thing about international friends is that you can visit them in their countries, which is very exciting.  You should not forget you have nearly 4 months off in the summertime, and I used my summertime for working and meeting friends.

My first trip was to Poland. I have never ever been to Poland or had Polish friends, but however at University I have made quite a few Polish friends. One of my Polish friends lives near Gdansk, which you might know as Danzig. Her town is called Gdyna and hosts one of the biggest and best musical festivals in Poland – Open’eer. I have never been to a festival as I don’t enjoy sleeping in tents, but as my friend lives quite near to the festival me and another friend decided to sleep at hers and go to the festival in the evening. I can tell you it was pretty awesome. Even though it was in Poland they had such major acts as “Mumford&Sons”, “Major Lazor”, “Alt-J” and even “Years&Years”, who were the main act at the University’s Summer Ball. Apart from the music I quite fell in love with pirogues. If you have never tried them you should definitely do so.

My next meeting with a University friend happened in my hometown in Vienna. My former flatmate was interrailing with some friends through Europe and they had a day stop in Vienna. After 12h in Vienna  my friend said: “I would have never seen Vienna like this without you as a local”. So listen up future Fresher’s: Make some friends in really nice cities so that they can show you around.

Another friend of mine is the driver for the University of Bath’s racing team. During the summer time they travel to different Formula Student events where they compete with their self-made car against other universities. One of their stops was in Spielberg in Austria. As Spielberg is only a 2h drive away from me, I decided to visit them in Spielberg. To be honest, I am not a big fan of cars and I have never seen a Formula 1 event. However, I quite enjoyed Formula Student. You see all these university students who spent a year designing and building a racing car and then competing against each other. So if you like this kind of stuff you should definitely have a look at them during Fresher’s Fair in September and think about joining in.

The Formula Student event

The Formula Student event at Spielberg

Just a day after I came back from Spielberg I had a flight to Düsseldorf. Unfortunately, it rained the whole three days while I was there. It was horrible, but it was still great to see my future flatmate Linda again. She showed me Wuppertal, Düsseldorf, Cologne and some other small German towns. If I hadn’t known her, I would have never thought about even travelling to Düsseldorf.

Kolner (Cologne) Dom (Cathedral)

Kolner (Cologne) Dom (Cathedral)

My last visit to see one University friend was in Munich. I made this friend at the last day of Fresher’s Week in the toilet queue. So as I have said you never know where you will make friends at the University of Bath. However, this guy is also part of German Society, so it was easy for me not to loose him out of sight. I was only there for two days but it was really good to catch up with him and hear about his placement.

Great view of Munich's sykline

Great view of Munich's sykline

Seeing so many of my University friends during the summer made me realize that I can’t wait to get back to Bath. I love my friends from home, but I also enjoy the international community at Bath. Fortunately, I am only a handful of days away from seeing them all in Bath again.

 

Conquering Kilimanjaro : Poa Kichizi Karma Ndizi

  , ,

📥  Charlotte, Faculty of Engineering

All I remember is seeing the peak in the near distance and thinking that’s it, I’ve almost done it. After four and a half days, we were finally only 45 minutes from our goal.

Two hours later and we were cursing our ever the optimistic guide but we were there. We had made it. Somehow.

I swear I slept the majority of the time it took us to crawl from Steller Point (5756m) to Uhuruh Peak (5895m). Looking back, I think we must have had a 5 minute nap for every 10 minutes of walking - I never knew rocks could be so comfortable.

Before I set off, I never could have imagined how physically exhausting yet enjoyable this trek would be. I was naïve to the physical intensity of walking each day carrying a rucksack containing 4 litres of water, and to how many nature pees drinking this much would entail.

Our adventure began when we landed in Kilimanjaro airport at 2am local time and our luggage was strapped to the roof of a mini bus for an hour journey to the hotel in which we had our first taste of African ‘roads’. At least the jolts and bumps kept us awake.

K1

Ready to go!

We had a day at the hotel to recover before beginning the ascent the next morning, so naturally we jumped at the chance to visit a nearby orphanage rather than sleeping. With a tour guide from the hotel, myself and three other girls set off to glimpse our first proper sights of Tanzania. On the way we stopped off at a shop to buy sweets for the children, $10 for two packets of sweets and our guide received two ‘free’ cigarettes – something strange happened there.

