The Stir Experience connected me with the Australian agency, Smart Au Pairs, that then helped match me with the perfect host family. My initial application to The Stir Experience included police background checks, doctor exams, and references, and once those were out of the way I was able to apply for my work/holiday visa and purchase my flights after being connected with a family.
The Stir Experience was always available for any questions via e-mail or a phone chat. Justine and I even spoke for 25 minutes or so one day just so she could see how I was feeling with my departure date approaching and to give me some advice on what to expect culturally.
Don't compare your experience to someone else's and be true to yourself and your own expectations.
I came to Australia as an au pair with my own idea of what I wanted my experience to be. I didn't want to come as a tourist. I wanted to live as much like a local as possible and truly immerse myself in Aussie life. My host family's previous au pair had a bit of a different approach socially, not necessarily a bad one, just different. We had a bit of an overlap and I learned a lot from her but also got nervous that I'd made the wrong decision to come as an au pair.
Once I realized that my experience could be whatever I'd make of it, my life became exactly what I wanted it to be. With that being said, if you are unhappy with your host family placement or situation definitely talk to your agency.
Hopefully you are smart and particular about the family you commit to, but in the case that things don't go as planned, be sure to fix it, whether that's being open and talking with your host family about the problem, or trying to receive another placement. I promise, it's okay to change/move. You have to do what's best for you.
Each au pair experience will be different depending on the family you join and at what time of the year you join them. I began with my family at the end of the school year, so I started off with the school routine. My kids are 4.5 and 6.5. My host parents are very hands-on with the children as often as they can be. My host dad works long hours during the week and my host mum works in a creative field that requires some flexibility in her schedule.
We typically talk out the week beforehand and discuss what hours I will be needed. During the school year, parents will prep brekky and lunches, I'll help kids get ready for school, and parents will get them off to school. During the day, I'll have free time to myself and will typically clean up the kitchen, do some washing/folding if necessary.
I tend to have a lot of weekday time free. Kids have afterschool activities that parents bring them to, and then I begin again when they return. I love to cook so I'll often prep dinner before everyone comes home. I'll then help with baths and bedtime routine. I tend to stay in on weeknights, but my host mum is always flexible about if I want to make special plans with a friend and head out earlier.
I have off every weekend unless we arrange in advance for extra babysitting hours for which I'll get paid extra if I go over 35h for the week.
My weekends are mine and my family is respectful and appreciative of that. They love that I've made so many friends and have even met some of them. They often invite me to activities that they have planned for the weekend but always understand if I choose not to join. I've taken advantage of some of those opportunities and become closer with the family and extended family that way. I've also many times politely declined so that I could do my own thing.
Sometimes I stay out at friends' houses all weekend and that's okay too. We keep open communication so that they know I'm alive, which is respectful to do in any case when you're living with someone.
My biggest fear was making friends. At first I wasn't worried at all, but then I got here and freaked out. The Au Pair agency tries to connect au pairs together with Facebook groups and meetups, and it definitely works to an extent. They link with a backpackers group that organizes special trips/excursions you can go on, and I actually met one of my best friends that way.
However, I realized that I wasn't connecting with many of the au pairs because of the age & culture gap. Many are 18-year-old Europeans, right out of high school, that haven't been away from home ever. And that's totally fine! But having lived away from home for 4 years, finished two undergraduate degrees, and done a fair amount of independent & group travel, I felt it difficult to relate to some of them.
I had to make more of an effort to meet people. Chatting it up in cafes and joining MeetUp groups to find like-minded people worked best. I'm continually meeting new people through MeetUp groups like "Sydney Ladies Social." This was another "life is what you make it" experience.
Awesome friends won't just fall in your lap, you've got to go looking a little bit. And most importantly, don't feel like you need to become best friends with the first person you meet! You'll meet lots of people, but if you click with some more than others, stick with that. Nothing needs to be forced.