Katrin had done the Au Pair in America program back in 1998 and now, 25 years later, she will be returning to her old Host Family for a big reunion event! Host mom, Jennifer Davis, will be hosting an event for all of her former au pairs (10 in total) which will be a celebration of the American dream, as well as Jennifer and her husband Dan’s journey to success with their business. Jennifer Davis will also be receiving the ‘APIA Cultural Ambassador Award’ during this event, and found it important that her former au pairs join her during this time to be part of the celebration, due to their unwavering support and assistance during the early years of building their business.
On the lead up to this event, we’re looking back 25 years ago at former au pair Katrin’s program experience. What was it like to be an au pair in the 90’s? Katrin tells us about her time on the program, and why she’s thankful that she made that choice so long ago.
Katrin’s Story – Being an Au Pair in the 90’s
My name’s Katrin, and in August 2023 it will be 25 years ago that I boarded the plane to the au pair in America orientation in New York. I have been in an airplane before but being in an airplane on my own flying to a new destination made me kind of nervous. Luckily the flight was smooth and once on my stop-over in London I spotted other new au pairs being on their way to New York. I made first contact. It was back then we had those bag labels which gave away what organisation you were travelling with!
There was no such thing as Whatsapp or Facetime. Cellphones of the size of a refrigerator just slowly made their entrance in everyday life. They were intended just for calling, which was insanely expensive anyway. In other words, I didn’t have a cellphone and I didn’t get in contact with other au pairs before I started my trip.
It was a time when no one really had heard of Google yet and Facebook had still to be invented. You took pictures with a camera containing a film roll which had to be developed later on. If you wanted to listen to Music you were playing cd’s on a discman or maybe used a minidisc player, and reading, well you just took a book or two (the ones made from paper). So, you get the idea of what I had in my backpack while traveling!
Once I landed in New York, Au Pair in America picked me and the other girls on the flight up and took us to the hotel where we were staying the next four days for the orientation programme. On day four we were put on various flights to continue our trips to our host families. For me, my final destination was Chicago. So I boarded my plane in order to really start my year as an Au Pair!
When I got off the plane in Chicago there were a lot of people but no one seemed to be waiting for me. Not knowing where my host family was supposed to be waiting for me and not being able to give them a call, I made my way to the arrival hall when I walked past by a woman with two kids in a double stroller. Of course, I had seen some pictures of my host family beforehand but I am not very good at remembering faces, certainly not when I only had seen them on a picture. However, those two redheaded kids in the stroller looked a lot like the kids I had seen in the pictures. And while looking at the kids, the woman stopped and turned around, asking if I was Katrin. This is how I first met my host mom and her two children!
The next couple days I spent learning as much as I could about the children, what they favoured and what they didn’t like, about the household and the car. Repeatedly I questioned what I had gotten myself into. I would never be able to remember everything! How was I supposed to do this on my own? However, I had no time to freak out about it because the next day we all left for a wedding together. So within 72 hours upon arrival I had met like most of my host mom’s family!
After the wedding my host mom took the time to show me around. She had me drive the minivan to the grocery store and she took me to all the places the kids loved or had to be at. There was no navigation system in the car so I had to learn to find my way around which came down to a couple of detours through the area because I took a wrong turn. But after a couple of weeks I knew my way around pretty much. The kids and I got used to each other and I started to make some friends in the area, mostly other au pairs I met at the social security office or at au pair meetings in the area. To stay in touch we called each other or had play dates with the au pair kids.
After adjusting to the first few months, I got used to my routine and finding my way around. The kids and I did a lot of things together: going to a pumpkin farm, playing at parks, visiting friends and family, having playdates, our days where funfilled. In the weekends I visited friends, took the train to downtown Chicago or went out. So the weeks and months flew by. For Thanksgiving I visited a friend nearby Ann Arbour, Michigan who I knew from back home. Christmas I spent with my hostfamily and afterwards I went with friends to Florida.
In February, my host family took me to Disney World because they had to attend a conference there. In June, my parents came to visit and before I knew it my au pair year was almost over. I had my 13th travel month left so I planned a trip to Mexico and another one to the west of the USA and I really enjoyed it. In between those two trips I met the girl who had been the au pair of the family before me. She was back to visit with her family. At first it had felt a little awkward to meet her but she appeared to be very nice and so was her family. In the end, we kept in touch. And what started out as two au pairs meeting each other at their host family, became a close friendship through the years. Moreover, every year we added another au pair to our group of friends. We even met a couple of times in Germany, where most of us originally are from.
A family for life: Katrin is still in touch with her host family!
Looking back at my au pair year I know I learned so much about myself. I got the chance to look at my childhood and where I grew up from a distance which gives you quite some perspective. Also living in a family other than your own family taking care of their kids teaches you some very valuable life lessons which I am really grateful for. Being an au pair is not more than just living an American dream, it is also working hard, and learning a lot. But it also is making friends for life and seeing the world through different eyes.
If I were 20 again, I would chose being an au pair again, knowing exactly how much I gained from those 13 months. I wouldn’t want to miss a single thing from my time abroad and I am thankful for all my extra family, friends and every single experience.
Now this is almost 25 years ago. Meanwhile I live in the Netherlands, I am married and have two sons of my own, both just slightly younger than the youngest kids of my host family who has added some more kids to their family after I had left. In 2010 we visited my host family when my oldest son was almost 2. Six years later we returned with both our sons and it was almost funny to see how perfectly they fitted in line with the kids of my host family. We enjoyed our stay to the fullest and can’t wait to go back this year for our au pair reunion that all au pairs of my host family will be attending.
Four years ago, before covid-19, the idea of the au pair reunion was born. Somewhere in August 2019 my phone pinged with a message on Whatsapp I got from Jennifer, my former host mom. She was inviting all of her former au pairs to attend an au pair reunion at their house in the summer of 2020. Wow! While ideas were exchanged, plans were made, and flights were booked, we were all very excited of meeting each other on the other side of the World. Then, the unthinkable happened: covid grounded most of us but we were too excited to just quit our plans. Instead we postponed them for a year. Well, one year became three years in the end but we kept believing in making it happen. And now it is just a few more nights until all of us actually will meet (again) in Huntley at the Davis family for our grand reunion. I feel really proud of being part of this beautiful, big and international family!