Americans eat as a family

Anka is home!

Right in the middle of American family life

  • WRITTEN BY: ANKE-DOROTHEA COUNT
  • COUNTRY: United States
  • STAY DURATION: 12 MONTHS
  • PROGRAM: AU PAIR
  • PUBLISHED IN: (NOTHING FOR) STOOLS.
    THE NEWSPAPER FOR STAYS ABROAD,
    No. 3/2013, pp. 40-41

When I decided to go to the USA as an au pair for a year, I was just 13 years old. At the beginning of the 7th grade I discovered a notice from my future au pair agency in front of the secretariat of my school. The flyer revealed something about everyday life and the possibilities in America. I saw pictures that distracted me from the boring everyday school life: laughing children licking ice cream, happily united with their au pairs from all over the world under the California sun.

Well, even if I could imagine that the au pair's everyday life would consist of more, not only was my curiosity aroused, but a passionate fire ignited. From then on it was my dream to become an au pair in America. So I was able to deal with the topic at an early stage and gain a lot of experience in childcare, which I had to prove in order to be allowed to work as an au pair. Anyway, I had a few things to do before I could pack my suitcase. When I was finally 18 years old and thus old enough, there was still a lot of work to do: getting a driver's license, visits to government offices and a lot of paperwork were the order of the day.

In parallel to these boring errands, something very exciting was going on: the family search. I initially assumed that, thanks to my good conditions, I would find a perfect host family within a few weeks. Puff cake. It was only after over three months and nine proposed families that I accepted a family near Boston. Before that, I had had a lot of contact with American families, but I never had a good gut feeling until my final host family contacted me. It was telephoned and written over the Internet, and my good feeling let me know with joy: “This is your family!” The family lived in a suburb and there were two boys that I was supposed to look after. They were seven and ten years old. It all seemed perfect. In January I should go to Massachusetts for a year. What I didn't know at the time was that there were still some unexpected surprises and changes to come. But for now everything went as planned.

On the day of my departure, friends and family brought me to Tegel Airport. After we went through suitcase control and I was ready to go through security, I could only grin. I was happy! I was really looking forward to the time ahead and to all the new experiences and impressions. It was only when I went through the security gate, saw my mother behind the glass and knew that there was no going back, that tears came to me. It was a pure emotional rollercoaster. Because at the same time, I was looking forward to America too much to be really sad. On the plane I met Cindy, who started her au pair adventure with the same agency and who became a good friend of mine in America. First I went to the preparatory seminar in New York. Together with all prospective au pairs we spent a day of sightseeing in the metropolis and I was fascinated by the uniqueness and peculiarity of this cosmopolitan city.

I was torn from my thoughts by rubber arrows. My big boy, the ten-year-old, immediately took me under fire and peeked out from behind the couch with a grin. We laughed at each other and I hugged the nonsense head. I didn't have much time for my new charges because my host mother called out to us that we would be leaving for the restaurant shortly. And who was coming down the stairs at that moment? My host father, who welcomed me warmly. A short time later we were sitting in the car and I was right in the middle of my new American life. "Give me the Nintendo!" "Nooo, I'm playing!" My two boys quickly made it clear to me what I was getting into. But whether they were fighting or playing with each other, I was happy to be with them every single second. We became friends. More than that. I felt like a big sister. With six older siblings I had never been offered this feeling at home. But now the time had come, and my boys and I welded together as a team. Although everyday life as an au pair is not always fun and relaxed, you can have a lot of fun at work with patience and love. I deliberately write “work” because as an au pair you do a lot more than play with the children and eat hamburgers.

