Living the American dream
May 15, 2018
Living the American dream. That’s what au pair is all about, isn’t it? Au Pair is a program that the US government offers to foreigners from 18 to 26 years-old. The au pair, boy or girl, is going to be living with an American family while taking care of their kids. Studying is also a requirement for the program.
“The Au Pair program is an exchange program that usually girls come to the US to take care of children,” said Emma Smith who has been an au pair for about one year now and decided to extend for her second year with her family. “We stay in a host family house, the same that we take care of the children. They provide us a private bedroom, food, and $195.75 weekly payment. My host family pays me $200. We can work 10 hours a day and 45 hours a week on total and we have two weeks of paid vacation. I work around 20 hours a week when the kids are at school, but around 55 to 60 hours a week when they do not have school.”
Most people in this story were given different names to protect their privacy.
This adventure is not for everybody. Those boys and girls that come to the US seek for adventure, seek for a new life. They come from all around the world, Thailand, Brazil, Poland, Italy, Germany, South Africa and many others. But as life is full of surprises, facing them without the comfort of your home and loved ones, could turn things much more difficult.
A huge and complicated process before coming to the US is necessary. Although Au Pair is viewed as a cheap and easy exchange program, the au pairs have to pay not just the agency in their country, but the agency that they are going to be committed within the US, as well as their VISA and other documents that might be necessary.
“I always dreamed about living and studying abroad,” said Carol DeZotti, who was an au pair in 2017. “But I didn’t have the financial condition to make an exchange program that needs a lot of money. So, I remembered that I had a friend that went to live in New York and I asked her about what she had done to get there. She explained about the Au Pair program, she also added me to some groups on Facebook and gave me the names of some agencies. Suddenly, I was researching about this program and right after that, I was doing the interviews at the agencies. The good part is that I already had all the experiences with kids, my English was good enough, therefore I had all the requirements, so I just paid and went to the US.”
Expectations fulfill the future au pairs before coming here. The program is sold by the agencies to the future au pairs as a friendly study program, where they can develop their English and be a member of an American family.
“I hope this program is going to be an amazing experience for me so I can improve my English while taking care of kids, traveling as much as I can and also improve myself, as facing problems when alone,” said Victoria Neis, 21, a Civil Engineering student that is coming to the US to be an au pair in 2019.
Mariana Domingos has been an au pair for four months now and is very happy and satisfied with her experiences in the US.
“When I arrived, I was surprised to see how much my host family, and not only the parents but the grandparents too, consider me a part of their family,” said Domingos. “They are always trying to make me feel happy and welcome.”
The program has a good proposal and the au pairs enjoy their year -or two- with creativity and energy. Road trips, new friends from all over the world, always seeking new experiences. Their life is full of little crazy details like an unplanned trip.
Andrielly Ferreira has been an au pair for almost two years now and she doesn’t regret it. She is a rare case. Love can be seen in her eyes while she plays soccer with her boys or when she chooses a different color every day for the baby’s clothes.
“Every day is a different color or theme, today I chose pink,” said Ferreira.
Ferreira’s family has only good adjectives to describe her. They trust Ferreira with their eyes closed and she loves them with her heart open.
Although good testimonies can be heard from this interesting exchange program, nothing is perfect. We have to remember that human beings are the essential part of the program and humans fail. In this text, it’s going to be said what people don’t usually talk about. The reality that many, and mostly naive, boys and girls face.
Olivia Davis is an au pair that likes adventure. On Winter of 2017, she went skiing with her boyfriend, his cousin and his wife, and two friends. What was supposed to be fun turned into a nightmare. Davis fell and broke her leg. She went to the emergency room right after.
“At the hospital, they took an X-ray and the orthopedist told me that it was really bad and I had to go into surgery the next morning,” said Davis.
Davis was six hours from home. She didn’t want to go into surgery because she knows how expensive the bill after that would be and with the amount of money that she receives here from being an au pair would not be enough to cover. She called her host dad to tell the news and he got desperate, so as soon as she hangs up the phone, he called the counselor, the woman that takes care of the families and au pairs in their region.
“My counselor called me a few minutes after and the only thing that she told me was that she was sorry and she was already scheduling my flight to go back to my country,” said Davis.
Davis was already in tears when her host mom called her just to tell her how irresponsible she was.
Her friends convinced her to make the surgery as the orthopedist was suggesting. After the surgery, the orthopedist explained that she needed to rest and that she couldn’t travel because the blood would clot.
Calls after calls Davis was shocked. The people that were supposed to be helping her were turning their backs. When she talked again to her counselor, the counselor ignored that she wasn’t able to take the airplane and told her that she could travel if it was in the first class.
After all, her family waited for two months and a half so she could get better. But the au pair couldn’t live with them because her room was on the third floor. Gladly, her boyfriend took her to his house and took care of her during that time.