A thumbs-up at the local orphanage

A thumbs-up at the local orphanage

To end our tour, our guide took us on the scenic route back to the hotel through the maize plantations and passed his ‘friend’ the witch-doctor. Needless to say we were thankful when we discovered his friend wasn’t in. Though to ease our disappointment our guide took us to his own home where we met his wife (slightly bewildered as to why there were four British girls in her house) and children. You can imagine it was quite an awkward experience with us all told to sit on their marital bed but it was an interesting insight into how the locals live. Afterwards, we persuaded our guide to walk us back to the hotel without stopping for coffee at one of his friend’s shops and he arranged for a driver to take us into the centre of Moshi (the nearby city). It was getting dark by the time we had finished looking round and bought souvenirs and we were eager to get back to the hotel. Suffice to say, we had some stories to tell the others when we got back - they didn’t even know we had left.

Disaster struck the following morning 15 minutes pre departure to the base of Kilimanjaro with both mine and my friend’s camel-packs breaking. I don’t know who thought a sack of water with a tube attached that you drink from was a good idea because as the sopping bed sheets we left in our room indicate, it’s not. There was a mad dash to buy another water bottle and more water before we set off. Probably not the best way to start the adventure – stressed and wet.

At base camp

At base camp

Our climb began after signing in at Machame Gate (1640m) and taking the obligatory photographs whilst our permit to begin the ascent was being processed. The fact that we were actually climbing the highest peak in Africa was yet to sink in and there really was not much difference between this walk and climbing Bathwick Hill albeit with walking poles and stunning scenery of the rainforest. Stopping regularly for a piece of our packed lunches and the inevitable nature pees, the morale of the group was really high. I guess it’s easy to bond with people after accidentally hitting them with a walking pole – I gave up with my poles after day 1, I just couldn’t coordinate my hands and feet.

We reached Machame Camp (2850m) after about 8 hours of walking to find that our tents had already been set up, the porters are truly incredible. Not only do they carry our 15kg bags on top of their own gear, but they walk twice as fast as us.

The next morning, we were awoken at 5.30 after a sleepless night of tossing and turning in which I think I must have eventually managed to drift off just before the time to wake up. Typical. After breakfast of porridge (runny gruel) and cold toast we set off, leaving the glades of the rainforest and ascending a rocky ridge to Shira Camp (3847m). Lunch was served when we reached camp then we embarked on an altitude acclimatisation trek up to 4000m in which people began to show signs of altitude sickness. Personally, I felt fine apart from tiredness - the lack of sleep from the last few days had caught up and I fell straight to sleep after tea that night.

Day 3 was a much gentler incline but with the increasing altitude many people were struggling. I ended up walking with one of the guides most of the way to Lava Tower (4630m), at 23 he’d already ascended the mountain over 60 times and he explained that to become a guide you have to climb up and down carrying all equipment in 3 days. That made our 6 days look pitiful in comparison and we had someone else carrying our things. He taught me some useful phrases to say in Swahili to add to my repertoire of ‘Jambo’ (hello), ‘Mambo’ (Hi, how are you?) and ‘Asante Sana’ (Thank you very much). In response to ‘Mambo’, I could now say ‘Poa Kachizi Karma Ndizi’ (Crazy cool like a banana) which always made the porters laugh – probably at my accent or lack of.  The talk turned more personal and he told me about his life away from the mountain (he gets only two weeks rest between each ascent) and asked me if he could add me on ‘Facebook’ when we reach the bottom and if he could show me his room in Moshi. Luckily I would be going on Safari the day after the mountain so there would be no time for such sightseeing.

Lava Tower was our stop for lunch then we descended to Barranco Camp (3976m) to sleep. The motto is walk high and sleep low. After breakfast we were faced with the task of scaling Barranco Wall, our first taste of actual climbing – hands were required to pull yourself up and at tricky points the helpful hand of a guide. It was here that the true fitness of the porters was shown, they nimbly negotiated the rocks effortlessly whilst balancing a huge bag on their head. Amazing. Just like the view from the top of the wall. It was bizarre standing above the clouds and peering down to an expanse of white, you could really sense just how high you had climbed. Yet, behind us the imposing snow-capped peak still felt out of reach.

