Even though most of my readers will be from the au pair environment, I want to start with explaining the definition of au pair. “An au pair is a foreigner, working for and living as part of a host family. Typically, au pairs take on a share of the family’s responsibility for childcare. The au pairs are required to complete an educational component of six semester hours of academic credit or its equivalent.”
Part of the description is taken from Wikipedia, the best/easiest intellectual source if you put your goof off mood on. Now I am ready to share some thoughts, experiences and feelings.
Part 1: Istanbul, Turkey
I studied Translation and Interpreting in college and was working as a freelance translator/correspondent but guess what? I was still afraid of speaking English. I could not get away from that fear even after receiving my diploma. I kept repeating to myself “You are not a translator if you are afraid of English, you are not a good enough reporter if you do not speak and write advanced level English.” The truths of studying in a private college, being a daughter of an engineer and volunteer English teacher and having the biggest “self conscious awareness” a person can have, triggered me to search English programs in foreign countries. When I decided to leave Turkey I was not sure which direction I was going to follow and I had 4 bridges that needed to be crossed before leaving.
First bridge: 4 years of a good relationship!
Second bridge: Money! I was not a perfect student to get into foreign universities with scholarships and my mother had already spent too much money for my university. For this reason I did not want to be a burden anymore and was conscious about finding a low cost way to improve myself. Soon after doing a quick Google search I found out about the au pair program, which costs only 500 dollars plus my visa expenses.
Third bridge: Distance! After my father died, my mother dedicated herself to her kids even more than she was before. My typical Turkish, awesome, lovely and over-protective mother never wanted me to move too far away but she was OK with the idea of me going to England since it is only a 3.5 hour flight from Turkey. I went to au pair agencies with my mother and learned that England stopped giving out au pair visas to Turkish citizens. There was only one big option left, the United States of America!
Part 2: San Francisco Bay Area, CA
It was hard to convince my mother but here I am! I have been living in the US since September 2009! The first year I was an au pair and then I left to Turkey for 3 months to switch my visa to a student visa (I will write about my life as a student in San Francisco later but for now suffice it to say it was tough but worth a try). After getting my International Business and Broadcast Journalism certificates from City College of San Francisco I now have a one-year work permit since I finished my school.
Being an au pair:
If you truly love children and believe that their smart, creative and imaginative little brains are amazing, you can do this job. There is one important thing you need to remember! This is not just taking care of kids, this is learning and exchanging cultures, visiting new places, having friends from all over the world, enjoying life while educating yourself and discovering yourself while growing your character. You must learn from this journey as much as you can, not for someone else but for yourself.
First, I went to New York for a 4-day training session, which gave me a chance to meet with 150 au pairs from different countries. As soon as you enter the US, you realize that you are not alone and there are plenty of young girls like you and an agency behind you. There was only one unnecessary instruction that our trainers gave us in that training, for some reason I do not forget this:
“Hey girls, when you meet with your families for the first time and when you walk into their house mention how beautiful their house is and how much you appreciate the room you’ve been offered.”
If you want to savor living in different country with a different family and make this a productive experience, I recommend you do not pretend to be something you are not, be honest, do not be disrespectful but be open to new ideas and follow the rules. Know that even if it is not your cozy home with your own rules, you can make it fun for yourself.
I lived with a nice and super educated family and with their 3 amazingly bright and active boys. I was lucky because they had already visited and loved my country. With them I celebrated my first Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving plus I visited a pumpkin patch, had my first wine tasting in Napa and my first skiing practice in Lake Tahoe. They did not hesitate to come with me to the Turkish restaurants and festivals I recommended. This happened during the first few months of my arrival to the US in late September and it was like a dream. Learning the language and culture while living with a family was helping my translating and journalistic side a lot. I had lots of opportunities to observe things as I was experiencing them.
My host family had some rules about using their car and a curfew I had to follow. However, after we had built that mutual trust, the curfew was raised and they were very flexible. Of course there were times I felt home sick other times they would make me upset, but I learned not to take things personal and to be patient. After a short time I started to feel I was really part of the family and remembered that even in my own family I could have some conflict with my mom or sisterJ At the end, kids were like my little, cute and hyperactive brothers and host mom and dad were my super hospitable friends. I am so happy to know them and still have a great relationship with them. They will always be in my life and I am looking forward be a good host when they come to Turkey.
What I would recommend.
1- Do not force yourself into thinking that this is a hard job just enjoy being with the children and getting paid at the end of the week even if it is too little.
2- Even though you are taking English classes, find more classes that might fulfill your personal and career needs. Try to learn a third language like Spanish, French or Italian.
3- Do not be afraid of the family not liking you. You are not the only one who needs them they also need you.
4- Always find time to read to the kids, take them to the library and museums. You will realize it also helps better yourself.
5- Do not spend all your time partying, there is a lot to see and visit.
6- It is amazing to have friends from all over the world. Go to au pair meetings, hiking, riding bike, swimming, skiing, museums, and theaters!
7- Always be honest with your host family and share your doubts.
8- If you start doing something, try to finish it. Do not leave the family in the lurch.
9- Speak up for yourself but always be respectful and do not let anybody take advantage of your good intentions.
10- Know everything about your own culture. Once you start to live in a different country and to have many friends, they will want to know about your own people, culture, food, history, economy, politics, and even more. Be aware of your own country.
I know you are wondering what was the 4th bridge that I needed to cross.
Fourth bridge: The most beautiful bridge in the world called Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, which connects Europe and Asia. I hope you will get a chance to see this beauty at some point.