How to find South American/ Central American Au Pairs that fit our family’s style

by cv harquail on January 30, 2017

Hello Au Pair Moms!

I am in search of our 3rd au pair, perhaps someone from Central or Latin America.  We really loved the German Au Pair we had, and would love another just like her… but I’ve noticed the European Au Pairs are not as available.

latin-america-political-mapI live in Chicago, which has a large Hispanic population that should feel welcoming to an Hispanic Au pair.

We had a Columbian au pair, but we rematched within 3 months. There was dishonesty, a series of miscommunications, homesickness, and a little more emotional hand holding and neediness than I had expected.

So with that being said, I’m gun shy on South/Central American girls, even though I’m sure many are wonderful, they might not fit with our family’s style.

Other moms have experienced some of the same issues, and I know our independent and direct family style of communication may not blend well. But I may be wrong.

Any of you host mamas (and dads) have great South/Central girls? Any tips on questions or how to weed out the ones who may be super needy or too homesick? Should I look for ones from larger cities? Any specific countries where the girls may be more independent and want to really enjoy their time in America?

And as for reference, we live in Chicago and have a 3 and 1 year old. Set schedule with weekdays only, and pretty flexible. Laidback and liberal. Not a lot of extended family nearby so just us.

Appreciate any advice and insight!

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

VeneHM January 31, 2017 at 6:12 am

We’re generally happy with our Mexican au pair, who adores our kids, is honest, sweet and a good driver. As a Latina myself, I expect I’ll keep matching with au pairs from Latin America, not only because I want my kids to continue practicing Spanish but also because the cultural barriers are a lot easier to deal with for our family. I’ve discussed with my LCC, based on challenges we’ve encountered with our au pair, that some of the “traits” you mention are not too rare among some Au Pairs from Latin America, and are likely caused by the same cultural aspects that make them so desirable for our family: back home, girls often live with their parents well into their adulthood, and continue relying on their family to solve most of their problems, so you find yourself with an older Au pair that seems more immature and needy than many 18year olds; and because of their big families, and how close they are to them, and according to our LCC, because of how relatively close Latin America is, compared to other countries of origin for many au pairs, homesickness can be another big issue that according to my LCC appears more often in girls from Latin America. Finally, your comment on “direct style of communication” makes me smile, as I often have to translate between my husband’s “Midwest Candid English” and our Au Pair’s “Latino Gentle Indirect” to avoid hurt feelings or outright misunderstandings. I hope that knowing the “why” behind these “traits” might help you come up with relevant interview questions: understand the role of her parents in her life (tell me about the biggest decision you’ve made and how did you reach it, what role did your parents play in your career choice, how many times a day do you talk to your mom), whether or not she’s lived by herself or spent extended periods of time traveling away from her family, whether or not she has worked before and in what type of jobs, whether she’s ever been close to someone from a culture that’s a lot more direct in their communication than Latinos are, etc.
Best of luck!

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Anna January 31, 2017 at 6:36 am

You are wrong. I myself am European born and successfully hosted many Brazilian and some other Latin Au pairs with the qualities you seek.

Here are my tips: there is something magical about older girls from Sao Paulo city Brazil (city, not state). They are independen, hardworking, smart and overall wonderful, and great drivers. Look for someone who has worked full time or has worked and studied in college at the same time.

Another two tips that have served me well: personality test. CC uses DISC. I look for someone who has a combination of I and D or C and D. I avoid S and I require D as either primary or secondary. Now I am with GoAuPair and in their test it translates to a combo of Blue and Red or Yellow and Red.

And finally I look for someone who keeps herself busy. I always ask to describe their typical day weekday and weekend. If she says something like “I quit my job/school to wait for my American family” I skip. If she rises early, works, studies, goes to the gym, helps her family, socializes with friends – I am interested

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6TimeTexasHostMom January 31, 2017 at 9:34 am

Here here for older au pairs from Sao Paolo, as long as you really vet their driving experience (if that is important to you!). We’ve also had pretty good luck with Brazilian girls from other locations. There are many in the pool, and you may have several interviews to find the right onw!

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Taking a Computer Lunch January 31, 2017 at 9:40 pm

My first AP was from Sao Paolo. When I asked her how long she had been driving, her reply was, “I have owned a car for two years.” It was a true statement. However, we quickly learned that she purchased her license, and it took months to get her driving up to speed. At the time we had two babies, so we had a lot of free time (comparative to older children who might have swim lessons, Scouts, etc. to send two working parents in two different directions after school and on weekends). You can be assured that unless they grew up in the far south or in the mountains, most Latin American APs have absolutely no experience driving in snow. If you need a driver and live where it snows for 2-5 months of the year, then you’re going to be frustrated and so is she.

