Au Pair in America speaks to recent au pair from the UK, Ruby, and her mother Nikki, who also did the Au Pair in America program in the 90’s. They tell us all about how the generational experience has impacted their lives, and their amazing relationship with Nikki’s old host family!
Q+A With Ruby, 21, Recent Au Pair in America
1.From being a chef and studying the culinary arts, what made you then decide to move to the USA to au pair?
I have always dreamed of been a chef, it all started from sitting on my grandma’s kitchen counter baking and peeling mushrooms. I then decided at school that this is something I was really good at, and I turned baking from a hobby into a potential career. However, I do enjoy looking after children, whenever I spend time around them, the feedback has been how amazing I am with them and that it comes natural to me. I did consider doing this as a career as I think children are like a ray of sunshine, they have no worries, and love life. However, I have invested so much time pursuing a career in culinary arts, that I did not think going back to college best idea. So, I looked into different options and found Au Pair in America a good option for me to figure out if childcare was for me.
My culinary degree, and experience has not been put to waste. I always bake with the kids and I always cook for the family. My family allow me to extend my skills, by buying new equipment and ingredients I need to further my knowledge. I am also using the study part of the program to build on what I have already learnt at school, by taking courses in business and catering. Traveling and seeing another cultures food is always a bonus too. Yes, I am from England and people say the food is the same, but it certainly is not the same and I miss some ingredients that are available back home.
2. As someone from the UK, what things drew you to living in the USA?
I really wanted to get away from the UK and believe that you should travel the world while you are young and grab every opportunity you can to experience different cultures. The person that persuaded me the most is actually my mum. When she was 19, she took a leap of faith and became an au pair with Au Pair in America. Her host child is now in her late twenties and lives very close by me in New York. She has known me all my life and we are like sisters, she is like family and it is so amazing to have her close by. There were also other reasons why I chose the USA, I really wanted a country that spoke English as their first language. Moving to another country is scary enough, without having to learn a new language.
3. Tell us about your cultural exchange experience! Have you experienced many cultural differences during your experience?
I came to America not having any expectations of learning any cultural exchange, because we speak the same language we eat similar food, I thought it would just be the same as home. It definitely is not.
One of the first things that was a challenge for me was driving on the other side of the road and the other side of the car. I managed to face this and I actually find it easier to drive here than I ever did back home.
Another cultural exchange is the language. Which sounds stupid because we speak English right? But, they spell certain words a different and say things differently. This has never held me back or been a struggle, but it is something new to get the hang of, especially in front of the children who correct you all the time.
The main cultural exchange you get in America, is their holidays. Before coming here, I never had Thanksgiving for example. Seeing what happens here and the food they eat was wonderful and the best cultural exchange experience, full of warmth and family and food. It’s the best day in America. Another holiday was the 4th of July which was so fun and happy, I was able to celebrate this on the beach. We did all things American! But as well as them showing me their holidays I have been able to show my traditions from England and what we celebrate, like bonfire night on 5th November.
The food here is also different, and also the different manners at dinner. In England family dinner is usually plated by whoever cooked. Here you lay it all out on the table and serve yourself which we might only do at Christmas for example. Also, certain ingredients you cannot get over here such as self-rising flour and golden syrup both of which are always in my baking cupboard back home. I have also had the opportunity to cook a traditional Sunday dinner for my family, which is something that I have always had growing up.
Another large cultural exchange is not just from the family, but from the other au pairs you meet. You meet people from all around the world and they show you their traditions, and their foods. This is something I have thoroughly enjoyed doing. One of my favourite memories was my South African friend taking me to a South African supermarket in the city, and showing me her favourite foods from back home. Then I did the same with her, I took her to a British store in the city and I showed her my favourite snacks from England.
4. Are there any valuable skills or life lessons that you’ve learnt? Is there anything you’ve learned that you will take forward with you to your future career?
I have had a whirl wind of an experience here in America, some might say unique. I have had to be strong. I have had to grow up. I have had to learn to make decisions that is best for me and my needs. It’s not been easy, but I feel this experience has been the best thing I have ever done. I will take everything I have learnt here into my job later in life. One of the main things is, taking a step back assessing a situation, and then going and addressing it before jumping straight in. Taking time to think before responding, has been the best lesson I have taken out of the time here. I have learned to be confident and speaking how I feel and what I need to be happy, I have found my voice and my strength to speak up. I have learnt how to be flexible and adaptable. You really do grow as a woman being here. Been an Au pair really helps you to find yourself and grow as a person. I came here a young confused girl and I now see myself as been a strong grown woman.
