When they know how to say “Amo-te muito” in Minnesota, you know that you and your host family are a perfect match – just like Portuguese au pair Maria did! She recently returned back home, after spending 24 months looking after her host parents’ FOUR little ones. And she is missing them already – big time!
I first came across Au Pair in America in 2013 while I was still working on my Early Childhood Bachelor Degree. Little did I know that I would find the most wonderful host family in Minnesota. I was sold pretty much right away, since I had always thought about going abroad through the Erasmus Program. I knew that APiA would give me the chance to travel and live in the USA and to meet new people. And it would give me the chance to grow as a person, all whilst being away from home.
THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE; LOADING…
I tried to get my hands on as many au pair blogs as possible, even before I applied to the program: What was it like to be an au pair? What would it involve, what would it require for me to be a “good” au pair? Testimonials, blog posts, videos – anything and everything I could get my hands on really. I finally decided to finish my Masters Degree first, before I’d depart on my US adventure. I thought to myself: It’s now or never!
In September 2015 I was finally had the time and felt ready to fully commit to applying to the program. And just like that, I matched with a family from Minnesota in December. One month later, in January 2016, I boarded the plane that took me all the way across the ocean to my 4 host kids.
THE 1ST OBSTACLES
I met my host family on the night of January 14th 2016. I remember it like it was yesterday. My host dad picked me up at the airport. Which was actually a pretty funny story. First, we couldn’t find each other. So I called my host mom, asking if someone would pick me up or if I should take a taxi instead. She sounded a bit puzzled when she said that her husband, my host dad, should be there at the airport waiting for me. She called him with their house phone, while she kept speaking to me on her mobile. With each of us in one ear of hers, she guided us through the airport until we found each other. It was hilarious!
SMILES ALL AROUND
When my host dad was finally stood in front of me, I instinctively reached out to shake his hand, as I had been told that Americans don’t hug or kiss to greet one another. But he came towards me with his arms wide open and a big smile on his face. That’s when I knew that I was in good hands.
When we arrived at home, my host mom also welcomed me with a big hug and an even bigger smile. Which, in my opinion, is what you wish for the most when you find yourself alone in a new country, thousands of miles away from home. The following morning I met my host kids, two boys and two girls. They looked at me from the corner of their eyes, as I tried to play with them whilst adjusting myself to my new surroundings. I was lucky enough to have their nanny there with me, who took it upon herself to train me. Her help was precious to me. We spent a lot of time together and she became a very special friend who helped and taught me a lot.
MY LONG LOST BUCKET LIST
There is one word that I don’t associate with my two years in MInnesota at all, it would be: Regret.
Coming to a country as big as the United States of America gave me the chance to challenge myself in completely new ways. It didn’t matter if it was something as simple as going to the movies by myself, try a new restaurant, explore the city, go to a concert or even travel (AND SKYDIVE) all by myself. Yes, I decided that I would go skydiving while I was in America. And it was an absolutely incredible experience! I even made a bucket list in the beginning. But I lost it and only found it towards the end of my second year. That list included skydiving, Broadway shows, getting a camera, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Victoria Secrets… And it was so satisfying to look at that list and see that I could pretty much check off every single thing on that list, besides maybe one or two things! That was one of my highlights, one of the best moments of my year – the moment I realized that I managed to accomplish so much.
There are plenty of host kids related highlights as well: The first kiss on the cheek, an “I love you” before nap time or “I’m coming to Portugal with you!”. Them missing you when you go on vacations, and you’re away for way too long (in their opinion). My little girl’s special toy, a giraffe, was no longer called Giraffe but Girafa (in Portuguese) and her twin brother’s plush frog became Sapo (in Portuguese). But for me the absolute best moment was to be included in the “My family” scrapbook that my oldest host kid did at school. He was always the one who hardly ever let his emotions show, put me by his side, along with his siblings and parents as a part of his family. And last but not least, when I taught my youngest one to say “Amo-te muito” – I love you very much in Portuguese. I’d always tell her I love you, and she would reply with amo-te muito.
Two words that define my two years as an au pair: Adventure and Trying.
When it comes to culture, My American Family – they are no longer my Host family, but Family- never failed to invite me for family activities. That includes going on vacation with them to South Dakota for the Pheasant Hunting opening weekend, and then again on 4th of July. That’s where their grandparents live, and it was quite an experience!
I always made sure to tell my host kids and their parents about my home town back in Portugal. I even made some Portuguese deserts a couple of times. Their favorites were Brigadeiro. Before I left, they asked “Can you make Brigadaroush?” – this is how my mom wrote it and now I’m struggling to remember the correct spelling.
HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED
I came back home 19 days ago and I feel that I truly managed to broaden my horizon in an incredible way. I’m not the little girl anymore that I was two years ago. I felt in charge of my life for those two years, because I knew that my mom and dad wouldn’t be there to solve my problems. I visited places I never thought I’d visit! Being able to do all those trips that I went on – I visited 27 States including Washington D.C. that is technically not a State – see National Parks I had never thought I’d set foot on was so delightful. I came with an open mind, ready to try everything and anything I could! I miss my American family a lot, and fortunately we’re keeping in touch, which makes it a little easier. But when I’m alone and I think about them, it’s not so easy.
MY ADVICE TO YOU?
What can I tell all those of you, who are thinking about becoming an Au Pair in America? Go ahead and do it.
Keep in mind that your main focus here are the children. But that you are here to do other things too. I had three goals: stay for 2 years, travel a lot, and travel more during the travel month! And I did it. On top of everything else that I got to experience along the way. Love what you do and learn to love the ones who surround you. I learned to love. I love my American family so much now– and that includes to neighbors, cousins and family friends. If you show love and compassion, I can promise you that you will be rewarded with love and compassion in return. I never expected anything from my family, and then out of the blue they bought me a flight ticket back home to Portugal. To spend Christmas with my family, as a Christmas and program extension gift.
Let yourself get fully immersed, and in the end it will be so rewarding to be hear them say: “Thank you for taking such good care of our children and for loving them like they’re your own. You will always be a part of them, I know it. You know where to find us – come home anytime you want.”