My day started around 7 a.m. First I woke the boys, put their clothes out of them and gathered up all the school supplies that were always distributed around the house when I studied every evening. After a successful search and packing two rucksacks, I started preparing the typical American breakfast. Every morning there was chocolate chip pancakes, ham, omelets, waffles and of course “OJ”, or “orange juice”. At that time, my dressed boys were already sitting in front of the TV and waiting for my call “Boys, breakfast is ready!” Most of the time, the two of them were covered in water and had to change their clothes again before going to the school bus. From 9 a.m. I had a storm-free room and there was time for laundry, tidying up and cleaning. After that I could relax and take care of myself. The school bus didn't stop until 3 p.m. with screeching tires and a horde of children getting out brought lively life into the neighborhood. The boys hungrily craved a snack before starting their homework. Big and small Americans, and so many German au-pairs, pounded in while snacking. Biscuits, chips, ice cream and popcorn are welcome snacks in the “land of unlimited snacks.” Once the paperwork was over and the homework was done, it was off to friends and outside. In the United States, it is common for children to engage in many organized leisure activities. Accordingly, my boys also had soccer, baseball, football or karate training depending on the season. In the evenings the whole family came together to - how could it be otherwise - eat hot dogs or pizza. There is no question that the television was on constantly while eating. And so the days passed and everyday life became part of my new life.

"Together we explored places that I often want to go back to"

I soon made my first friends, both with au pairs and with locals. Since I lived only 30 minutes outside of Boston, getting out and about the historic city was an easy and quick pleasure. In Mark Twain's book “Strolling through Europe”, that young compatriot describes Boston as “restricted” during an encounter between Twain and an American in the Alps. I can only contradict this statement and share Twain's pity for that young man, because apparently he had no idea: Boston is beautiful. Not only Boston excited me. During my time in the United States, I have been to many states and major cities such as New York City, Boston and Maryland, Chicago and Saint Louis, Seattle and San Francisco. America has many interesting cities to visit, and Boston is definitely one of the most beautiful. Of course, I was never traveling alone. My friend Cindy, whom I mentioned earlier, often accompanied me, and together we explored places that I often want to go back to. The au pairs Jamie, Annemarie, Lisa, Nina and Ann-Kathrin were also very good friends. They all helped me through a difficult time of my year: After eight months, I left my first host family and moved to Georgia, near Atlanta. The family situation between the divorced host parents in Massachusetts and the associated difficulties triggered the family change.

"There were wonderful moments and experiences in both host families, and I don't regret a single day"

All of a sudden, after almost eight months, everything started all over again. This time I moved to a family with three children aged one and a half, four and nine years old. I spent the remaining months in the USA with them. My time with the children was wonderful there too, and I fell in love with all three of them. Still, I missed my boys in Massachusetts very much. I called them often, joked with them and we chatted about "the old days". Georgia was very different from Massachusetts. There were more mansions, but less culture, because in contrast to Boston, Atlanta is just big and boring. My second host family was also very different from the first in Massachusetts. In my new family, the cooking was healthier, there were rules for the children, and we ate from real plates, not paper plates. In Massachusetts I had lived with a family that resembled the stereotype of an American family that ordered food often and in which the children had almost complete freedom. I had to adapt: ​​everything was different in Georgia, and that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Ultimately, you can't expect to like everything either. After all, you go into a strange family that follows its very own lifestyle.

I can only advise you to think about what is important to you about a host family beforehand and then look around. Whichever criterion you may apply, e.g. the number of children to be looked after, you should take yourself and your wishes seriously. Maybe you can save yourself one or more family changes. There were wonderful moments and experiences in both host families, and I don't regret a day that I spent in America. I would go the same way at any time and choose an au pair program again. The year has been an incredibly valuable time in my life. Hardly a day goes by without thinking about “my children” or the many things that I have experienced in the USA. Whether it was swimming under the waterfall, running over the Golden Gate Bridge, shopping in the huge supermarkets, or just having an unspectacular donut with friends - America was my home every second of my stay. I'm really looking forward to visiting this country again and making a detour to my host children - hopefully soon!

Anke-Dorothea Graf, 21, is studying television and film at DEKRA University in Berlin.

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