My name is Alessandra Chimienti, I’m from Italy, and I was an au pair for two years. I enrolled in the Au Pair in America program in late 2013, found a wonderful family in Oakland, and left in February 2014. My journey in America has been very challenging, but also very rewarding. I did not speak English well when I arrived to the States four years ago. It was tough to get accustomed to the American life, the new language, the new family, and the new culture.
For the first six months I didn’t go out much because I had troubles understanding people and communicating with them. I felt incredibly lonely and I missed my family and my country. Due to the language barrier, during these months my host family had to write my chores on pieces of paper, so that I could make sure I understood them. My boyfriend at that time broke up with me because of the long distance relationship. I started to think that America wasn’t my place, and that maybe I should have gone back home. However, I didn’t let these obstacles bring me down. I understood that the struggles I was facing were also part of the experience and I kept going.
TIME TO TAKE ACTION
I started to take intensive English classes, I watched Netflix shows with subtitles (yes, Netflix. You would be surprised of how much it helped!), I made friends, started going out more…and I slowly learnt. My Community Counsellor, Suzanne Lehman, was a great resource to me. She put me in contact with so many people and she supported my whole journey. I’m still in contact with her and I give her updates about my life here and then. I am very grateful to her for supporting me when I needed it.
FINDING A NEW FAMILY ❤️
Throughout the years, the program gifted me in so many ways. To begin with, it gifted me with another family. I have always thought that family is the one you were born in, but that is not necessarily true. You can be part of many families in a lifetime and create bonds that last for years. Family is made of people who accept you, support you, and are there for you.
The Kammens were exactly that to me, my own “American family”. They welcomed me and supported me. I have always seen them and their strong relationship as a goal to reach in the future. They were a role model and an inspiration to me throughout the years. Dele and Dan, my host parents, were there every time I needed a mom and a dad and mine were far away. They accepted me and treated me as one of them from the beginning. They came to my graduation, to my wedding, and are always there for all the major events of my life. They are a blessing to me and I would have never met them, if it wasn’t for the program.
IT’S NOT AN EASY RIDE
Being an Au Pair is not always easy. It can be hard to show up in the life of people you have never met before and learn how to be useful, discrete, and respectful at the same time. You have to slowly get to know them, giving them the chance to know you at the same time. Most host families already had multiple Au Pairs during the years. Sometimes the kids aren’t so happy to have a new stranger around. So the process of getting accustomed to the new family and vice versa often takes quite a while. However, with some perseverance and determination, you can build a wonderful bond that will probably last forever. Our beginning wasn’t necessarily easy, but we made it work. I see my host kids Lara and Sade, who are now two beautiful young ladies, as my little sisters. I saw them growing up and I know that, no matter how far from them I might be, they will be part of my life forever.
FRIENDS ARE THE FAMILY YOU CHOOSE FOR YOURSELF
The program also gifted me with friends. I met other au pairs and wonderful people from all over the world who shared a lot of my struggles and my dreams. I learnt about different cultures, different languages, and I even met my best friend in the process. I became a volunteer for the Oakland Unified School District, which gave me the chance to learn English better and to be a mentor and a tutor for a lot of kids. By being a volunteer I met Sue, an incredible elementary teacher who immediately became a close friend and with whom I still have a strong bond. I also met the Coté family, the parents of Camille, a delightful young girl who I tutored for two years. I have a beautiful relationship with them and I care about them a lot. It is amazing how people sometimes can make the difference in your life.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT…
When my two years in the program where over, I decided to apply to College. Following lessons and taking exams in English wasn’t easy. But I am so happy to say that, despite the initial language barrier and all the challenges I have faced throughout my experience at Merritt College, I graduated this past 23rd of May with three associates degrees in Business and three certificates. I obtained an AA in Accounting, an AA in Business Administration, and an AA in Business General, a CA in Accounting, a CA in Business Management, and a CP in Small Business Management, all with a 4.0 GPA.
Given my academic results, I received the incredible honor of being chosen to be the Valedictorian for both Merritt College and for the International Students Community of Peralta. I gave the Valedictorian speech for the International Students community at Berkeley City College and the Valedictorian speech for Merritt during the Commencement Ceremony. At the ceremony there were more than 3000 people, and I was standing in front of them talking with my thick Italian accent (yes, still very thick!), enjoying the happiness of my journey.
From Au Pair with little English, to College Valedictorian. I would have NEVER said any of this could happen, but I know it all started because I decided to become an Au Pair. You can see my Valedictorian speech here.
THANK YOU AU PAIR IN AMERICA!!
I am extremely grateful to Au Pair in America, because it provided me with a strong support system and it changed my life. When I look back to four years ago, everything started with the decision to apply to this program and to have an adventure, which turned out being a new life for me.
My mom suggested to me this program, and I am so glad she did. Her, my uncle Roberto, and my aunt Stefania kept telling me that it would have been a good idea to see the world and travel. They always believed I had all I needed to start this kind of adventure. They are part of the reason why I am here today because I believed them and found out, four years later, that I did have what I needed: determination.
While I was in the program I saw incredible places, I went to states I only dreamt about before becoming an Au Pair. I maturated, becoming the woman I am today. And I found out so much about myself that I didn’t know before. I found out that I was stronger than I thought and that you can achieve pretty much anything and become whoever you want to be, if you work really hard.
CREATING A COMMUNITY ❤️
During my journey as an Au Pair I experienced how hard it can be for people to leave everything behind and begin a new life, even for just a year. It can be scary to find yourself in a different culture and place, missing your own. For this exact reason, I decided to create a support network for people who, like me, left Italy and came to California. The group is called Pugliesi in California, it started with only 2 members in 2015, and counts over 160 members today.
I use the group to create and organize events that bring together different people and different cultures and to help some of these people feel “at home” even if they are on the other side of the world. At the same time, I try to build a strong community based on integration and on the transmission of Italian traditions. I share some of the Italian culture with those Americans who have an interest in discovering my beautiful country. 🇮🇹
IT ALL STARTED WITH BEING AN AU PAIR
I wanted to share my journey with you because I know that it all started with being an Au Pair. Sometimes I wish I had known all the wonderful things that could have happened before leaving. It would have made my decision easier and, maybe, I would have left earlier. Don’t be scared of the unknown, but if you do, accept it because it’s normal. Accept the fear and the doubts as part of the deal, they will contribute to your journey as well.
I try to tell my story to anybody who is thinking about leaving their country and starting this adventure. I hope to be the push they need. If you are the kind of person who likes to travel and who likes changes, living abroad for a while is a good decision. You can always go back, at any time, to your life. Or you can create a new one, or you can even just improve the one you have with a great adventure.
Being an Au Pair is not just “being a nanny”, as often people think. It is SO much more than that. If you do decide to leave, don’t spend the whole time in the house, watching TV. Travel, discover, meet…live. Being an Au Pair is an exchange, a growth, a journey. If you play your cards well, you will feel alive like you have never felt before.
You leave full of doubts and uncertainties and you find yourself during the journey. You learn and you grow, and if you really invest yourself in this experience, what you can get out of it is priceless. In my case, what I got out of it, was the real me I was looking for.