One of the most common questions I receive in life is just how I became an au pair in Italy. Here is the whole story.
It started when I was a freshman in college, just about to finish up my first semester. It was time to register for my second semester and I was in a pickle. Most of the classes on my schedule fell under the General Education requirement – except one.
I had been struck by the strange desire to take a foreign language class. It didn’t really make sense since I’d suffered through an awful three years of Spanish in high school and had no need to take a language class in college. But I couldn’t shake it, so I wandered over to the language section of the course catalogue. I wasn’t too adventurous at the time so I went straight to the other languages that had been offered at my high school.
German? Sadly, not so interested.
French? Interesting. Very interesting. My rudimentary Spanish would give me an edge there, and it’s such a pretty language.
Unfortunately it was also a language that didn’t have a single class that worked with my schedule. So the search continued. I was going to have to spread my horizons among normal high school language offerings.
Italian? Not an obvious choice (or, to be frank, a really useful one). But I had grown up taking voice lessons and had done some Italian arias along the way. I knew it was a very pretty language and felt like it was kind of a cross between Spanish and French. And – lo and behold – it fit into my schedule. So I decided that I would take one semester of Italian and then look at the French classes next year.
Little did I know.
In those first few days of Italian 101 I fell head over heels with this new language. I loved the musicality of it – it just rolled off your tongue. I loved that the first rule of the Italian language is “make it sound beautiful.” And I loved how they continuously broke their own “lesser” grammatical rules in order to obey that higher rule. I particularly loved how everything you said sounded romantic. Everything.
Through the language I began to learn the culture, the people, the food. Everyday there was something new; something amazing. At the end of the semester there was no real thought or choice to make. I had to continue. This was something I desperately wanted to master.
It was during that second semester that my fate was sealed.
There I was, sitting in my required “weekly hour conversation” with an advanced Italian student, soaking up his knowledge and experience with the country I was just beginning to discover, when it came out of my mouth. Accompanied, no doubt, with a pathetically wistful sigh.
“I wish I could go to Italy.”
My partner looked at me with his devastatingly handsome eyes (ok, I admit it – the weekly conversations were much more pleasant considering I had a huge crush on my partner) and asked, quite simply, “Why don’t you?”
That was easy. While I was fortunate to have some scholarships and a part-time job to get me through my academic adventures, I was still a poor college student. And though I didn’t have a lot of travel experience (and, at that point, had never been out of the country), I was smart enough to know that it cost money. Money that I did not have to spare. At least not if I wanted to eat for the rest of the semester.
Again, those eyes. And those simple questions.
“So, why don’t you get a job?”
Wait, what? Get a job? In Italy? You can DO that?
I laughed it off in the moment. Sure, can you imagine? Me. Getting a job. In Italy. It seemed utterly ridiculous. I mean, how could I possibly do such a thing? Where would I even begin? Yet the idea had latched into my brain and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. A plan started to form. Suddenly, what had once seemed ridiculous began to look like a real possibility.
Why don’t I get a job?
So just how does a 19-year old American girl go about finding a job in Italy? My conversation partner, who had lived over there for a time, assured me that he had seen it done; waitresses, help for the elderly, and nannies (or, as they are more formally known, au pairs).
There was something interesting about the idea of au pair. After all, I had been a pretty regular babysitter throughout my formative years; just how different could it be?
The months passed and a plan began to form. I would go over to Italy for my summer break. Since school ended at the end of April, I had about a four month span of time before I had to be back and I intended to use every second of it. After applying for my passport and finding an au pair agency that fit my needs (and didn’t appear to be a scam operation), the only thing left was to find the family. The perfect family that would welcome me into their home and lives and entrust me with their children while giving me the best introduction to Italy I could ever hope for.
Not that I had high expectations or anything.
The first family the agency matched me with lived just outside of Venice. Venezia. I could just picture myself walking along the canals, riding in the gondolas and lounging in San Marco’s square.
Unfortunately, that family wanted a year long commitment. So the gondolas vanished quickly from the picture.
The second match was with a family in Bologna. Bologna didn’t have quite the same charm as Venice, but I figured, it was still Italy. I was sure that I could still have an amazing experience once I learned more about the city.
It ended up being a non-factor, as that family also wanted a year commitment.
I will admit, there was some relief. But it was combined with despair. While I was happy to not have to go the more un-romantic city, it was, by this time, already February and I didn’t have a family.
That’s when the email came. One last match, with a family that was looking for a short-term au pair (anywhere from 3-6 months). They had one daughter, age 2 1/2 and resided in Firenze.
Firenze? Where is Firenze? I look at a map. No, it couldn’t possibly be true. I call my conversation partner. Am I dreaming? Is Firenze the Italian name for the city that I’m thinking of? Could it actually be possible?
He confirms. Against all odds it’s true.
I was going to be an au pair in Florence.