Hi, Katharina from Vienna, Austria! You spent a year as an Au Pair in Princeton, New Jersey. How did that come about, and what’s the process a candidate has to go through to start working as an Au Pair overseas?
Since I wanted to take a gap year after high school and wasn't sure what I wanted to study in college later on, it was an easy decision to spend my gap year abroad. So I found out about various programs, including the Au Pair program. It had always been my dream to travel to America, and since I am very good with children, I thought an Au Pair year in the USA would be the perfect option for me.
To become an Au Pair, you have to meet certain requirements, such as being a certain age, having a good command of the English language, you have to own a driver's license, have a high school diploma, and most importantly, you need at least 200 hours of proven childcare experience. Part of the application, among other things, is a "host family letter". The letter is sent to host families as a way to introduce yourself, and for them to get a first impression of the candidate. In addition to a written introduction, you have to send in a short video in which you introduce yourself (while also demonstrating your language skills), along with some pictures and general contact details.
After the application has been filled out completely, you meet with a supervisor from the agency. During the interview, they decide whether or not you are a suitable candidate for a year as an Au Pair. After the supervisor gives their green light, your profile is finally activated online for host families to see. With that, the most exciting phase of the application process begins.
Host families can now contact you directly if they are interested in your profile. You email and video chat with the host families, and both sides then decide if it is a good fit or not. If both parties show mutual interest and agree to move forward, the family alerts the agency about finding their "match". As a last step, you need to apply for a visa and visit an American embassy for an interview. Once the visa has been approved and the agency has booked your flight, you are ready to go!
What were your tasks as an Au Pair?
Since my host children in Princeton were already relatively old (3 girls: 10, 15 and 16), my main task was to drive them to school or to sports activities, which usually took place in a town about 40 minutes away. I helped the youngest with her homework after school and played with her afterwards, or she did whatever she felt like doing by herself when she was done with her homework in the afternoon. I also had smaller household chores like grocery shopping, cooking, and doing the laundry. From time to time, I also ran small errands for the girls (like buying supplies for school, etc.).
Did you find it hard to adjust to American culture as a European?
You’re familiar with certain things about American culture from watching American TV shows and movies, so it wasn't completely foreign to me. I found it rather surprising because it was exactly the way I had always imagined it. Americans are super open, hospitable and love to throw parties and barbecues (Thanksgiving, Halloween, tailgating before games, etc.). They also love their country, which is hard to miss from the American flags decorating almost every house on some roads. But you just have to experience the American culture and the "American way of life" for yourself!
What experiences did you gain during your time in America? Did it change you in any way?
I only had good experiences during my time in America. Living with a foreign family and in a foreign country is an experience that I can only recommend, especially to high school graduates. You grow so much as a person, become more open and much more independent. My time in Princeton has definitely changed me, and for the better! For 13 whole months I had the opportunity to get to know a foreign country and its culture, and I wouldn't want to miss that experience. I met and grew close with so many wonderful people during my time there, people with whom I am still in touch today. I also really enjoyed working with children on a daily basis, which is why I decided to pursue a career as a teacher after my Au Pair year ended.
Did you have any negative experiences?
Apart from some initial homesickness, which subsided after the first few days, I did not have any negative experiences.
Would you recommend a gap year as an Au Pair to other high school or college graduates?
Yes, absolutely! I had the best year of my life in Princeton and can wholeheartedly recommend an Au Pair program to anyone who enjoys exploring other cultures and working with children. Before moving to Princeton, I had never even been to America before, but I quickly fell in love with the country and its people. The U.S. is so diverse and there is so much to see. American people are very open, super friendly, and laid back.
What advice would you give to prospective Au Pairs?
Enjoy every second of your time! The year goes by much faster than you think, so it's important to enjoy the time you have and take as many experiences in as you possibly can. Also, I would recommend putting a lot of time and effort into finding the right host family for you. Don't rush anything! Match with the host family that feels right. Because if your host family is a good match, then it is much more likely that you’ll enjoy every minute of your Au Pair year!