I loved hosting Brazilian APs when my kids were little – they were so supportive and loving. However, when it came time for my kids to learn self-help skills, they were not culturally prepared to push. And trying to impose Latina indirectness on me led to some epic communication failures.

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Anna February 1, 2017 at 1:19 pm

I believe it comes down to personality type, this is why I require dominant traits because I need assertive Au pairs. I have hosted six Brazilian Au pairs, and I am married to a Brazilian, so I assure you the ones I picked did an excellent job teaching my kids new skills that I required.

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Jennc January 31, 2017 at 7:22 am

I only host aupairs from south America, most Colombia … Bogota is a big city and you will find aupairs who are more independent, it is a craxy stressful place, Medellin is also very big city. I look for aupairs 23/24-26 with REAL jobs , ones who may have lived away from home, for colleg or to work. They are all very different though andcive had 3 now 4 aupairs from colombia, 1 from spain ( lazy) and one from Chile who left after 4 Months due to family financial crisis.

I now ask questiond about family home life , stability, because if the have problems at home this can wreck your year. I think an aupair who cones from stablecsupporting home is good, its just a balance. Aupairs need an outgoing personality, meaning they will leave house and meet up with supairs create friendship becausrvthat is the biggest way to combat homesickness! If they are engaged here they will have less issues. Avoid those with minimal social skils, Ones who ” i prefer to stay home” not go out… Whose sctivitiescare resding, library etc . Ones who dont care anout exervise… Exercise is another wAy they get out. If they have no interest in any outdoor activity i PASS.

Also i will touch on weather…. Chicago in my opinion has yuck weather a good part of year..,which can lead to some/blues/homesickness etc .. Many aupairs from
south america are coming from beautiful year roundcweather. Especially Medellin, perpetual spring. Bogota is colder, and Chile also has colder seasons. As well as ecuador.

Think about this too, i would think a German, european from colder areas will fair better in our colder cities..they are used to the psychological aspct of seasons cold and decreased sunlight . I truly believe in seasonal affectice disorder.
. But im sure some aupairs from South America / Latin America do well too. Hope this helps… Jen

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Mama of Four in VA January 31, 2017 at 10:15 am

We actually just parted ways with a German au pair who was immature, needy, emotional, dishonest, and a poor communicator. Of our six au pairs, four have been German. Two were excellent and two were terrible. We hosted one Brazilian au pair who was sweet with the kids but a bit sneaky with us. We are now hosting a lovely Peruvian au pair who is mature, responsible, and hard-working. This is all a long way of saying that a lot comes down to an individual au pair’s personality, so hang in there!

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oranje_mama January 31, 2017 at 10:20 am

We just went through the matching process for the 6th time. 5 successful matches, and 1 so-so that mutually ended early. All of our APs have been German. I also found this time round that the Germany pool was really small this time, and it was harder and took longer for us to find a match (granted, we’re looking for an April arrival date which is unpopular timing for Germans). I don’t know if this is a trend, or just an anomaly.

What I did this time was register & search with more than one agency at a time. Maybe something for you to try and find a European? This time we matched with an Austrian and are switching agencies.

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au pair January 31, 2017 at 10:35 am

Just because one latin girl wasn’t a good experience, it does not mean that we are the same. There are many countries in Latin America and you will find different girls depending on the country.

I felt bad when a family didn’t want to be with me because I am not European, they have defects too. We have things that they don’t have. For example, families tend to say that Europeans are better driving that latin american girls… but my question is, did you see us riding a car? Just because we haven’t driven in snow it means we are bad drivers?

I hope you find an amazing hispanic au pair. We are lovely, active,energetic and positive. We like to dance and we do no give up, or at least that is what my culture have taught me :)

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Susan January 31, 2017 at 3:01 pm

I’m also very direct in my communication style since I’m originally from New York and now live in Seattle. We have 3 kids, ages 12, 9, & 5. We are coming up on our 7th Au Pair and 6 of the 7 are from Latin America. Our first Au Pair was French and too rigid for our chaotic and noisy family. Since then, I try to get Latin American Au Pairs who are 24-26 and from families of at least 3 kids.

