Life & Style Editor Evelyne Thomas wasn’t too sure about how she could earn money over summer for her next year of university. After finding work as an au-pair in Italy, she’s back in Swansea to tell you about her experience.

As I sipped white wine overlooking the beautiful bay of Santa Margherita, it was difficult to believe that I hadn’t spent a penny on what, to an outsider, seemed like a very swish holiday. The previous day I had been riding down alongside the Mediterranean coastline on a moped, about to witness one of the most artistic firework displays I’d ever seen in the town of Sestri Levante. Now I was sat outside in the warm evening air tucking into seafood spaghetti and fresh focaccia bread.

Despite this picture of ultimate luxury, I was actually working: as an au-pair. But having done very little work and having enjoyed delicious food whilst taking in picturesque sights, this resembled the life of the rich and famous rather than employment.

Often students struggle to afford basic living, let alone the money to jet off somewhere for a fortnight. This is where the joys of au-pairing come into play. With a desire to travel but having little money to do so, I looked into au-pair work in Italy, Austria, France and Switzerland. My preference was Italy, but I took my time to weigh up the options in terms of what the family was offering.  I finally decided on a family based in Genoa, North West Italy. They offered the whole package of flights, food, board and a wage of 200 Euros a week – which was perfect for the penny-counting student like myself. My duties consisted of loading and emptying the dishwasher, laying the table and helping the children with their English homework. I also had to keep an eye on the children when they swam in the sea but with a private beach and plenty of sun, it was definitely a victory for perks over work.

Laziness is a huge thing that holds back students like myself from venturing out, but another great thing about au-pairing is how accessible it is and the application process takes no time at all. Different families have different criteria – such as having a driver’s license, or being a non-smoker – but there are no specific qualifications or certificates needed. My profile simply consisted of a photo, my availability, and a few lines about myself. There are many sites that can be used but I’d highly recommend, as it advertises a whole range of families searching for an au-pair and lists 87 countries to choose from.

The concept of flying out to a different country to live with complete strangers can sound a bit nerve-racking, but as long as you’re organised and take the right precautions then there is nothing to worry about. A good way to put your mind at ease is to build up a relationship with the family before travelling out there. These days, most families have Skype which is a good way to get the awkward face to face conversation out of the way, whilst in the comfort of your own home. Skype also removes any worries that you may have over the family being dysfunctional and confirms that they do actually exist in person. That said, if the family doesn’t have Skype don’t throw them on the scrap heap, as I only spoke with my family through e-mail and telephone and it was absolutely fine. However, one thing I would recommend is for you to arrange to be picked up from the airport if possible, in order to prevent any misunderstandings in terms of addresses and to minimise any risks of getting lost before having even reached the family.

So if you are running low on cash and want to get away, or even if you want to learn a new language; au-pairing is definitely something that you should bear in mind. Not only was it a holiday and work experience but it was also an opportunity to experience true Italian living. I’d definitely recommend it.

Evelyne Thomas