“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.” – Bill Bryson
Bonjour from Paris!
Home of the Eiffel Tower, delicious pastries, fashionable women and, as of last week, ME! I can’t believe that I’ll be calling this city home for the next year. I’ve spent the past seven days wandering the beautiful Paris streets feeling like I’m in a dream. As I sit here writing, it’s a beautiful sunny day, I can see Sacre Couer from the window, and I have a box of macarons from Ladurée beside me. To say I feel incredibly fortunate seems like an understatement.
I’ve kept trying to write this post all of last week but it’s been a hectic couple of days. Between work, exploring, and meeting people, I feel like I haven’t stopped moving since my plane landed. But no more excuses. I need to share!
I’m here Au Pairing. I had no idea what an Au Pair was until my friend did it in Italy a couple summers ago, so I’ll explain it a bit. An au pair is essentially a nanny but with a significantly better schedule. It’s considered a “cultural exchange”. You live with a family and they provide lodging, food, and pocket money and in exchange, you watch the kids for an average of 30 hours every week. All in all, if you find a good family, it’s a pretty great exchange.
Like most Au Pairs, I’m here for the school year, so I’ll be with this French family from September until next July. In most countries, your lodging is a private room in the home of the host family. In Paris, since many families live in apartments, the Au Pairs are sometimes given their own separate apartments. While this usually means you are still in the same building as the family, I am about a 15-minute metro ride away. Even though I have a bit of a longer commute, I really like it! I have an amazing family here that are more than happy to spend time with me but I also have the perks of my own space in a really cool and fun part of the city.
Since I’m not lucky enough to have an EU passport (fingers crossed for someday in the future), I need a visa to stay in France for longer than 3 months. As an Au Pair, the visa I had to get was the Long-Stay visa for students. It’s a student visa because I realistically don’t make enough money this year to be worthy of a work visa and also because I am required to take a French language course while I’m here.
The visa process was a bit confusing in terms of what information they needed from me but, for the most part, was a fairly easy visa to get. When you finally manage to get an appointment with the consulate, it takes about 10 business days to get your passport back with the visa.
I say “for the most part” because I made it much more difficult for myself by leaving the whole process to the very last minute. I left myself exactly 10 business days between my visa appointment and my departure date. Needless to say, I was a ball of stress when it hit Day 8 and I still hadn’t gotten my passport back. I popped into the visa office on the Thursday before I left (I flew out on Saturday) and pretty much begged them for a status update. I think they only listened to me because I looked like I was on the verge of tears. As luck would have it, they were finishing up my visa so I was able to pick it up that day.
While everything eventually worked out for me, I would definitely recommend saving yourself the stress and starting the process 3 months before you leave like they suggest on their website. My poor heart could have used some wiggle room.
Packing for a year away is always bit of an adventure. There are seasonal changes and shoes and pajamas (I always forget about those) that make it hard to stay under the weight limit. I will say that since this was the second time I did it, packing a year in one suitcase didn’t seem as daunting as it did before. It took me a couple hours one afternoon and I was done – quick and stress-free.
I learned from the last time that, as hard as it is, you have to be realistic about what you wear every day. I tried to do my best to think of basics and easy pieces that I could mix and match. I know the clothes that I would typically wear on a day-to-day basis and casual is best – especially being around young kids. I know that squeezing in the fancy backless dress “just in case I get invited to a fancy dress art gala or something” is just a waste of suitcase space. I’m usually the worst with those “just in case” items! Sure one or two won’t hurt, but they quickly add up and, realistically, I’d end up buying something here for this mystery event anyways. So this time around I was pretty cutthroat – probably because I can’t wait to do some shopping in the Paris vintage shops!
When you get past the hard part of the job, visa, and packing, the 7-hour flight is a piece of cake. I’ve been busy doing a lot of meet ups with other au pairs and internationals in Paris which has been a lot of fun. I’m meeting really amazing people and exploring beautiful parts of the city. It’s only been a week and I can already say I’m in love with Paris. It’s a fast fall when you’re walking by Notre Dame on your way to work or having a picnic in the park by the Eiffel Tower. I can’t wait to get to know this as home over the next couple months.