One of the experiences that changed me the most was being an Au Pair in America. If you have never heard this phrase before, Au pair in French roughly translates to “part of the family”. It refers to a young foreigner (usually a girl) that lives with a host family for one year, provides childcare to the children of that home, and teaches them her language.
The purpose of Au pair programs is to create a cultural exchange, between the foreigner, and the family. In this way, she can learn or improve her skills in the language of the country where she arrived. The host family can also learn about the culture and traditions that the Au pair’s practices in her home country.
In my case, I chose the USA as my Au pair destination. I arrived in Boston the summer of 2014 in the home of a wonderful family. My year was full of great moments but also hard ones. All of them gave lessons that I still put in practice when I work on projects and in my everyday life. These are the main two lessons I learned:
Being an Au pair is not just about going to a different country to explore it and learn the language. It is also a real job that requires a lot of responsibility. Taking care of three kids is not easy, but I was determined to keep them safe all the time. I was so committed to my job that I developed a permanent alarm state; later I learned that moms and soldiers develop it too to detect danger while sleeping. I planned activities and routines that entertained and helped them to learn while I did other tasks that were part of my job at the same time.
-No job is too small:
Part of my job was to do the laundry of the kids, fold their clothes, organize their toys and prepare their food. Sometimes I wonder if it was worth it to do those chores for a year. What could I learn by folding t-shirts every morning? Was I wasting my time? Should I be studying a new college course about something interesting instead? I did not have answers to those questions at that moment, what I knew is that I had made a commitment and that I was not going to give up, even if part of my tasks were boring and did not make a lot of sense. I decided that I was going to enjoy every part of it, I put my earphones on and I started to sing while doing the chores. I needed to become a professional at cleaning, organizing and making peanut butter sandwiches, so I did. When doing the school homework with the kids, I planned games that they enjoyed and invented story tales for teaching them Spanish.
Being an Au pair was a thankless job in many ways, but from that experience, I now understand how important seemingly small jobs are and the importance of staying accountable to get them done.