A rewarding view

A rewarding view

We slept for 3 hours at Barafu Camp (4673m) that night before beginning our ascent to the summit at 1.30am. In the pitch black, with only our head torches to light our path, we shuffled along wearing all the clothes we had brought to shield us against the bitter cold. The sun rose at about 6am offering a little bit of extra warmth and teasing us with the view of the peak – still so far off.

Sunrise from Kilimanjaro

Sunrise from Kilimanjaro

But through sheer determination, 32 out of 34 of us made it to the Roof of Africa. We had completed our challenge and raised an outstanding amount of money for The Children’s Society. Even now as I write this, I cannot believe how much I have achieved in my first year of University.

Uhuru peak- the roof of Africa

Uhuru peak- the roof of Africa

 

 

Au Pairing

  ,

📥  Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, Hannah

I have worked as an au pair twice, once in Paris, France, where I was looking after 10 year old twins and a 3 year old for 10 months and once in Zaragoza, Spain where I was looking after a 4 year old for 2 months (guess which was easier!). As a language student au pairing is a fantastic opportunity to improve your language skills and to experience the culture and daily life of the country you are studying. Even if you’re not studying another language it’s a great way to live abroad cheaply, have some new experiences and make some new friends!

In this blog post I have revisited all the questions I had before I became an au pair for the first time – so if you need a summer job, are about to go on a year abroad, or want to take a gap year here is all my advice and experience.

So, what exactly is au pairing?

Being an au pair is basically child minding, just normally in a different country! You look after a family’s children and in exchange you live with them as a part of their family. Most au pairs live in the same house as their family, with their own room and sometimes their own bathroom. You will also receive a weekly salary, which in France and Spain ranges from between 50-90€. As an au pair you shouldn’t be working more than 30 hours a week (normally 6 hours a day Mon-Fri, though some families may exchange a weekday afternoon for Saturday morning) and if you do work more hours (for example babysitting) you should be paid extra.

In France the family had had the garage converted into a living space of about 30m², with bedroom, kitchenette and bathroom, where I lived. Several other au pairs who lived in the centre had their own small flat, either next to or above the family’s. This is the better situation, especially if you’re already at uni/graduated and are used to living on your own. It’s nice to have your own space where the family doesn’t disturb you. In Spain I lived in a flat with the family, I had my own room and shared a bathroom with their child. Although this means you get a little less privacy it also means that I was better integrated into the family and also gave me lots of chances to talk to the parents and so improve my Spanish.

Is it right for me, even if I don’t speak or study a language?

In my opinion au pairing is right for pretty much everyone, unless you really really hate children. Au pairing is a really good way to live cheaply and easily in another country. As you don’t work long hours you will have loads of time for weekends away to visit other places and also to explore the place where you’re staying. In France I usually started work once the children got home from school around 4pm and worked until 8-9pm when the parents arrived from work. During the day I took French classes (twice a week) and visited Paris as much as I could. In Spain, as it was during the summer, I worked from 9am-3pm, which gave me all afternoon off to relax by the pool or meet up with other au pairs in the centre of Zaragoza.

As to the language, au pairing is a good way to learn a new one and it doesn’t matter at all if you don’t speak a word of it before you go! I arrived in France with only French GCSE and left 10 months later with a level close to the first year of university. In Spain, although I am already fairly comfortable in Spanish, I also took some writing classes and spoke as much as I could with the parents, which helped improve my fluency. But even if you don’t really want to learn a language au pairing is still for you! I have met many au pairs who speak only English with their host families (some families will prefer that you do this) and spend most of their time with other English speaking au pairs. They are using au pairing as a way to travel and meet some new people, and picking up some words and phrases along the way.

 In Bercy, Paris with some German au pairs


In Bercy, Paris with some German au pairs

How do I become an au pair?

