How Does Your Au Pair Grow?

by cv harquail on January 17, 2010

Truly one of the joys of being a host parent is watching your au pair blossom as a citizen of the world and as as a person. I look back in hindsight now and wish that for each of our au pairs, I had written them a note at the start of their year to give them at the end, just so I could document for them and for myself how much they had grown.

201001172004.jpgI was thinking about this last week when we here at AuPairMom got an email from a young (American) woman who wanted some advice about whether an au pair year would be a good thing…

I just ran across your blog and I love it! Its really great to see things from the mother’s perspective. Currently Im considering being an Au Pair, basically everything is set up for me to travel to Istanbul, now I just have to decide if it is the right decision for me.

I love children, I am a part time nanny for my 3 year old nephew, so I am confident I would be a great Au Pair. I am worried though, because I do not know any Turkish, and would not be taking language classes there. I am going to study up on the language before hand.

Basically, I was wondering if you had an opinion on whether taking a year off of college to be an Au Pair is really worth it. The family I would be living with sounds wonderful and Istanbul would be an amazing place to live for a year. With your experience, did your Au Pairs like their time abroad, did they think it was a good decision for them?

Any advice would be wonderful.

_g_images_spaceball.gifHost parents, how have you seen your au pairs blossom over their year with your family? How did they grow?

© Photo used with permission of the artist: “Watch out world, my daughters are growing up” from SarahWV on Flickr

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Sara Duke January 17, 2010 at 9:57 pm

It has been wonderful for me to see my au pairs blossom as young woman. As someone who went to live in another country alone (albeit one where we shared the common language of English), I know how difficult it is to put yourself out there but also how liberating it is. Each au pair has gotten to know herself as much as she has gotten to know our country. So far, 3 of the 5 au pairs have returned to their native country (the first has stayed and the fifth is still our au pair).

I recently wrote a letter of recommendation for the au pair who most recently returned home. In my letter I talked about the things she asked of me (the particulars of caring for my special needs child so that prospective employers would know what a careful person she is), but then I extended it to items she had not asked, but which I thought would help employers know how well rounded she is. I wrote of her friendships with other au pairs (including social “geeks” who were ostracized by others), her willing participation in the cluster meetings and social action events, her willingness to meet the education requirement, her friendship with our family – including extended family, and what I witnessed of the special relationship she had with her own parents and sister. She wrote to me that she cried when she read the letter.

My second au pair came with the stated intention of never going to university. During the course of her year with us, both my husband I gently prodded her to broaden her horizons and examine her interests. She is now in her second year of her university degree in Europe and we couldn’t be prouded.

My third au pair returned home and recently completed her BA and is now a professional in her field, while still pursuing personal interests in pubic performance. I couldn’t be prouder.

As my husband (who lived in the Soviet Union for a year) and I well know, it takes an adventurous person to get on a plane by themselves and go live in another country for a year (even if one doesn’t take full advantage of it). You will be a different person at the year’s end, and if you live your life well (and believe me, I fully think that includes partying), your entire life will be richer for the experience. It will help you decide who you are as a person, more than a graduate program, boyfriend, or parent could ever do.

I have loved watching my au pairs blossom, take chances, and mature (even if I haven’t agreed with all their choices.)

HM in WI January 17, 2010 at 11:14 pm

What a great question! This is something that I look back on fondly when I think of my au pairs. One of my favorite things about one of my APs is that before she came to the US one of her high school teachers said to her, “You?! You’re going to be an au pair? You’re too quiet and shy to do that!” Boy did she prove him wrong! She was quiet and shy when she arrived, but by the end of her year with us, she had grown into this beautifully independent young woman who exuded confidence. It was truly a joy to watch this transformation!

I wish that more Americans could participate in such a program!

Emma January 18, 2010 at 3:10 pm

It is so, so worth it! In the middle of my degree I put university aside to go to Denmark from the US to be an Au Pair, not knowing any Danish or really having any solid reason for choosing that country over others. I’m so glad I did. My HF is amazing and I’ve grown so much since coming here. In six months I’ve traveled with my HF, with a friend or friends, and by myself to new cities and small towns etc. I did sign up for language classes but I learned so much more from the children I watched (who don’t speak any English.) I’ve had opportunities to explore interests I didn’t have time for while attending university full-time, and doing so has helped me better define what it is I want to do with my life, and has also helped make my dreams (all of them) seem so much more attainable. If you have the opportunity to go, go.

franzi January 18, 2010 at 4:09 pm

being an AP for one year will provide you with some of the best and most difficult moments in your life.
i very vividly remember how i said good bye to my family at the airport and had to walk through security all by myself. i felt so alone and really questioned the whole plan of wanting to be away from everything i knew for a year. i felt selfish, i felt stupid, i was mortified of flying to a country that i didn’t know at all (aside from the tv shows).

looking back, i realize every day how much this year helped me to grow and discover my talents. everyday i am dealing with young people who did not take some time to discover the world (and themselves for that matter) – i work at a university. they remind me of myself back then. if you find out this is not for you then you can always go back home. that is absolutely ok! but you cannot make up for the chance you never took because you weren’t able to take that last leap of faith (into your abilities, your strength, and your personality).

i now see my host kids grow up and i sincerely wish that they take the time to travel the world. not just as “the american” who is looking for the nearest mcD wherever they are but as an individual who wants to get a glimpse of the world outside their comfort zone.

and by the way, istanbul is a great location to spend one year abroad! go for it!

Ann from NE January 18, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Every person should have a year abroad while they are young – for me it was a gap year at a European high school before starting college in the US – and the structure of an AP program, even if the Turkish program may not be exactly what it is in the US, offers a unique way to do so. The AP experience mixes elements of a lot of things: new country / culture / often language; some academic exposure via courses; travel opportunities; social opportunities. But the living with and working for the family aspect makes it more intense and personal; it can go either way but when it goes well I think the AP really learns about the daily life and concerns of working parents; and of course you can’t beat the childraising experience which may help you when you start your own family. And I think there is the potential for a lifelong connection with the child and family even after you leave.

TX Mom January 19, 2010 at 2:22 pm

I wear a silent smile when I watch our AP’s take on the role of “senior AP.” They welcome the new AP’s, organize social activities and mentor other AP’s. There is a support network of people in similar experiences.

On the flip side, I also enjoy when our AP’s form friendships with Americans their age. Then I know they are really immersed in the culture. It may take a few months but is well worth the effort.

Allison January 27, 2010 at 4:05 am

How I wish I have this golden opportunity and return to this post the next year to tell about my experience and what I’ve discovered changed in me from this one year living with an American family. A few months more to go before I turn 27. That’s sad…

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