Living with a host family and caring for their children is the perfect way to learn about American culture, and also a chance to share your culture with them. This is your chance for a real slice of life in the USA. Make a decision you’ll never regret — the adventure of a lifetime is waiting for you!
– from the official “Au-Pair In America” Website
When I first started to think about what should happen after graduation from high school, I was only 16. Being confronted with all those possebilites is actually super terrifying. Unlike my big sister I did not want to go to college immediately; I wanted my own special adventure – plus I didn’t know what to study. But I remembered one of my educationally required internships at an elementary school. That used to be fun, since all these small gremlins (aka children) used to look up to me, because I was older than them. Thinking of that, I signed up for different newsletters of Au-Pair organizations. Cultural Care, Aupairworld, Aupair worldwide and global Aupair just to mention a few. There were a lot of differences: Documents that were required, previous Experiences and application deposits. So in the end, I decided that i would go with Au-Pair In America (APIA), also known as AIFS (American Institute for Foreign Studies). My reasons were quite simple: the application fee was the cheapest among the ones that I looked at. My family has been struggeling with our household finances for quite a while, so I didn’t want to put any more pressure on the situation.
I won’t give an explation on how the whole application process works – there are way too many videos for that on youtube 🙂 So I got on my flight to New York City and spent about a week in a hotel near the city for a bootcamp-like training for Au-Pairs. And it all became clear to me, that this “incredible and amazing chance” isn’t always positive. To break the sweet bubble of reality: it isn’t always great and amazing, especially the things mentioned on websites are mostly sweettalk – it can be a possibility but it surely isn’t the reality for many Au-Pairs that I met during my year abroad. One reason for that is, that APIA is only doing the matching between host families and Au-Pairs, meaning that they care about the host family and the Au-Pair seperately. The ones that communicate directly with you and your Hostfam are the “Community Counselors”. And they are not trained persons or whatsoever. My last counselor used to do this as a 2nd job in part-time – so she didn’t care about it much.
I stayed in America in two states: Conneticut and Pennsylvania. Both states have their pros and cons, but my main reason to choose these states was the travel time to NYC … and the families of course! I stayed with my first family for about a month and a half but it didn’t work out well. I did not like the area I used to live in and got homesick very quickly, because the lifestyle of the family was so different than I was used to. During my rematch time I found my lovely second hostfamily that I quickly got super close with. It really depends on how you click with them the first time you meet them. Luckily I adapted to their daily routines really well and I decided to stay there for the rest of my exchange year. I’ve heard stories about Au-Pairs quitting, because they were so unhappy how the host family treats them and lives around them, so I worried quite a bit when I was in rematch – I did not want to quit and go home after all the time and money I spent on applying for this exchange. But there are always going to be some cultural misunderstandings or confrontations that you have to overcome. I was not used to have my phone with me 24/7 so I missed some calls that were important. Adjusting to these things can be hard, but the positive outcome is so rewarding, once you get used to it. You have to stand up for your mistakes, but still don’t be afraid to make them – that is one thing I really learned. I tend to take things (especially when they do not go the way I want them to) very personal. I am a perfectionist, but when you work with kids, not everything can be planned. In the end we learned from each other; about our point of view regarding diverse topics or just teaching each other new things we wouldn’t have been able to experience.
I can be happy to say that my cultural exchange year wasn’t one of my worst experiences. I am glad to be able to say that I have a second family in the world that I can call when my life isn’t going the way I planned. So in conclusion: I can only speak for myself when I say: being an Au-Pair isn’t that bad, but there is always a dark side where the light is shining bright.