5. Tell us about your experience of the study aspect of the program!
I really struggled finding a course that fit the $500 and also something that was going to grow my skills for my future. However, after a lot of support and help from APIA, I found something that was perfect for me. I have initially signed up for a travel course to Washington DC, but the coronavirus hit and it was cancelled, so, I had to look for online classes. I studied child psychology and the development of children, this was an intense weekend course from my local university which was so interesting and fun. I made new friends, some of which I still have contact with now. I also studied a course call family engagement in child’s learning, this was a self-pace online class, (because of the virus) it allowed me the time to work and fit this in my schedule. In my extension, I have started a course in the fundamentals of management and supervision. I also just completed a course in the secrets of the caterer, this will help me in the culinary industry when I get back to the UK. I also am taking a course in food science, which is something else I will use in my future. I have taken it upon myself to pay for a further course in Food and Nutrition, as I want to further my knowledge and CV for going back to the UK.
6. What would be your advice for other people from the UK interested in doing this program?
I would really recommend you to do this and it will be the best experience of your life. You will learn a lot about yourself and other cultures and it gives you a great opportunity to travel. Traveling is one of the biggest bonus about this job, and it attracted me to come here and see the world. Don’t be scared, you will have a lot of support from your host family and APIA. I have made friends for life because they know how you feel, they are going through the same thing and can help when you get home sick.
Q+A With Nikki, Ruby’s Mum, Former Au Pair in America
1. As a parent, what do you think the benefits are of doing the Au Pair in America program?
As a parent I feel there are lots of benefits in doing the program. They get to experience a different culture, visit and explore a new country. They learn to how to more independent and how to cope with certain situations. The program helps you to grow and mature. You learn lots of new skills and find out a lot about yourself and your capabilities.
2. How do you feel about Ruby being out in the USA at the moment?
Although it’s a scary time for all of us I really feel Ruby is in the right place for her, she can continue to work and keep busy and is still managing to have a social life whereas here in the UK especially in Yorkshire we are in a strict tier 3 which means all restaurants etc are closed and we cannot meet anyone from outside our home which is difficult. Ruby is young and needs social interaction which she is getting. We all miss Ruby so much and I know she misses home too but luckily she is with a family who love her and she loves them which makes things easier.
3. Thinking back to when you made the decision to apply to be an Au Pair, what were the main factors that made you apply? Why the USA?
I have always had a love for the US and always knew I wanted to visit so when I saw the advert for au pair America I just knew it was for me. It seemed ideal not only could I be looking after children which I loved doing I could do it in a country that I had always felt a connection to. It was a win win and I didn’t need to give it much thought.
4. Tell us all about your Au Pair in America experience!
Wow I had just the best time. I was in a small place called Newton, NJ working for Mike and Holly who had a beautiful baby girl named Hayley. Unfortunately, after being there just a couple of months Mike and Holly decided to get divorced but did a great job in reassuring me that the divorce would not have an impact on me staying and working there and it didn’t.. I spent my Christmas in Nebraska which was very different to NJ. Holly was great she included me in everything but also gave me my own space, the baby was delightful and I just think we were the perfect match. I got to experience so much and loved every minute. As for friends I met just one other au pair as I don’t think it was as popular back then (28 years ago), Debbie working as an au pair 30 mins away we met regularly and again to this day we keep in touch she lives 2 hours from me in the UK.
5. What were some of the biggest cultural differences that you remember during your experience?
How much coffee the American people drank!! The lack of nightlife was tough as I was 19 and legally allowed to drink in the UK so I found it difficult to come to a country where I was not allowed to drink alcohol and go to clubs. The food was different too I enjoyed it but missed some of the home comforts of home. Driving on the opposite side of the road did take a while to get used to.
6. Were there any valuable skills or life lessons that you had learnt in the USA, that you took forward with you into your future?
To appreciate life and go for what you want, always go with your heart and don’t be afraid to take risks. Holly taught me how to be independent and not to have to rely on anyone. I admire her so much as she raised Hayley as a single parent after her divorce whilst continuing to have a successful career.
7. How do you think the program experience impacted your life, and your career path?
28 years ago this was such a big thing to do It certainly gave me confidence. I left the US and continued nannying away from home. I worked as a nanny in Kent and then in London before returning home to have my own children and get married. After the birth of Ruby I started a different career in real estate which led to me owning my own real estate business.
8. How did your relationship with your old host family develop after you returned to the UK?
Holly and I became great friends and to this day we class each other as family and see each other every couple of years, we have met in Ireland and Berlin as well as visiting each other homes. Hayley has become good friends with Ruby and has been a great help to her whilst she has been in New York. Ruby also spent last Christmas with Holly, Hayley and the rest if the family. We have a Whatsapp group chat and speak every week without fail. Hayley who is now 27 calls me her English mom which I love.
9. What would be your advice for other parents whose children are applying for the program?
Your child will just be very excited and will possibly be more interested in location, if they have a pool etc. You need to know that the family will be the right fit for your child. The main thing is to be behind their decision to go, it’s a great opportunity and although we miss them there is facetime, skype etc now which I didn’t have when I went. Encourage and support them as much as possible as this experience will change their lives for the better!
Thank you Ruby and Nikky for speaking to us about your experiences! If you’d like to become an Au Pair with the Best Overall Agency 2021 – start your application through our website now!