I have not had any problems with being a direct person with my Latin American Au Pairs, perhaps because I pick the older, more independent, and adventurous ones who speak up if they’re not happy with what I’m saying. I also communicate in a way that says we are a team raising the kids, that I will never put them down in front of the kids (even if I disagree with what they did), and that they are responsible for speaking up and telling me how we can improve as a team. We do have weekly meetings for a 1/2 hour before date nights for the first several months until we get into a good rhythm, then as needed.

We have had one Brazilian Au Pair, 3 from Colombian (2 Medellin, 1 Bogota), 1 Mexican, and another Brazilian (Sao Paulo) coming in a week. They have all been laid back, independent, responsible people who are all very dedicated to our family. There is a cultural difference between Medellin (the Paisas) and Bogota (the Rollas) that you can look up online, and we’ve discovered that Paisas are the better match for our family.

One person already commented on the weather in Chicago. We have similar issues in Seattle with all our rain and gray months. I have Au Pairs start in February since Spring is starting with all the flowers budding and scenting the air. Our Au Pairs are fascinated with the bare trees and watching the transformation to Spring as the days get longer. By the time it’s summer, they’re having a great time exploring the city and don’t get homesick. Then, when it’s disgusting here from late October to early January, they’re already in love with our family and feel content through the holidays even far from their own families. I used to have Au Pairs start in October. I’m pretty sure that contributed to homesickness and our 2 rematches.

For screening candidates, I start with age – 24 and up from a family of at least 3 kids I think that helps with being more independent, usually having some life experience, sometimes time living on their own or with roommates, and knowing how to share. I need a driver so I ask a lot of questions about their driving abilities. Our Brazilian was excellent, our Colombians a little crazy (in terms of no cop, no stop, and a noticeable decline in gas mileage for our van) and our Mexican very responsible. I think a lot of the differences were just in personality. No one had accidents but 1 Colombian did continue driving to her party destination after the emergency warning lights stated that our van was overheating – we had to replace the engine for $4500 and lecture her about actually speaking with us before driving on. She was upset that we weren’t more worried about her safety and well being breaking down on a highway, while we viewed her as a responsible adult who was borrowing our car. I think those are the situations where the cultural differences show. Her father would have cooed over her and we lectured. She is still my favorite though, so amazing with our kids that she was worth the additional cost!

I also look at their DISC profiles (we’re with Au Pair Care). I find that mid-range dominance candidates are best (around 10). My very opinionated Colombian was closer to 18 and although she was great and took initiative, she was a bit hard to live with. My current Mexican Au Pair scored closer to 2 and is so low on dominance, I have to tell her to do everything and that’s a bit annoying for me. She is so quiet and sweet though, the household crazy factor has tremendously decreased. I want someone with high steadiness which to me means they hang in there and remain dedicated and determined to work with my family even when my kids are difficult. I also prefer higher compliance so they don’t tend to get restless and bored with the boring, daily tasks of laundry, tidying up and kid meal prep. The most importance though for us are mid range dominance and high steadiness.

You mention dishonesty but perhaps it’s not so much dishonesty as trying not to hurt peoples’ feelings. I lived in Mexico for a summer and have traveled a lot in central and south america. I had a sense that although people in those countries really liked me and my energetic style, I wasn’t sure they were telling me the truth. As a brutally honest New Yorker who speaks my mind, I found that I had to watch my style on moving to Seattle so I didn’t shock everyone I came into contact with. I am drawn to other East Coasters or people from Chicago who have a similar direct communication style. My point is it might just be a cultural difference. If it’s dishonesty that has an impact on your kids’ safety, then it’s a concern. If they are trying to hide the truth about what they’re doing on the weekend, does it really matter?

So, we love our Latin American Au Pairs and are still in regular communication with all of them, even one who requested a rematch. They are a dedicated, loving bunch!

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NDakmom February 2, 2017 at 12:04 am

Susan thank you so much for your post. I am currently looking to match with our second au pair. My first au pair is from South Africa and lets just say I do not plan to ever host another South African au pair again. We continuously had personal hygiene issues, she does not clean properly, could not keep a vehicle clean, and the list goes on. I feels as I currently have another child in my house. She is good with the kids, but I am counting down until she leaves. I am very scared of getting a second au pair, but after reading your post I am once again motivated to start looking.