If you’re a member of the EU and want to au pair in the EU then it’s really easy! The first time I went au pairing I did it through an agency. This has a lot of advantages. Both you and the families are screened and checked and if there are any problems you can report it directly to the agency and they will be able to help you to sort it out, or if necessary, place you with a new host family. It will also be easier to meet fellow au pairs as the agency will have a list of families with au pairs in your area. For an EU member in the EU the agency shouldn’t charge you! To au pair to France I went through two agencies free of charge. Some au pairs I have spoken to have ended up paying £300 or more to be placed with a family – this is too much. Firstly I spoke to Dr Ruth Campbell who runs Au Pair Ecosse, an agency that normally places French au pairs in Scotland but also has contacts to place au pairs from the United Kingdom in France. She then put me through to Europair, an agency which places au pairs all over France. As the site is in French, for those who don’t speak it, it may be better to get in contact with Dr Campbell first.

However, if you’re a little more confidence and you don’t want the hassle of filling out lots of forms for an agency, then you can also set up your au pairing placement directly with the family. I chose to do this when I au paired in Spain as I was going for a shorter amount of time and knew what to expect from the family. I used the website Au Pair World. You create a profile which host families can see and then you can search for a host family that matches your requirements (country, number of children, length of stay etc.). Once you have found a family you like you can send them a message and being getting to know them. Be warned it does take a lot of patience to find the family that is right for you, and sometimes when you think you have found the right one they might chose to go with another au pair. But persevere! Using this site I found a really lovely Spanish family who were very keen to make me feel welcome.

Where should I go?

This is totally up to you! If it’s your first time au pairing I would recommend staying close to home, in Europe, sometimes it takes a bit of time to adapt and it’s nice to know you can go home easily for a visit. It will be very easy to au pair in most European countries, obviously I would recommend France or Spain but you can go basically anywhere. If you’d rather an English speaking country it’s also possible to au pair in places like Australia and the US, though in this case it will probably cost more as you’ll need a Visa. In this case I would definitely recommend going through an agency.

Au Pairs in Spain (I was a little unprepared for this photo)

Au Pairs in Spain (I was a little unprepared for this photo)

What should I expect from my host family?

Your host family should treat you as part of their family, like an older sibling to the child(ren) you are looking after. They shouldn’t try and take advantage of the fact that they have live in childcare and make you work lots. You are also there to explore a new country and have fun! If possible try and get your host family to write and sign a contract with you about how many hours you work and how much you get paid. If you are really unhappy with the family and not enjoying yourself then leave. It is not worth being in a situation that makes you miserable. That being said au pairing can sometimes be hard so don’t give up immediately!

What will my host family expect from me?

In accepting you as part of their family for a while they’ll expect you to act like part of their family. Although obviously you don’t have to spend all of your free time with them it is a good idea, especially at the beginning, to hang out with them a bit and get to know them, especially the children you’ll be looking after. I usually tried to eat dinner with my host family during the week, and to spend at least one afternoon with them at weekends. If you’re there to improve language skills talking to the parents can be one of the best ways to do this and if they’re good host parents they should be happy to help you. Just remember that although you’re working for them you’re still a guest in their house so be considerate of their rules and routines.

Beautiful sunset and La Tour Eiffel

Beautiful sunset and La Tour Eiffel

How can I meet other people my own age while au pairing?

Meeting other au pairs is very easy. No matter where you go there will probably be a Facebook group you can join (search for: Name of place, au pairs, the year you are going) and if you go with an agency they will probably provide you with a list of contact details for other au pairs in the area. If you’re au pairing during the school year you might also meet other au pairs while picking/dropping the kids off at school, or your host family may know other families who also have au pairs.

Going to language lessons is another good way to meet people. In Paris there was a French school (France Langue) specifically for au pairs which only had lessons during the day, rather than in the evening when most au pairs are working. However if you don’t want to speak English all the time (most likely the language you’ll be speaking with the other au pairs) it’s a good idea to try and meet some local people, though this is often much harder. In Spain I placed an advert for a Spanish-English conversation exchange on a local council website for young people and I met a girl my age who needed to improve her English for an oral exam. Another way is to join a sports club which several au pairs did in Paris and they were able to meet lots of French people.

I hope that’s answered all your questions – happy au pairing!