GoAbroad Interview

Michelle LeGros - Area Education Manager, Central North Island

Michelle LeGros has been a member of the Au Pair Link team for four and a half years. She has worked in a range of roles in early childhood, but her role with Au Pair Link has been her most challenging to date. She is a mother to Paris and Monaye, and has also been a host mom to four au pairs herself; Michelle’s whole family has embraced what Au Pair Link is. She was the original Programme Manager in the Waikato Region, and now is the Area Manager for the Central North Island.

You were a preschool teacher for several years before joining Au Pair Link, how did you get connected with the organization?

I had been teaching a long time and felt I needed a challenge, so was looking for something different. I had worked in all areas of early childhood education and really loved the home based care approach; au pairs being educators in the home appealed to me. Once I did more research on Au Pair Link, I was very keen to be part of their team and the first program manager in the Waikato region.

Mud Run 2014 participants in New Zealand

Mud Run 2014 - We have participated for the last four years

What is an average day like as Area Education Manager for the Central North Island

There is no such thing as an average day at Au Pair Link. The best part of my role is it always changes day to day. as you can find when working with a lot of different people. Some days I am out visiting alongside the programme managers I support throughout the Central North Island, other days I am hands on and supporting the Waikato Team with an outing or play group. I overall support the Central North Island team with their regions, and this can be positive feedback to higher level support that can be more challenging. I love the diversity of the role itself. One day I could be leading a group of au pairs through a mud run and the next day I could be leading my team in a conference.

You’re a New Zealand native, what’s the most important thing you could tell a prospective au pair about the country and what to expect?

Our country is beautiful as are the people within it. Being an au pair here is going to be the most fulfilling thing you can ever do. I would also warn them that here in New Zealand we are completely informal, and you need to embrace the culture rather than compare it. Be prepared to eat with your hands and go barefoot in summer.

Au pairs will be culturally rich after a visit here in so many ways.

Au pair with female toddler

Visit time with Jorja

Your academic background is in early childhood education, how are you able to apply those skills to your role for Au Pair Link?

My role is to also support my team to provide an education rich early childhood program to both our tamariki (Maori for children) and whanau (family). My teaching experience is valuable here, and my background is key to what I bring to the table at Au Pair Link. We collaborate a lot as a team, so as a united teaching team we are very solid. I bring the experience of leadership through my previous head teaching experience, and also the understanding of cultural differences from my earlier teaching experience in the South Waikato.

Au Pair Link goes beyond basic childcare to make sure au pairs provide education to the children they are taking care of. Tell us more about the structure of this.

Our au pairs all have experience with children of some kind and with this comes the willingness to extend themselves while working within the home. Au pairs attend orientation which gives them an introduction to our early childhood curriculum, and from here this knowledge is extended by our visiting programme managers once a month at visits, but also often weekly through playgroups and outings.

The key to what makes this so special is having an educator in the home. The child's home and this educator are supported by fully trained teachers who have a vested interest in achieving great learning outcomes for the children within these homes. Often our au pairs are writing learning stories that are as good as first year teachers from my own experience.

Families with international au pairs in New Zealand

Zoo trip with host families, au pairs, and children

What kind of orientation does Au Pair Link have in place for new au pairs?

Au pairs attend a three-day orientation upon arrival. This gives them an introduction to our culture, our curriculum, a basic driving instruction, and a St. John’s first aid course. They also have a orientation manual the take away. It is a lot of information, but we also ensure that programme managers follow up with our new au pairs for a visit within their first week. 

What are the requirements to be an au pair for Au Pair Link, and how do you go about verifying applicants?

The applicants have to have a certain amount of experience and hours experience (with references) to apply. We use partner agencies to help screen some of our overseas au pairs. We also have candidate managers within our team who also interview au pairs. All of our applicants are police checked also.

People dressed up for Halloween

Halloween 2014

You’re a mother of two girls, what would you look for in an ideal au pair?

I have been a host mother four times. I think it is a really personal preference depending on what your family culture is. We have the family attitude of “work hard, play hard,” so we have needed au pairs that understand this and are very motivated to support our girls during the week, and then they have the option to be part of our family during the weekend or go and do their own thing. We are family of seven now, it started off as four. We have one more au pair to join us, and then our girls will be old enough to support themselves after school. We have loved our experiences.

What has been your biggest achievement as Area Education Manager since joining the Au Pair Link team? 

I think for me it was gaining my role as area manager. I started off as the only programme manager in the Waikato, and now it has grown to three. I love that we are growing and that we are able to support a lot of rural families throughout the Central North Island.

What is the best part about working for Au Pair Link?

The people I work with. We have a very spread team, but we are a team. I also absolutely love the au pairs themselves. They are the most different concept to this teaching role and I can serve as a role model to them. It is great to see them bloom in front of you and go into the next stage of their life really ready for the challenge after leaving us.