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Angel February 15, 2017 at 1:46 pm

@NDakmom I am South African and believe I have strong belief in cleanliness and generally most South African’s are very proud of their hygiene. The fact that your Au pair lacked basic hygiene skills does not mean all South African au pairs don’t clean up after themselves. I say this with the greatest respect but hygiene is not based on where you are from but rather on your personal upbringing because I myself was taught to clean my room as soon as I get up from my bed in the morning. The fact that you are generalizing is really insulting to South Africans and could also affect the possibilities of South African au pairs finding hosts.

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Amy-AP February 15, 2017 at 2:59 pm

One of my friends is an au pair from South Africa and she is nothing like how NDakMom is portraying South Africans. She’s very tidy, extremely organised and takes care of herself (she actually showers way more than I do) and works harder than most of the au pairs I know (myself included). We must always be careful not to generalize a country with millions of people and different cultures based on 1 South African you’ve come across. I’m sure your intention was just to share your experience but this rubbed me off the wrong way. Like Angel said, someone’s hygiene has nothing to do with where they’re from, you got someone who wasn’t exactly what you were looking for and next time you can try to screen for that. Au pairs from African countries already deal with a lot of stereotypes and insensitive comments/questions, it would suck if generalizations like this started circulating around in “host mom” circles.

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NDakmom February 15, 2017 at 5:05 pm

I completely apologize for the way it rubbed off. I had not intention in insulting any country or anyone. As a first time host mom you learn a lot. I am still learning a lot and will continue to do so. Again my apologies to anyone I offended.

TexasHM February 17, 2017 at 4:30 pm

NDakMom hang in there. Its hard on here because you can’t hear tone. Yes, you had a challenging situation and shared that YOU don’t plan to host from there again based on that experience (not uncommon for a first time host mom who has a sample size of one).

We had an Afrikaaner AP and loved loved loved her. She was a fantastic fit for our family and had great hygiene. ;) I mention this because there are I think 11 cultures in South Africa. It’s a very diverse country. Point being yes, we don’t want to stereotype a country but its even harder with South Africa because its like 11 countries in one! We personally prefer Afrikaaner culture and have considered a couple of English South Africans. But ultimately we don’t screen at all by country, we screen by criteria and look for the best possible fit for our family. We do tend to find that certain cultures tend to pop up repeatedly (fit us better) and others don’t and that is ok.

The net/net is you had a bad experience and now you have hope again – that’s great! This is an awesome resource I highly encourage you to grab a glass of wine and dig in here. It was a lifesaver for me. Learn each round, trust your gut and update your handbook and it works itself out and when you have the right fit, it is 100X better than any other scenario. Good luck!

AndBabyMakes5 February 1, 2017 at 10:19 am

First time HF this year that matched with an Colombian AP and have been very happy with our choice. It did take a few months for us to get into a routine. She came when baby was 4 weeks old and I was home on maternity leave still so that gave us more time to build trust and demonstrate our style of parenting so that she could do things in a parallel manner.

As newbie HPs, we didn’t have the matching process down to a science (or at least fine tuned machine), so we looked for general markers of maturity, ability to multitask, and general love of children. Things that scored high with me were candidates that (1) lived away from home and already worked a job; (2) were from a big city (our AP was living in Bogota, and did university in Medellin) and familiar with public transit since they would need to take our kids to activities by bus and (3) was a generally tidy person – since child care for three young kids often includes alot of cleaning up after meals, putting away the toys, washing bottles, etc.

I definitely wanted someone older. Our AP is not really interested in the party scene and more of an academic. She’s used most of her stipend and free time to work on improving her English, which is a great fit for us. I was nervous about having an AP that would be out partying alot – but that turned out to be a non-issue for us.

One of the difficulties has been the weather, we’re on Washington DC area, so we have swampy summers and cold-enough winters that the weather impacts our APs willingness to do outdoor activities with the kids. It took her awhile to build up stamina to go out in the humidity and the cold. However, this is just part of the “cultural experience” in my view. We didn’t talk too much about weather (which in hindsight I think is good, since she’s just adjusted), but might be something I’d inquiry about with our next AP.

As for communication style, we made it very clear we are direct and want to talk about issues as they arise. Even when we’ve had bumps (e.g., the 5 year old not listening, the 2 year old won’t use the potty, baby is hard to put down for a nap) it’s been important to address the issues on an ongoing basis and talk about solutions. This was discussed extensively in the matching process, and continues to be an ongoing process where we share information and challenges openly.

One of the huge benefits to our Colombian AP is her warmth. The children really love her and view her as a member of the family, even though she often doesn’t spend time outside of her work hours with us. We understand that care for young kids can really burn you out and that you need that “off” time to do your own thing, but the kids still love to invite her to play and join us for meals. Good luck and hope you find someone that will be a good fit for your family!

