The pitch of her voice changes as she remembers arriving in the United States for the first time.
That was more than a year ago, but Guth's excitement is still palpable today.
Â“I wanted to see the American way of life Â— not just on TV,Â” she says. Â“You can't compare it, actually, because my hometown in Germany is so small compared to New York. Everything was so huge, so fast in New York.Â”
Natassia Tanaka, an au pair from Brazil with Au Pair in America, prepares ten-year-old Lucas Justen's backpack for a sleepover.
She explains that she made the decision to one day become an au pair when she was only 15. Guth is now 22 years old and on her second year as an au pair.
Like Guth, Natassia Tanaka has been trying to fulfill her dreams for years.
Â“I am trying to be an au pair since I was 18 years old,Â” says Tanaka, an au pair from Sao Paulo, Brazil who recently turned 27. Â“When I was 18, I felt that I wasn't prepared to live in the United States for a full year. Because of that, I lived in Sweden for three months to experience how it is to live abroad.Â”
Au pairs are recruited from all over the world by agencies like Au Pair in America and AuPairCare. They mainly range in age from 18 to 26. They come to the U.S. to improve their English and immerse themselves in American culture.
Â“Au pairs are young ladies who come to this country to take care of a host family's children and go to school, under the terms of their visa, while they are here,Â” explains Gail Catlin, a senior community counselor for Au Pair in America responsible for the New Haven area. Â“This is a cultural exchange Â— it's quite different from people just hiring child-care workers like a nanny.Â”
Both the au pairs and the host families need to go through an application and interview process to make sure that the program is a good fit for them. Agencies help facilitate the placement order valium.
Â“I help facilitate the matches,Â” says Brenna Lanigan, New Haven and Hartford area director for AuPairCare. Â“I do the in-home interviews with the families. I make sure that the girls will have an appropriate and private [living] space. It usually takes six weeks from the time of the match for the girls to arrive.Â”
Once a host family's application has been reviewed and accepted, they can access a database to search for the right au pair. The au pair and the family communicate via e-mail, phone or Skype several times.
Once a host family settles on an au pair, the au pair has the final say on whether she'll accept the family's offer or not. The agencies maintain contact with the young women and the host families throughout the process and during their time in the country.
Â“I was very diligent in my interviewing process, not only asking them about their child-care stuff, but asking them about their personal habits and being very honest about ours,Â” says Julia Doherty, of West Haven, a parent with Au Pair in America who previously had an au pair from Thailand and currently has one from Germany.
Â“I was very careful not to get people who would be partying, but would enjoy other types of activities. You are bringing a young person into your house that you are responsible for, so you want to send them home the same way you got them. My current au pair wants to get a tattoo and I keep telling her, 'Please, do it when you get home. I want to send you home the same way you got here,'Â” says Doherty with a laugh.
There are several requirements, based on state regulations, that need to be met by both the au pairs and host families. Au pairs can work no more than 45 hours per week and up to ten hours on a given day. They must have one full weekend off per month. They are required to take at least six college credits during their stay. The host families contribute to the cost of their education.
Â“They are not here to take care of pets, that's not really their job,Â” says Catlin. Â“They can't perform household chores unrelated to the children. We want them to be a family member and a team player, but we don't want them to be the housekeeper for the family Â— that's really outside of the scope of what this program is.Â”
Despite the requirements, the benefits of having an au pair outweigh any disadvantages.
Â“Day care is very expensive and having an au pair costs about the same as having a day care for me and it offered a lot of the conveniences that day care didn't,Â” explains Doherty. Â“So it took a lot of the stressors off of the whole morning rush and worrying about babysitters that are unreliable.Â”
She says the greatest challenge of having an au pair is the initial language barrier, but that improves quickly since the girls are in full immersion English.
Â“Our first au pair was from Thailand,Â” Doherty recalls. Â“She still comes to visit. She was wonderful, and when she came, my son was three. The au pair we have now is from Germany. She is also wonderful with my son, but her job is very different because my son is in school now.Â”
Chinese au pair Xiaojiao (May) Zheng (right), spends some time with Brenna Lanigan, AuPairCareÂ’s area director. Lanigan has played an important role in her life as she adjusted to American culture.
Doherty says that having an au pair has been Â“a very rich learning experienceÂ” both for her and son Gavin, now five years old. His au pairs have brought her son books and cultural artifacts from their home countries that he has brought to Â“Show and TellÂ” at school. Gavin has also learned some words in Thai and German.
Â“My son has loved both of our au pairs. They have their special things that they do together. Gavin is very proud of his au pairs. He likes to tell his friends at school about them and the different things from their countries,Â” says Doherty. Â“It's nice to get the cultural exposure. My son has this beach ball world globe that we got from Au Pair in America when we first started the program. We took a Sharpie marker and started circling where our au pairs have come from and where we have some family living.Â”
Monica Justen of Fairfield is Natassia Tanaka's host mom. She says that one of the reasons she and her husband wanted to have an au pair was to help their son Lucas maintain and improve his Portuguese language skills.
Â“Another advantage of this program over just the nanny thing is that we can take girls that have been through the university so they have a good level of culture and education,Â” Justen explains. Â“That is good to have around your child. Nate [Tanaka] loves to follow up on Lucas' progress and achievements. She is certainly very involved in his life and cheers for him Â— that's very good.Â”
The adjustment period for au pairs and their host families varies, but usually takes two to four weeks.
