Huntington native Wright not quite Mary Poppins, but finds au pair work to her liking

Madison Wright, a Huntington native, recently spent nine weeks in Madrid, Spain, as an au pair. While visiting, she took a day trip to Salamanca, a city two hours west of Madrid.
Madison Wright, a Huntington native, recently spent nine weeks in Madrid, Spain, as an au pair. While visiting, she took a day trip to Salamanca, a city two hours west of Madrid. Photo provided.

Originally published Nov. 26, 2012.

She may not be Mary Poppins, but she is on her way.

Madison Wright, a Huntington native, has just finished her first stint abroad working as an au pair in Madrid, Spain.

Au pair, a French term, means "on a par" or "equal to" and is used throughout European countries to describe a domestic assistant from a foreign country.

The concept originated after World War II and has been offering young American women the opportunity to live overseas for more than 70 years.

Wright, a 2010 Huntington North High School graduate, used the website to apply for her au pair job.

The idea came to her after she spent two years at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville studying elementary education.

"I wasn't 100 percent sure it was what I wanted to be doing," she says.

So she came home to Huntington to live with her parents and considered attending Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne in the fall of 2012.

As she was looking for a summer job, she says, "I had a random thought to become a nanny in a different state just for the summer." That thought, and a lot of searching, led her to Spain.

"As long as I can remember, I've wanted to do things my own way, in my own time," she says.

"I've always been adventurous and have always been fascinated with Spain."

Wright left for Spain on Aug. 31 and returned home nine weeks later.

She says she was "going in blind" when she left for Spain.

She says she was "nervous" and "had no idea what to expect."

Yet, she notes, "Once I was there, it was so exciting."

When she arrived, her host family was away.

"I had to maneuver my way around Madrid by myself for the first couple of days, but I did just fine," she says.
Wright lived with a family of five - a mother, father and three children.

She was responsible for helping the mother, Gema, and their children learn English. She was also expected to pick the children up from school and take them to their swimming lessons.

"Everything is so much later in Spain," she points out as she describes a typical day working as an au pair with her host family,

"I woke up at 10 a.m. every day ... then I had to study English with the mother an hour or hour and a half," she says. "We didn't eat lunch until 2:30 or 3 p.m.

"I had to pick up the kids from school at 4 p.m. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I had to take the oldest child, 10-year-old Aida, and the youngest, 3-year-old Julio, to their swimming lessons right after school.

"I had to take the middle child, 8-year-old Gema, to her synchronized swimming practice every day at 6:30 p.m. I would study English with her before we left, and then the older girl right when I got back.

"The youngest was 3, so we studied English by learning the colors or counting.

"Julio would eat dinner at 8:30 p.m. and he would be put to bed at 9 p.m. The girls and I wouldn't eat dinner until after Gema got home from synchronized swimming at 9 p.m. or sometimes later. And they would go to bed at 10."

"It was not easy" to teach English to the family, she says. Wright did not have any formal training, which she says was "frustrating."

"Gema wanted to know why she should say ‘are' instead of ‘is' and what a superlative adjective or reflexive pronoun was. I didn't know the answers to her questions most of the time, and it was very frustrating for the both of us," she recalls.

"I was there more to teach English than to be their nanny, but it was a great experience and I wouldn't trade it for the world."

Wright says the mother didn't want her to speak Spanish to herself or her children, but the father did not speak English so she could, she says, "practice my Spanish on him."

Of her relationship with the family, she says, "The mother treated me like her fourth child, and the two girls treated me like their older sister. We fought like siblings, and loved like siblings.

"They included me in everything they did, and I really felt like part of the family."

Wright says the biggest difference between Spanish and American culture is "no one is in a hurry" in Spain.

"The Spanish are on their schedule and no one else's," Wright says. "The mother would say, ‘Meet me here at 4:45.' She wouldn't get there until 5:20."

Other notable differences, Wright says, include eating fruit for dessert rather than sweets and the tendency for most people to consume alcohol "casually on a Tuesday afternoon."

Wright says she helped herself adapt by "immersing myself in the culture, and just enjoying my little time there.

"I was eager to learn about the Spanish culture just as much as the family was eager to learn about American culture."

Wright also had some American friends in Madrid.

She says Geovisions connects all of its au pairs, tutors or volunteers in a group, allowing them to contact each other. Another friend was the au pair of Wright's host mother's best friend.

Wright says she can see herself being friends with those young ladies "for a long time."

She traveled to Salamanca - a city two hours west of Madrid - with one of those friends.

"It was a very beautiful and historic city," she says, "It was very much the picturesque Spain that you would imagine."

Wright returned home in mid-November, and she says, "It was culture shock all over again."

She says she still catches herself saying "euros" instead of "dollars."

She also says it is strange to be around all English speakers again.

"For weeks I was surrounded by Spanish chatter, so it was nice to be able to understand what people were saying again," she says.

Wright is currently looking for a nanny position in Chicago, to where she is in the process of relocating.