Ever feel like giving up? Well I almost did…on Switzerland.
I met a family in Switzerland just a few short weeks before escaping to London. I found them using GreatAuPair, a website designed to bring families and their future au pairs an easy place to meet and correspond, kind of like online dating. This was the same website I used to find the Demarle family, except this time I had au pair expectations—having suffered my unfortunate experience with the last family, I wanted to make sure to avoid entering into another maidysitter experience. I wanted a family that needed my help, cared about who I was and would be willing to get me a working visa.
Blog spoiler: I found them.
I found a family that needs my help. I was initially drawn to their profile because they value their au pair to become part of the family. I became further intrigued to find out this now family of three just lost their husband/father six weeks prior (now three months) in a sudden accident of some kind, the details I have yet to obtain (not that they matter). I felt an immediate and relative sympathy towards them since I had suffered losing my mother at a young age. This tragedy put a full-time working mother and 6-year-old twins in an immediate and unexpected need of help.
We arranged a meeting at her home in Brugg, a little village 30 minutes outside of Zurich in hopes to talk legalities, responsibilities, but most important, to exchange a genuine connection. It was a refreshing visit. Entela is very laid-back, matter-of-fact and to the point. She understood my situation and trusted me when I said, “I want to be with a working family so I have the opportunity to play the ‘big sister’ role and a family that loves being together whenever they can–and I want to be involved in those moments.”
After two hours of discussing the job, touring the house and playing with the children, who were initially shy, but adorable, we began to talk legal terms—this is when Entela said the magical sentence, “I will employ people only on a legal basis.” Wow. That was a relief. So before leaving we read some documents together, I signed some papers and she said she would begin the visa process.
I was not getting my hopes up because, like the last family, they could change their mind at the last minute or the visa process could be denied, but I was excited to have a potential option. In the meantime, Entela suggested I leave the Schengen territory because if I breach my 90-day limit as a tourist then I would not be eligible for a visa. Within two weeks of that first interview, I was booking my flight to London.
Before I left, Entela asked me to babysit on a Friday that the kids did not have school. Although it was a drizzly day and outdoor fun was not an option, I felt very natural taking care of them. We played games, colored, watched television and so on. Entela’s parents were there from Albania—they do not speak any English so communication was obsolete, but they are very pleasant people. They cooked lunch and helped me oversee, more like overcome any random outbursts the children may have had. It was then that I realized this babysitting opportunity was probably more like a trial run with the kids to see if I could handle it, but it did not come close to scaring me away—if anything it just brought us closer.
While in England, anxiously waiting to hear about my visa status and/or when I can return to Switzerland, Entela delivers the unfortunate news that she is not eligible to employ an au pair. My first thought is, how can a single mother working 100% with two small children not be eligible to hire an au pair? But that is just it. Because she works full-time and her children require full-time care, they are concerned that an au pair could be exploited. Entela made sure to tell me I would never work more than 40 hours, but the officials did not care about this, nor did they care about her unfortunate circumstances. She got no after no after no from the Swiss officials. So it looks like there will be no visa for me and no au pair for Entela.
That is, until we came up with an alternative plan.
In my nervous state, I began looking for au pair jobs in England using Gumtree, a UK version of Craiglist. I was setting up interviews all over the outskirts of London because even if I wanted to go back to Switzerland on August 20th (when my 90 tourist days renew), without a job, my funds would not allow it.
But even better, Entela was sending me the news that I could hang out in London until July 4th and then fly to Albania (which is not part of the Schengen territory) to spend a four-week family vacation with them at their beach house. Not too shabby, right? The first suggestion: when they fly back to Switzerland on August 6, I could fly back to the UK until August 20th. The second option: I could stay at their beach house for a couple of weeks. I chose the latter thinking of it as the ultimate writer’s getaway.
After August 20th, I will be their au pair in Switzerland for three months before flying back to America at the end of November, just in time for Thanksgiving with the family.
So how did I wind up in Albania, in a nutshell? I found a family that meets my au pair expectations that I connect with. I found a family that went above and beyond to help me become a legal employee and when that did not work, they went above and beyond to get me back to Switzerland. I found a family that loves spending time with one another. And it just so happens I found a family that takes a month-long vacation to Albania every year and they hired me just in time.