‘I don’t agree with people who complain about the payment of au pairs’
New to the Parish: ‘I’m in no rush to move back’
Patricia García arrived from Spain in 2013. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Living in a dormitory packed with bunk beds was not exactly what Patricia García had envisioned when she decided to leave her job as au pair in Arklow and move to Dublin. Every morning for three weeks García carefully locked her belongings in her suitcase before creeping out of the crowded dorm room in her hostel on Bachelors Walk to catch a bus to work.
“It was such a mess. I had to be very silent and keep my luggage locked up. It was especially difficult for girls – imagine washing your hair with just one bathroom for everyone. I also got sick while I was there because the baby I was minding passed on the virus. But what could I do? I needed to stay there. It was an experience I would not like to repeat.”
García was waiting for her boyfriend to arrive in Dublin. She had spent the summer as an au pair in Arklow looking after three children but was not satisfied with her level of English so decided to relocate to the capital to improve her language skills. She convinced her boyfriend, who had just finished his degree in architecture in Madrid, to join her in Dublin in September 2013.
“When I came to Dublin by myself from Arklow with all my luggage on the bus, it was a big challenge. I’m generally not a shy person and not scared of going out but maybe because I wasn’t fluent in English it was more difficult.”
García says she was lucky to spend her first Irish summer working for a loving and welcoming family in Wicklow who treated her like a daughter. She adds that her pay of €100 per week was more than enough when all her expenses were already covered.
“I don’t agree with people who complain about the payment of au pairs. The only expense is going out with friends so I don’t really think it’s a bad salary. It’s different if the family makes you work too many hours or also makes you clean the house but my family was incredible. They took me on holidays with them and everything was paid for.
“If you’re lucky with your family as an au pair, it’s a great experience. You get to share your culture. But families need to know what having an au pair involves. It doesn’t mean she’s our worker. You need to treat her as part of the family. The same goes for the au pair, they need to be friendly too.”
Soon after García’s boyfriend arrived in Dublin the couple found an apartment in Rathmines. She had already found work as a childminder but soon discovered the children’s mother also expected her to clean the house. She built up all her courage and, using her broken English, reminded her new boss that the agreement had just been to provide childcare.
“She had never mentioned cleaning in the interview but after the third week of working there began asking ‘Can you clean, can you hoover, can you iron?’ It wasn’t easy having a conversation with her about it but I managed, somehow.”
García stayed with the family for four months before moving on to work with another family. Meanwhile, her boyfriend struggled to find work as an architect. The couple decided to wait until March 2014 to see if he could find employment before giving up and going back to Spain. In January, he found a job with an architecture firm.
García began attending language exchanges around the city centre to improve her English. While it was helpful in the beginning, it was rare she actually got the chance to talk with a native speaker.
“It’s been much easier to meet Spaniards, Italians and Portuguese here rather than Irish people. The Irish are very friendly but when it comes to meeting up with them on the weekend, they don’t offer for you to go out with their group.”
After a few years looking after children in Dublin, García began interviewing for jobs which were more related to her qualifications in journalism, communication and economics. Going through the interview process for jobs in finance and economics alongside native speakers was a daunting prospect.
“I hadn’t even done interviews in Spain after college so my first proper job interviews were through English. I had studied so hard to be fluent but also did a course to prepare you for interviews at the Spanish embassy.”
After one month of searching, García found a position in client management at a finance company. She realises how lucky she was to find work so quickly when speaking to friends back home in Madrid.
“Most of my friends back home don’t have proper jobs. They are working for really low salaries and have to live with their parents because they cannot even afford a room. Some of them would like to get married but with €300 a month that is not possible.”
Like most people who have moved to Ireland from abroad, García struggles with the Irish “summers”. She also misses being able to eat out for €10. “You need to plan how many days you can afford to go out per month here, it’s so expensive. In Spain even if you don’t have much money, you can still go out for tapas. We don’t have that option here.”
García and her boyfriend are planning to get married soon and will return home to the town of Guadalajara outside Madrid, where her family live, for the wedding. However, she says they will definitely be coming back to Ireland after the celebrations.
“In Spain when you finish your degree you have to do a lot of internships, probably unpaid, for two years. I didn’t go through that before I came here. Since the beginning I’ve had a good salary in Dublin but if I went back I would probably end up having to do an internship again. It would be like taking a step back.
“I only have two years of professional experience here in Ireland; that’s not enough to get a proper position in Madrid. As long as I’m happy here and I’m still young, I’m in no rush to move back.”