Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Stacey Kuyf. of One Travels Far.
I woke up and headed downstairs, hesitating at the doorway to the kitchen. Two kids eyed me warily.
“Hi guys” I said brightly. “How’s it going?”
There was no reply so I stood there awkwardly, waiting for their parents. I felt sweat gather on the back of my neck as I studied them. I hadn’t expected them to be so small. Weren’t four- and five-year olds supposed to be bigger? What if I lost them or something?
I had packed my bags and flown from my hometown in New Zealand to Chicago, Illinois to live with a family that I’d never met. I’d spoken to my host mum once, but I was ready to work as an Au Pair in America.
The Au Pair Program allows young women (and men) to live and work legally in America on a J1 visa for a year, and Au Pairs can then extend their visa for another six, nine or 12 months.
Are you considering being an Au Pair?
There are plenty of reasons heading from home and becoming an Au Pair can be a viable option for traveling.
Host parents pay Au Pairs up to $500 for them to go to college. Because it is a condition on the J1 visa and we have to complete six credits, hosts contribute to this requirement. You can literally do anything-like learning a language, or even taking surf and kayak lessons.
Au pairs are paid $200 USD a week, but we don’t pay for any expenses like rent or food. We also get at least two weeks’ vacation a year-more if our host families go away and don’t need/want us to go with them. We also have to have at least one full weekend off a month (I’m lucky enough to never work weekends). This gives us a great opportunity to explore the United States.
There are subsidized flights to America. One thing that appealed to me when I was thinking about applying was the subsidized flights. While you have to pay for program fees and insurance, knowing that the flight was almost free, and I’d be earning money almost as soon as I arrived definitely influenced my decision.
Au Pairs get to truly immerse themselves in the American culture. My favorite experiences? Being in town for Halloween, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July.
Getting another family. As an Au Pair, you grow close to your host family. They really do become like your little brothers and sisters and we’re there for all of their big moments-losing their first tooth, the first day of school, birthdays, holidays and everything else.
You’ll be surprised how quickly you can form friendships with people who speak another language, and come from a different country to you, and you’ll make some of the best friends of your life.
Is it worth it?
I really have had a rollercoaster of a time here, but I wouldn’t change a single moment for anything.
While it was challenging learning how to drive on the right side of the road (I crashed into a parked car two weeks after I arrived), I’m now a pro and I consider myself a bit of a legend when I drive on the highway. I was pretty disorganized before I did this program (mum was also still doing my laundry), and I can now get two kids fed, dressed, and ready for school in under an hour.
I was a slob before I got here but my host dads a neat freak, so I’m now a more considerate slob and I keep the mess to my room. I’m also much better with budgeting and saving my money to travel.
I can deal with tantrums and fistfights without screaming myself, and I’ve even perfected my “look of death” for when the kids misbehave in public.
While it’s definitely tough looking after kids (I now have so much more respect for parents), they really do brighten your day. Last Sunday I came into the kitchen, made some toast and sat beside my little girl. I was hung over, had a cold, and last nights eye-makeup was all over my face.
I grunted in her direction.
“You’re beautiful,” she said.
Since they’re too young to understand sarcasm, I knew she was being sincere. Sometimes kids just know what you need to hear.
I’m leaving my host family in six weeks, and it’s been hard trying to explain to the kids why I can’t stay forever. My little boy told me that I can look after his kids when he grows up so I never have to leave.
I don’t know how I’m going to say goodbye to my two little munchkins, and I’m going to miss them like crazy when I leave. If you’re thinking about being an Au Pair you should definitely do it. It has its ups and downs like any other job, but you’ll never regret taking the opportunity.