I’m getting close to the end of my time here in America now, and it’s a very bittersweet feeling. Of course it’s exciting thinking about my travel month, and working and traveling in Australia, but it’s definitely going to very hard to leave my kids and not be able to wake up to the Californian sun anymore. I always write about the bad side of the Au Pair life since I want people to know what to expect, however there are obviously some good points as well- otherwise I would have been on the first flight home a year and a half ago.
So here are (in no particular order) five reasons why you should be an Au Pair:
The incredible friends you make
The friends I made in Chicago became my brothers and sisters. We could go on road trips, fly somewhere new, or just sit around doing nothing, and we always had a great time. The last eighteen months have been a roller coaster, with some of the best and worst moments of my life, and my friends stuck by me for all of it, just as I did for them.
I never believed in fate until I came here, and it sounds cheesy, but I really do feel like we were all supposed to meet each other. We used to talk about how strange it was, that we could all grow up in different countries, and have nothing in common except a desire to travel and live in America, and yet we all got on so well.
When you’re looking into becoming an Au Pair in America, you get told that you’ll have a second family, and for the most part that’s true. But your host parents are still your bosses, and when you’ve had a crappy day, it’s nice to be able to complain about your bosses to someone who understands what it’s like.
I also know I have a place to stay in countries all around the world, and one day when I actually have a house, I’ll have a couch ready for my awesome foreign friends.
The chance to travel in North America
America is a big country, and it’s not really made for backpacker tourism, with far more hotels than youth hostels, average bus routes, and not many trains. Consequently, most tourist tend to visit a few cities on the East or West coast, and not much else, which is a shame because this country is so diverse and there’s so much to see.
By living here we have the chance to explore much more of the country than most people. Each state is so different and in the weekend we can take roadtrips to other states and cities. I’ve been here for eighteen months and when I leave I will have traveled through 15 states including a few from 2007. We also get to see much more of the cities we live in, and not just the tourist spots.
Sure there are some days (when the kids are grumpy and tired, or worse- wired up on sugar), that I question why I’ve even here. But the good days outweight the bad ones, and I get teary eyed when I think about leaving my host kids. Who would have thought I’d become so close to these two little munchkins? I get a lump in my throat every time one of them asks me why I can’t stay here for longer.
Sometimes Au Pairs spend more time with their kids than the host parents do, so it’s ineveitable that we’re going to bond with the kids, and even if the host parents parents are horrible, the kids make up for it.
We’re there when the kids lose their first tooth, get potty trained or finally out of pull-ups, ride their bikes without training wheels, hit their first home run, the first day of kindergarten, and for all of the birthdays and holidays. I completely underestimated how attatched I’d get to the kids, but at least I’ll be able to skype them when I leave.
Actually living in America
Let’s be honest-we all have stereotypes about Americans, and this program gives us the chance to see which ones are true. A lot of people just make it to LA or New York, and I wouldn’t say that the people who live in LA are a good representation of most Americans. I’ve found Americans to be very welcoming and friendly, and they’re always interested in finding out where we’re from.
By living here you get to go to house parties (yes they really do drink from those red cups), play beer pong, make friends with American girls, date American guys, as well as celebrating thanksgiving; Halloween; St Patricks day, and the 4th of July. I really feel that when we travel through a country we’re only seeing one layer of the people. And it’s not until you spend some time in line at the post office, hanging out in starbucks, watching sport and the news, and experiencing the holidays that you get to see more of the American culture.
Living here has helped me to understand so much more about politics, religion, the war, and Americans in general and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunites I’ve been given here. And let’s face it: living in America has also given me a greater appreciation for New Zealand and its public healthcare, lack of homeless people, and much more reasonable college costs (with interest-free student loans).
The opportunity to really grow as a person
This experience has taught me so much about who I am, and I’ve learned that I’m much stronger than I thought. It takes guts to talk to people on the phone and then decide to move to the other side of the world and live with them. The reality of this program is that if you want to be treated like an adult you have to stand up for yourself. Living here has forced me to be even more independant than when I was living alone-I can’t borrow $20 from mum three days before pay day, and I have to look after myself when I’m sick. Of course my host parents are here, but they’re not my parents, so I feel weird even asking to be paid early. I’ve had to learn to budget so that I could do all my traveling, and while I’m still learning, I’m now much better at saving.
Being an Au Pair also forces you to be far more social. I’ve always found it easy to make friends, but when I moved from Chicago to San Diego I was in for a shock-there are hardly any Au Pairs here and they already had their group and weren’t interested in meeting anyone else. So I made friends with new Au Pairs that arrived, but it was still a tough few months, especially compared to Chicago where I was welcomed and had friends after a week. If you get here and don’t make an effort to meet people, then you’re in for a lonely year.
I’ve also become a much more tolerant person. When you’re hanging out with people from all over the world, you’re going to have a few differences of opinion. I remember having a heated discussion with a couple of girls about birth control when I first arrived, and I was also shocked when a couple of South African girls told me that even at their age if they speak back to their parents they can expect a slap in the face. I’m not proud of my reaction to that, and I’ve since learned to nod and shut my mouth.