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NYMom February 1, 2017 at 12:11 pm

Our first au pair was from Argentina. I had problems with her because she wouldn’t follow rules and would be all day in her room while kids play alone in their own room. She wouldn’t do any activities with them and usedon’t over $50 in ez pass for personal travel within a month. The same day I told her she was responsible for those expenses, she asked for rematch (3 months with us). She was 22. Our second one just arrived, she is from Bogota, Colombia, very sweet, follow rules and great with kids. She is not a good cook, but I can live with that. She is 25 and registered in school within a week. Our first au pair was kind of a party girl, and requested the car often for overnight trips and also ask for weekends off in a regular basis. They were both Latinas, but totally different personalities. Our first au pair was spoiled, according to what she said, her family had a very good economic position back in her country, the second one is more middle class and lost her mom when she was a baby. I would say you will find good and bad apples any place you go.

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Alicia Paz February 2, 2017 at 2:13 am

We love out (first and thus far only) AP from Panama. I wanted independent and as a Latina myself I looked for the following; 21+, lived outside family home for a period of time, worked in a job other then childcare, from larger city, traveled, and outgoing. I find asking about how they make friends and if they are outgoing, like to think it rules out some of the homesick girls. I live in rainy PWN and am very clear on things in the interview about the weather and other PNW cultural things.

I ask but don’t consider it a rule out for having a boyfriend home, but I know reading other comments some avoid it thinking it may lead to homesickness.

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Dorsi February 2, 2017 at 12:39 pm

We have had 9 Au Pairs, 5 from South America. While all of the SA APs are obviously unique individuals, they had a lot in common – warm, physically affectionate with kids, hard working, poor with discipline boundaries. 3/5 have required significant help to drive safely. However, we loved each of them and they were the right APs for us at the time.

Things I look for: mother who works outside the home, job history (I want them to have worked an 8 hour day, several days in a row). I don’t select for driving or for much child care experience. Driving – I don’t think the experience transfers. Even young women from big cities (millions+) in Colombia are not getting experience driving on busy fast streets, yielding, merging, etc. Child Care – my sense is that most applicants are of a social class where there is not opportunity to really work long hours as a child care provider. No one has really had 10 hours with 3 kids. However, if they are a hard worker, reasonably open minded, and love kids, we can make it work.

We recently welcomed a new Au Pair – our first European in a long time. She is much better about discipline and boundaries with kids. I never have to chastise her for not being on time. However, we miss the physicality and the “sunnyness” that we had gotten used to.

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DMMom February 3, 2017 at 1:40 pm

We’ve hosted both German and Colombian Au Pairs. I find that the neediness generally goes by age and even our young German Au Pairs were more “needy” than a typical American of the same age. So I for sure would look to the upper end of the age bracket.

As for homesickness, finding someone who has been away at University is a plus, but also someone whos family is highly supportive of the program. I ask how do your mom and dad feel about it… If they say that they don’t agree or are so sad about them leaving, then the family will be more likely to pressure them to return. I found out that looking for someone from a large family to deal with our chaos backfired because she was used to being around 7 siblings her age plus friends and we just didn’t have that kind of social environment. That said my Colombian Au Pairs and very young German are much more likely to want to hangout and chat with me as a person, not about childcare. Also, they have been much more interested in taking family trips and going to events with us.

In general I have to agree with the others, generally German’s bring more discipline and structure and the Latina’s more sunshine and comfort. I think that if you honestly are looking for the discipline and structure then I would sign up with multiple agencies, broaden my pool and stick with the German culture that you know is a fit.

For us, we missed all the smiles and warmth in our home and it is now a lot more joyful with the Colombian Au Pair, just maybe not as organized…

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CO Host Mom February 14, 2017 at 12:23 pm

OP – you didn’t mention if driving was important to you. . . .

We live in Denver and driving is critical for us. For that reason, we concentrate on AP’s that have driven in snow. Even in Germany, not all AP’s have experience or comfort driving in snow. Knowing my luck, the first morning it snows would be the same morning I have an important meeting or other obligation where I can’t support the AP. Sadly, for this reason, we mainly focus on AP’s from Europe. Lack of experience or hesitation about driving in snow is a deal breaker for us.

Good luck in your search. I know it’s a stressful time. I’m sure you’ll make a great choice!

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