From an Au Pair mom.
We all know about au pair program’s components – childcare, cultural exchange, education. But one component that is not mentioned often, but has real impact on lives of countless people, is fostering international diplomacy one person at a time. Through personal experiences, and tales of personal experiences, american families, their friends and neighbors, au pairs and their families, friends and neighbors, forge personal relationships that have the power of bringing countries together.
The impact that an au pair experience can have in this global sense has to be emphasized in preparing both families and au pairs.Au pair‘s conduct during her year has the power to create a lasting impression of her country and her people.
This impression can be positive – I truly believe that if the first au pair hosting experience is positive for a family, it will make them believers in the program, and will keep the family inviting au pairs despite any subsequent setbacks they may have. These collective host family experiences create, fairly or not, positive stereotypes about au pairs from different countries – that South Americans are warm and loving, Germans are responsible and good drivers, Chinese au pairs strive academically and respect elders.
Being an international ambassador is also a heavy responsibility. It means that an au pair (and a family) has to think about their personal conduct as not only having to do best for themselves, but also of how it will reflect on their nation, their people and their religion.
Yes, for a young au pair freshly in love it is very tempting to decide that her life is what matters most, and leave the family before her commitment ends. But even if love can’t wait, the responsibility of being an international ambassador for her people dictates the necessity of giving the family enough notice to arrange her replacement. Eloping before completing the one year commitment will also add to the multitude of stories that au pairs from her part of the world are only here to snag a husband.
Yes, it can be tempting to stay in the country for a bit longer than the 30 day grace period after the end of the visa. But the au pair has to reflect that if enough of her compatriots stay illegally and break the visa regulations, it will become impossible for other girls from her country to obtain au pair visas in the future. It will also make American families reluctant to match with au pairs from her country, for fear that they are in the program for wrong reasons – to find a way to immigrate to America.
In the life of young adults away from home for a year, circumstances can change fast and can necessitate their departure from the program unexpectedly. A parent can have a health crisis half-world across, a unique educational or job opportunity can come up suddenly, or a Miss Universe crown can becon.
The most important thing to remember is that au pair’s actions, fairly or not, reflect on people of her country, and stories about her behavior, negative or positive, will outlive her tenure in US by years. Her name will be forgotten, but a story about “that German au pair” or “that Russian au pair” will be propagating. Any circumstance or situation that life throws at you can be handled with dignity and respect, keeping in mind that your actions affect countless others.