Au pairing across Europe

Au pair and camp jobs allow students to mix work and pleasure while seeing the world

For some students, working overseas is the ultimate summer job. After all, what could be better than getting paid to see the world?

Asia Zolnierczyk, ArtSci ’12, worked as a group leader for a camp in the United Kingdom. She said she really wanted to travel to Europe and thought working at a camp would give her the opportunity to do so.

“I love playing sports and I enjoy working with children,” she said. “I was able to meet children from all over the world including Egyptian princes, German movie stars, kids from Greece, Japan, etc. I was able to learn some of their languages as well as teach them some English.” Zolnierczyk’s job included supervising the children and playing sports with them.

“I was pretty much working all day, including the nights when children would pull the fire alarms or cause trouble,” she said. “I had two and a half days off each week, which I used to go travelling through England as well as Scotland and France.”

Like many other students, Zolnierczyk found out about the opportunity through the Queen’s Career Services job board. She worked with other students from Queen’s and all over Canada, she said.

Before departing, she had to fill out many application forms, apply for a work Visa, open a bank account in England and search for cheap airline tickets. Zolnierczyk said although the job didn’t pay much, the experience was well worth it.

“It’s a lot of work and you need to be patient with the children who can’t speak English, but it’s a really fun job. You’ll learn you’re more patient than you thought you were,” she said.

Scotia Personnel Ltd., a company based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, works in connection with international partner companies to offer overseas jobs, exchanges and education opportunities for Canadians. Among the jobs they offer are au pairing and summer camp work. They also offer placements for teachers and hospitality jobs.

Scotia Personnel President Marilyn VanSnick said the company deals with over 100 students each year.

Students who work at camps get paid around $4,000 for a summer, she said, adding that au pairing is more about the experience than making a lot of money.

“Au pairing does not pay as high obviously,” she said. “It would depend on which area they are working in. If you want to have a nice summer in Spain as an au pair, working only 30 hours a week, that’s totally different than working at a camp in the UK or Switzerland.”

VanSnick said most students hear about Scotia through their school’s job boards.

“Students would send us an email and let us know they’re interested in working in another country, then we would contact them, then we would find out what their work history is, what their education history is,” she said, adding that they would then check references before continuing on to the interview stage. “At the interview we both decide if they’re interested in proceeding.”

Career Services career counsellor Paul Bowman said working abroad for the summer is a growing trend.

“International experience is being more and more valued, so even if it’s summer experience, if people’s circumstances allow it’s generally a good idea, whether educational travel, volunteer work or paid work.”

Bowman said it’s really important for students to do their homework before pursuing these opportunities.

“Most of the experiences I’ve heard from people have been quite positive,” adding that for au pairing, it really depends on the family you end up with.

“The hours might be long and they might not get as much language exposure as they were hoping for. Really part of the role of the au pair is to do English lessons with the children they’re working with. I know some people who have felt really isolated, but that’s a minority.”

Students who are planning on working at camps should find out if they’ll be charged for accommodations or if they’re free, Bowman said. Students should make sure that a low-paying cultural experience is really what they want, he added.

With workplaces becoming increasingly more diverse, employers see international work experience as a positive, Bowman said.

“The positive things intercultural exchange can signify to potential employers are things like self-confidence and maturity,” he said. “It speaks to moving outside of your comfort zone and being challenged to learn the language skills and the cultural skills and understandings.”

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