“My counselor, after seeing the situation, told me that I was in the US to be an au pair and not to live with my boyfriend,” said Davis.
Cultural shock is one of the huge problems to the girls that come to a new country. Smith came to the US in November 2016 and her experience as an au pair has not been easy. The family which she came to work for are hoarders. Every single space of the house is full of boxes, clothes, toys, and shoes. Everything they buy, they just put in a random corner, most specifically, on the floors. Smith likes everything neat, cleaned and organized. That was the way she grew up.
“The house that I live is dark, there are not many windows and the lights are not that bright. They never vacuum. They accumulate so many stuff that there is not even a way to clean up,” said Smith.
Before coming to the US to work as an au pair, the girls usually talk via email and Skype. When Smith talked with them they did not say how the house was and when she contacted the previous au pair, the word that she used was “disorganized”.
“But I would never imagine the way that the house was. It was a shock when I saw all of that mess and stuff accumulated everywhere,” said Smith. “Au pairs already suffer a cultural shock when they arrive because they are going to be living in another country, another culture, with a total strange family, but I was more shocked because I didn’t even know that it was possible for a person to live that way.”
Smith is claustrophobic.
Between the boxes, clothes and old toys on the floor, food can be found.
“They don’t buy just too much stuff but also too much food. They buy, for example, nine boxes of cereal, they won’t eat all of it and when it goes bad they will keep it in the house.”
A family that besides those problems is considered very nice. Bipolar thoughts. They helped Smith with her studies, they were supposed to help with just $500 but they paid more than $1,800. A family that gave her a car and always pays for the gas. But also a family that is so sloppy that she takes showers at the gym because of the dirty bathroom. She was depressed in the first months.
Smith extended with the family but she still suffers from the environment.
“My exchange program, in the beginning, was fabulous. I talked with 34 families in one month before going to the US and I’ve found the perfect one in New Jersey,” said DeZotti. “At least I thought they were perfect. In the middle of the program, they started to show to be different from what they told me they were. The family would never talk for more than ten minutes with me, they’d never ask me to have dinner with them. On the weekends they would go out and they never asked me to go with them. All the promises that they made vanished away. I would have a car for me to go out with the baby during work and during my time off too but this car never showed up. They told me that they didn’t have cameras to record me during work, but they had five cameras and these cameras were recording me during all my time off too. I was freaking out. Feeling like I was in a reality show.”
DeZotti really wanted to make things work out. Her desire was to be more part of the family as she would be living with them for about a year. She decided to invite them to have dinner with her. The invitations were made and dinner was almost ready. The couple got the baby and left the house. Confusion was in her mind. They didn’t come back before late at night. On that day she spoke with her family via Skype and decided that the best to do was change host families. Her next adventure was California.
“In California things were terrible,” said DeZotti. “The baby girl was just love but the boy, 4, had autism and the family hadn’t told me that before. I didn’t know how to take care of him, and also the house was very dirty. There was dirt all over the house.”
DeZotti had been through a lot already and her mind and body were asking for help. Depression was knocking at her door.
“So I decided to return home, to my place forever,” said DeZotti.
Some au pairs that come to the US have a great experience, but many of them also have a stressful reality.
According to Sandra Hockenbury, who wrote the book Psychology, any adjustments of behavior and lifestyle could cause stress. Also, people from different cultures living in their non-native country tend to have a high-stress level according to cross-cultural studies. This stressful experiences can lead to hundreds of physical and emotional problems as depression, memory loss, eating and sleeping disorders.
Gaining weight while in the program is very common between the au pairs. Ava Jones had a hard time in the two families that she worked for.
“In my first family, I worked more hours than I am supposed to,” said Jones. “During the first six months, I practically only worked and on weekends I would usually go out with my friends because I couldn’t stand being at home.”
Jones changed families after six months because of the number of hours she had been working.
“Changing is stressful and I ended up discounting my stress and anxiety on eating. I gained more than 20 pounds,” said Jones.
Camilla Delavalle was an au pair in 2014. Her experience in the US gave her not just memories but 44 pounds in the first three months. Delavalle developed panic attacks.
“I would feel a lot of fear, I couldn’t breathe and I would also cry uncontrollably,” said Delavalle. “Even when I came back home, I couldn’t sleep. I would scream while sleeping.”
A program that changed the lives of its people. Good and bad experiences that some people may forget its consequences, the law of the action and reaction. It’s not just a live-in childcare. It’s more complex than that. So complex that although most of the interviewees that were chosen to speak up and even had not been through great experiences – some of them still fighting against its consequences – recommend the program.
The program helped the au pairs to speak up by themselves, to live their lives always looking for a better view. Helped many of them to finally get out of their comfort zones and grow up. It is an experience that can be even unexplainable if you haven’t been through it.