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Meeting your Match : A Q&A with a Cultural Care Au Pair

By Lindsay Pinchuk

In a previous post, we connected with Tami and Brett Conway, a host family living in Chicago with their three children ages. The Conway family opened up and shared their experiences as a host family through Cultural Care Au Pair. Today, we hear from their Mexican au pair Nandy Barajas who has been living with them for the past 10 months.

Interview by Marcie Wolbeck, Local Development Director, Cultural Care Au Pair
What do you like best about being an au pair?
Nandy: There are two things I especially love about being an au pair. First, being a part of someone else’s life and meeting people I would’ve never met if I wasn’t for this program. Seeing the kids grow is a privilege, witnessing their progress and knowing that I had something to do with it is amazing. On the other hand, moving to a different country and living your life according to their ways, sometimes familiar and sometimes completely foreign, makes this year the most enriching experience.
Why did you want to become an au pair?
Nandy:  I’ve always had this need to keep moving forward. After finishing college and working for a year, I decided it was time for a big change. I had heard about the the program and the thought of working, studying and traveling was too tempting. I already had years of experience babysitting and looking after my youngest brother, so it seemed to be the best choice.
What have you learned about American culture and families from your experience?
Nandy: The funny thing here is that every person in the planet that has a TV has a pretty clear idea of how the American culture works, how Americans think and act. I grew up watching TV shows and movies that portrayed American families and their so called American way of life. So of course, when I got off the plane I had this whole idea of Sunday BBQs, mindless shopping, cheeseburgers and hot dogs, sports fanaticism and unspoken wars with neighbors. Though most of the things did turn out to be cliches, I also discovered how loyal people are. When they care about something or someone, they’ll do anything in their power to make them happy, whether the person is a friend, a neighbor, a brother or an au pair. Americans are generous and they invest themselves in things they really care about. They are hardworking and have some pretty busy lives.
When your time is over, what will you miss most about your experience?
Nandy: The kids. They are my best friends and partners in crime. They make me lose my mind but they bring me joy too. I will miss my host parents, their advice and wisdom, whether if it is about where to eat next or important life decisions. Their experiences and opinions have become something I can count on. I will also miss Chicago, I fell in love with the city, it’s vibe and it’s people. Also, I think I’ll miss the snow, but not the cold.
What advice would you give to a family who is interested in hosting an au pair?
Nandy: Be ready to open your doors, but most importantly your hearts. Sometimes it is easy to just send a schedule, work the hours and forget that you live with someone else. But the best au pair/host family experiences I’ve heard of are those in which both really made an effort to get along and make the most out of this enriching experience. Ultimately, they ended having the best relationships too. When both care, it’s easy to find common ground, understand each other and, last, but not least, be fair. Remember that we leave everything behind so we can help your family, so we are more than ready to become another Smith, Jackson or, in my case, a Conway.
For a family that has never had an au pair, how is having an au pair different than having a babysitter or nanny? How is the bond different?
Nandy: Au pairs live with the host families so whenever we are needed, we are just a few steps away. This always comes in handy during emergencies but most importantly, it helps us become an active member of the family. After our work is done, we can still hang out with the kids or host parents. When the host kids see us every day, I think it makes it easier for them to understand that, like mummy and daddy, we too are the “boss”. But the great difference between au pairs and nannies is that we are from different countries and most of us speak a different native language than English. We have a lot to offer, not just childcare, but our own culture, language, experiences and traditions. In my case, this year during the Day of the Death celebration, we made an altar for our late dog, ate “pan de muerto” and I even had the chance to go to one of my host kids class to talk about this old Mexican tradition.
Can you describe how your relationship with the kids has evolved during your time with the Conway family?
Nandy: When I arrived there was both excitement to have a new au pair, but also a bit of resistance. The baby boy was loving and easy and the four year-old was just excited to have a new playmate. But for the oldest girl who doesn’t like change, the first weeks were a back and forth game between love and resistance. I realized that the only way to convince her that I meant well was by showing her all I had to offer. I helped with her homework, I listened to her and talked to her in a way we could both understand what the problem was and what was the best way to fix it.  But I think the trick was when I showed her kindness when she least expected it. Soon after she started asking me to be her playmate or she asked for my opinion. Today, I’ll just say that whenever I pick her up from school and pull over the car, I always see a smile on her face when she sees me. And as for the other kids, the boy is now my godson and I am one of the four-year-olds best friends.
What makes you feel like you are a part of the family?
Nandy: Last summer, we were all in the car going out for dinner. The four-year old girl was saying out loud the full names of all the family members: first mummy, then daddy, next hers, her sister and her baby brother. Then they asked my full name was, and after saying a long sentence of apparent nonsense, the four-year old corrected me saying that my name was Nandy Conway. Those little moments show me that I am part of the family. But to get to this point, we started with simple things like family dinners, asking me about my day or my family back home and inviting me to the girls’ school, etc.
Cultural Care Au Pair is the leading provider of intercultural childcare in the United States. Since 1989, Cultural Care Au Pair has placed more than 100,000 au pairs in welcoming American homes. A U.S. Department of State regulated program, Cultural Care Au Pair is headquartered in Cambridge, MA, with their own extensive network of recruitment, screening and orientation offices worldwide and more than 600 local coordinators across the U.S. For more information, visit  http://culturalcare.com/bcb or call  773-896-5040. Please note that Bump Club VIPS receive an additional discount. Please log in to the VIP page for further details.

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