Â“Adjustment was pretty easy for us, I would say, but because [Tanaka] is very easy to get along with. She is responsible and helpful,Â” says Justen.
Tanaka says that although American culture is very different from Brazil as far as food, habits and greetings go, she has had an easy time adapting.
Â“I love my host family,Â” she says. Â“We really have a good relationship and I don't feel homesick because of that. They really want me to be a part of their family. I am also so glad about the friends that I made here and the church that I found the first week I was here.Â”
Even so, being away from home during holidays and special occasions can be difficult for the young women.
Â“Right now, I really do miss my mom because of the holidays,Â” says Tanaka. Â“You expect to be around your family during this season.Â”
Xiaojiao (May) Zheng, 23, is an au pair from China who lives in New Haven. Her host parents are professors at Yale University. She takes care of five children, although not all at the same time.
Zheng remembers her first days in America. She says that, at first, it was hard to adjust to the time difference, the food and the language.
Â“Food was the most different for me,Â” says Zheng. Â“In China, we usually eat some hot food. We don't eat a lot of cheese or stuff. Another thing is language Â— my listening skills are not so good and sometimes I feel worried to talk to the people. My host mom is Chinese so that really helped me a lot when I couldn't communicate very well. The older kids also helped me. They corrected my English.Â”
Zheng arrived in the country during the snowstorms of last winter.
Â“A whole two weeks, we had to stay in the house. It was very scary because the snow piled even higher than a car Â— it was the first time I saw that,Â” she recounts.
Attending college here was also very different from China.
Â“I went to a [Gateway] community college and what impressed me was different age people sitting in the same class,Â” says Zheng. Â“I think that here it's more free in the class. People can talk what you want, do what you want, and do a lot of activities. This is very different than the Chinese university.Â”
Her year is almost up now and Zheng will return home to China to finish college. She is excited about celebrating the spring festival with her family when she arrives, but says she will miss her American family and new friends.
Au pair counselors and area directors organize monthly Â“cluster meetingsÂ” to help the girls adjust to their new lives. These meetings give au pairs a chance to connect with one another.
Â“I am meeting girls from Sweden, Brazil, Germany Â— from everywhere,Â” says Guth. Â“It's really cool. I think I'll never get the chance again to meet so many people from so many different countries.Â”
Matches aren't always successful. Both au pairs and families can ask for a rematch. The reasons for a rematch can vary from lack of child-care skills to personality mismatches.
Â“I had a girl years ago who came from South Africa and was infant-qualified. She found out in the first month that it was just not going to work out for her,Â” explains Catlin, who has been working with au pairs and their host families for ten years. Â“She wasn't prepared to watch the child as intensely as she needed to and really got in over her head with a toddler that was always on the move. So she asked to rematch with older children.Â”
Personality differences can also play a role when a host family and an au pair are learning to live together.
Â“There might be some personality conflicts that can't be resolved very easily between the au pair and someone in the family Â— sometimes it happens with one of the host children,Â” says Catlin. Â“If an au pair is taking care, for instance, of a very headstrong nine-year-old girl and feels that it isn't going well. No one is stuck, there is always a choice. We try to mediate, but sometimes it's just not a good fit.Â”
Other issues that can arise may be as simple as the girls staying out too late, says Lanigan.
Â“It's always difficult if there's a conflict within a home, but it's my job to keep it smooth and remain neutral when I hear from both sides. I am here to protect the girls as well as the families,Â” she says.
Rematches are reviewed by the agencies to make sure both the au pair and the family are still a fit for the program.
Beth Hansel of Fairfield is a parent who recently joined the au pair program and had to go into rematch because her au pair was not a very good driver. With four children, it was very important for her to have the extra help shuttling the kids back and forth.
Â“With our first au pair, we knew it wasn't a good fit after two weeks Â— it wasn't quite clicking. She came in with an international driver's license. She was from Bolivia, and apparently the driving requirements are not as rigid there. When I put her behind the wheel, I was very concerned.Â”
So Hansel tried hiring their au pair private lessons from a driving school, but that wasn't enough.
Â“The driving school instructor told me, 'I would not put your children in the car with her under any circumstances,Â’ and that it would be quite a while before she was driving safely,Â” Hansel recalls. Â“ That drove our decision.Â”
The agency was able to place that au pair in a new home in Maryland where she doesn't need to drive. They also helped Hansel find her current au pair, Guth, a second-year au pair who was looking for a new host family.
Â“I wanted to see more families, how they live and to see different places,Â” says Guth. Â“I love the [Hansel] family. I feel so comfortable here. They are really nice and friendly and I feel like, really, a part of the family.Â”
Hansel explains that, as with anyone else, there is a lot of training in the beginning in terms of making sure the au pair knows how everything in the home works and where everything is.
Â“Selina is up to speed now,Â” Hansel says. Â“She knows how our household is run, and fits into it beautifully. She has made such a difference in our lives. It really frees up my time and my schedule immensely. We are able to live happier lives and sit down and have a meal together because of Selina. We are so grateful.Â”
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