Granny’s passport to adventure

As a young girl, you might have thought about flying of to a foreign land as an au pair but somehow those plans never materialised. With a new trend towards hiring granny au pairs it’s not too late to realise your dream.

Gerda Sehr, 57, has done just that.  Following 38 years as an employee at the National Insurance Office, the Austrian from Carinthia was on the lookout for a new challenge. “I’ve always been annoyed that I can’t speak English and my daughter just said, “Go to an English-speaking country and learn it!” 

Surfing the net looking for an occupation abroad for middle-aged women, she came across the website and applied. Soon afterwards she was placed as a granny au pair with a family in Nottingham.

Prior to her placement she and her husband visited the doctor couple at their home and hit it off immediately, especially with their then 18-month-old daughter Jessica. Gerda moved into the couple’s garden house with free board and lodging. “I didn’t receive a fee, but my family could stay with me any time”, she explains.

She quickly became involved in her host’s family’s life, picking Jessica up from nursery, spending the afternoons with her and accompanying them to parties and on trips.

Every year families around the world hire young women aged 20-or-so to take care of their children and housework — activities that many experienced 50-plus women like Gerda Sehr can do easily.

In 2010 Michaela Hansen, 52, launched the initiative to send young-at-heart “grandmas” initially from German-speaking countries all over the world. “Senior citizens often remember their one-time dreams with a bit of melancholy,” says Michaela, who is from Hamburg in Germany. “Staying abroad is often foremost among these dreams. Some wanted to emigrate to America when they were young, others wanted to live on sheep-farms in the outback or maybe live in a European city. Now these experienced women have a second chance to fulfil these dreams.

Becoming a live-in Nanny gives them the opportunity to go abroad for an extended period, improve a foreign language and intensify their knowledge of a country more extensively than is possible during a holiday. The granny helps with housekeeping and children, and gets free board-and-lodging in return. Becoming part of a family makes it easier to immerse oneself into life in a foreign country.

Michaela says older au pairs have more experience of life and tend to be more efficient. “They draw on a wealth of life experience and take the daily challenges in their stride. They know how to run a household and many have raised their own children,” says Michaela. “Often these women have worked or still work as teachers, flight attendants, child care workers, secretaries, nurses etc. Usually they are between 45 and 75 years old and they are active and curious. They love doing useful and interesting things, eager to find out about other cultures and customs and they want to improve their language skills.”

It’s a win-win situation for both sides, as the idea of an au pair is based on mutual help.

Patricia, a Vancouver Mum states: “The past three months have been an interesting experience for the three of us. The opportunity to have a granny au pair has taught us so many things, as we open our home and hearts to that person and there’s so much to learn from the experience: from the differences in our cultures and backgrounds to the similarities we might have. But the greatest part is learning to welcome one another and share the space and our day-to-day lives, and this experience has particularly shown me so much about myself.”

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