Elisabete, you're Director at Portugal Au Pair. Tell us a bit about your role: what does your day-to-day routine look like?
My everyday life has been really amazing and the au pair world has been so interesting. My job is to promote the au pair cultural exchange program among young people in Portugal and throughout the world by setting up partnerships with local and overseas companies or organizations in order to advertise Portugal as an au pair destination.I organize information sessions at schools, universities, and parents’ associations in order to find candidates to be an au pair abroad and families living in Portugal wishing to receive an au pair. This program gives the opportunity to export and import culture and language.
What services does Portugal Au Pair offer?
We offer an outbound and inbound program. We receive the au pair candidates’ and families’ applications, check all the information given and help them to find the best family or au pair according to their profile. We give all the support in order to integrate the au pair into the Portuguese culture, the choice of the language course and help them have a social life here in Portugal. At the same time, we help the family with the process tof receiving the au pair legally.
What are the main things parents need to consider when looking to hire an au pair?
Hiring an au pair can be an amazing childcare experience for all the family. The children have the opportunity to be bilingual and have contact with another culture. The au pair will become like a big sister/brother, helping with the everyday tasks related to the children like cleaning their room, taking them to and back from school, and helping them with homework.
Families need to be conscious that an au pair is not a housekeeper or a nanny. We are talking about young students who come to Portugal to improve their language skills and increase their general knowledge. Some of them can be infant qualified. She or he is committed to take care of the children for about five hours a day. A private room and board are included.
Portugal Au Pair also offers placements in the USA, Oceania and China, as well as in other locations around Europe. Tell us a bit about these.
The majority of our au pairs prefer to improve their English skills, that’s why English speaking countries are their first choice: England first, then Ireland, because they are close to Portugal. Then the United States.
This last destination offers some advantages: the flight ticket and health insurance are offered, the pocket money is 195,75 USD for standard au pairs and 225USD for professional au pairs. This amount is per week. They also receive 500USD as education stipend. But the au pair is committed for a 12-month stay in the US.
China is a very new destination and also offers interesting conditions considering the local conditions. The Chinese course, health insurance and the flight ticket are offered and this gives the opportunity to stay for short periods like 3 or 6 months. Australia has recently opened its gates for the working holiday visa for Portuguese citizens and also offers short term stays for au pairs. France and Switzerland are also required. We want to diversify our destinations as much as possible.
Are you an expat yourself? If so, what first prompted your move abroad?
I can say I was an expat myself. My parents went to France many years ago, I was born there and lived there until I was 20 years old. I was raised among French and Portuguese culture all at the same time. Contacting with two cultures helped me to be more tolerant and respectful with every kind of culture and people.
Then I came to Portugal, my parents’ home country. I wanted to know it better because I felt it was a big part of me, but at the same time I didn’t know so much about this country. Here I graduated at Coimbra University, but this period of time was very challenging because even if I had the chance to speak Portuguese thanks to my family, I didn’t write it properly at that time.
I had to learn about Portugal, and now I can say it’s a really wonderful country and people are really communicative and welcoming. These are some of the best characteristics which will make everyone love Portugal.
In your opinion, what is the main challenge faced by expats who move abroad with children, and how does Portugal Au Pair help to address these?
The main challenge for expats when they move abroad is to be far from their home country, family, culture and traditions. To adapt our life in a new country we don’t know and learn the local language can be overwhelming. It is important for the parents to remind the children where they come from and keep them speaking their mother tongue. Hiring an au pair can be a solution for this issue. The au pair can bring all these at the same time and share it with the family and make them feel at home.
Do you have any general advice for people who are thinking of moving abroad for the first time?
You need to be very open-minded and try to know the new country and immerse yourself in the local way of life, culture and traditions: you will then adapt much more easily. Be patient, tolerant and understanding towards the differences you find in your host country.
And finally, when you're not working, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
When I’m not working I like to be with my family and spend time with them, meet some friends and go to a good restaurant tasting and have a glass of good wine. But what I really love to do is travelling meet other people and see new places.
Elisabete Soares is Director of Portugal Au Pair, an agency that matches up au pairs with families in various countries around the world. For more information, take a look at their website.