Amazing Opportunities: It’s never too late to become an Au Pair

What do young girls do after graduating from high school when they want to live in another country, learn a foreign language and explore a different culture?
They become an Au Pair!
What do ‘Best Agers’ do after retiring when they do want to live in another country, learning and exploring?
They become an Au Pair, just the same!

Who wouldn’t enjoy taking care of this little cutie for some time?!

And if you want to spend your next trip as an Au Pair, you can do so with the help from Kristin.
Kristin is 70 and she’s living in a Bavarian village 56 miles from Munich – one of Germany’s most picturesque regions.
She by far didn’t spend all her life in this secluded place. For many years she was married to an industrial engineer working for the United Nations, therefore they didn’t live only in Germany, but also in places like Geneva and Copenhagen. Kristin, the great woman behind the successful man, took care of the household and the three kids. She cooked dinner for her husband’s business partners and had cocktails with ambassadors, politicians like former labor secretary Norbert Blüm and Germany’s late ex-chancellor Helmut Kohl, because social life was without saying a big part of the job. As everybody with kids can figure, this was not always easy, so Kristin had to rely on help from Au Pairs, and she was particularly happy when her then 65 year old aunt Jutta came from time to time to stay with the family and look after the kids and the house.

In 2009 the youngest of her three kids left home, so Kristin, by then retired, took a good look around whether there was an old dream hidden somewhere. And indeed, she remembered that as a young girl she always dreamt of becoming an Au Pair girl in Paris – the city of lights! Only her parents didn’t allow it, so these lights remained dim. But now was the time to turn them on and illuminate the “best age” that lied ahead – Kristin decided to become an Au Pair at 62.

Finally an au pair in the ‘city of lights’: Kristin became an au pair at the tender age of 62.

Since at that time there were no agencies, it was extremely difficult to find a host family, but nothing could discourage Kristin, and finally with the help from some friends, she found a French family that took her in to stay with them at their huge, charming appartement in the famous Parisian neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Strictly speaking, Kristin was not the average student anymore – but she and the host family agreed that she wouldn’t be treated differently: She stayed at a tiny room facing the backyard, sharing the shower with other students. Like any other Au Pair, she had her duties like helping the family’s daughter studying German for her Bacalaureat. She ate dinner with her hosts and enjoyed conversations on cultural differences and similarities. In the company of all the other commuters she took the Métro to school and back. With her school mates she studied French in the morning and partied at night. She had the time of her life!

I can absolutely relate to that since my language courses to Rome, Izmir, and Milan were some of the most inspiring experiences ever; I think that at an advanced age it’s not only the activity and the trip as such, it’s especially the idea behind, the recherche du temps perdu – respectively sa découverte.

Kristin Emmerinck
Kristin Emmerinck, founder of
Madame Grande-Mère

Back home, back to her little Bavarian village, Kristin, spurred by her own experience, decided to give others – who probably won’t fulfill their dreams of becoming a ballerina or getting a Unicorn for their birthday anymore – the opportunity to make at least the wish to become an Au Pair come true: she founded an association placing senior Au Pairs in host families around the world.

Having a brilliant idea, founding an association, designing a webpage – this was makeable. But here the hard work only began. Kristin had to let the public know that she was out there, and that she was ready. She contacted every newspaper around, she wrote more than 1,000 Emails to German language schools abroad like e. g. the Goethe Institute. She got in touch with chambers of commerce, consulates and embassies. She stormed every convention dealing with demography. And it paid – after a while she was considered an expert in this field and got invited to respective events like chancellor Merkel’s demography summit. Then the Bavarian delegate to the European Union Dr. Niebler recommended Kristin to German President Gauck to receive an award for her outstanding honorary activities. Now of course also the media were interested in this ingenious project.

The images of senior citizens did change quite a lot over the last decades.

Today Kristin’s project gets more and more attention – thus Kristin gets more and more commitments and chores. For years she’s participated in major conventions and specialized fairs – the group of active senior citizens is growing significantly, especially but not exclusively in Germany, thus projects like Madame Grand Mère are absolutely in the line of the trend.

The peer group is interested, Kristin’s databank includes almost 500 potential Au Pairs – around 460 grand mères and at least 30 grand pères. Every year about 20 of them are heading to new shores – the youngest was 50 and took a sabbatical for her trip, the oldest went for a couple of weeks to North Carolina at the age of 76.

Of course the Au Pairs get board and lodging for free and do sometimes receive additional gratuities according to an individual agreement with their hosts. Same goes for the fare, it all depends on the respective necessities, the circumstances, distance and length of stay. That can vary from four weeks “vacation assistance” up to one year; the friendships last forever, though. However, there are regular ‘customers’ like the German TV-correspondent in the US or the Honorary Consul in Turkey, and there are Au Pairs going again and again.

You now might wonder about visa and work permits? To avoid illegal employment, an Au Pair cannot be over 27 years of age (at least according to German law). But since the Grand Mères are not employees but the family’s guests, they only have to stick to tourist visa regulations (you will find these in my World’s Most Complete Travel Information). Same goes for possibly necessary insurances: German citizens have their national or, where necessary, travel health insurance and liability insurance (unless these are cheaper in the guest country in which case the host family takes care of it). Besides maybe a little pocket money, the Grand Mères are rewarded with a wonderful adventure, the chance to learn – and to teach – languages and experience, it’s a enriching give and take.

Many of the Au Pairs are retired teachers, but there are also women who were just housewives for years and do want to experience something new, something exciting after their kids left home (not every Grand Mère is a single lady) – basically the same reasons why the founder of this fantastic project left for Paris in 2009. And the founder herself gets all dreamy sometimes when she liaises between an Au Pair and a lovely family at a particularly alluring dream destination such as Dubai and Daressalaam, like Beijing and Brisbane. But by now Kristin is far too busy making Madame Grand Mère great – by promoting her non profit society, giving interviews, attending conventions – and of course the most challenging part: The placement of Au Pairs into families. That requires very thorough preparation, checking lots of paper work, references etc. The first introduction is anonymous, if both sides are interested, eventually they get further information. It’s very important that things work out and both sides are happy. And besides minor incidents, by now Kristin, the families, and the Grand Parents are elated!

Looking at picture books – the perfect way to increase the vocabulary.

I hope I gave you a good idea of what Madame Grand Mère is all about. I think that especially for people who are a little insecure going to far exotic places all by themselves – and who are at the same time quite curious what these places are really like – this is the perfect way of getting on a trip and spending an extremely rewarding time.

I’d love to hear what you think about this project. And if you know about another extraordinary program, I’d be grateful if you’d let me know. In brief: Keep in touch!

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