“I see it through the lens of when I was an au pair. My host family gave me a wonderful experience. Looking back, they were the greatest times. When Emma leaves, I want her to feel the same. I want to help her have the best time of her life with us.”
Those are the heartfelt words of Jenny, a former au pair from Sweden and current host mom in the Chicago area. Recently, we shared Jenny’s reunion story with Sandee, her current Community Counselor and the very same Community Counselor who helped her twenty years ago, when she was an au pair. Today, we’ll share a little bit about Jenny’s remarkable journey from that time as an au pair to becoming an outstanding host mom with Au Pair in America today.
Jenny first came to the U.S. as an au pair for a family in Chicago in 1995. She was their first au pair and become very close with her host family. After a year, Jenny returned home to Sweden to go to school. She came back the following summer for a visit, and that’s what set up an interesting turn of events.
Jenny played soccer since she was six. While in Chicago, she reached out to local schools and organizations to find somewhere to play. She met some guys with a team and played with them as a goalie. One of the guys on her team knew a soccer coach at St. Xavier University that was just starting a women’s team. It was two weeks before the season started, and they didn’t have a goalie yet. Her friend made the introductions, and the coach came and interviewed Jenny. The next day Jenny took the ACT test and passed. She was offered a scholarship and accepted the opportunity to play soccer and study at St. Xavier University.
Jenny had a ticket to go home and went back for a week to sort out her visa. She remembers her mom wasn’t too happy with all of this, because it was hard to have her only daughter so far away. As a foreign student, Jenny was allowed to work for one year in the United States after graduation. She found a good job with a company that sponsored her and received a work permit. Over the years, she worked hard to establish her career and obtained a green card.
In time, Jenny got married and started a family. She now has a 9-year-old boy, a 6-year-old girl and a 2-year-old girl. Her oldest children mostly speak English. They understand Swedish a bit, but they aren’t fluent the way she would like. They have a cottage in Sweden and her family visits every year for 4 weeks together. Since her parents live far away, this quality time is important.
Jenny would have hosted an au pair when her kids were younger, but she worked long hours with a lot of business travel. At the time, the 45-hour maximum for an au pair didn’t suit her child care needs. Once her situation changed and she was able to work from a local branch, she was excited when hosting an au pair became an option.
“Au Pair in America gave me such a great experience and was the only au pair agency I reached out to. You guys are the first, and I had the best time. I wanted a Swedish au pair for my children, but I also really wanted to give another young person this opportunity.”
Soon, Jenny found Emma, an au pair from her hometown in Sweden. She thinks it was just meant to be. Emma is related to Jenny’s first grade teacher and lives on the same street as her cousin. Jenny even played soccer with Emma’s aunt in the past. What a small world!
Emma helps the kids improve their Swedish language and become more familiar with their mother’s native culture. Not only is Emma an added connection for Jenny’s family to Sweden, but Emma’s parents are coming to visit in Chicago and Jenny’s family will visit them this summer when they travel to Sweden.
As a former au pair, Jenny has a deep understanding of what the experience means to a young person. She wants Emma to have a fantastic time in America. She remembers her host family bringing her everywhere and shared, “au pairs aren’t nannies that only take care of the kids. Families shouldn’t travel without their au pairs or treat them like employees. It should be a more meaningful and shared experience. Au pairs are here with so much hope and excitement to join a family, make friends and experience a new place.”
According to Jenny, technology is the biggest difference she sees between when she was an au pair and now. She remembers speaking with her host family on the phone and then moving in. Now, you can video chat to get to know au pair candidates better, and social media makes it easier for au pairs to meet people.
Technology also makes it easier to stay in touch, and in this regard Jenny shares, “We will stay in touch with Emma. I stayed in touch with my host family. The mom and kids visited me in Sweden, and one of the daughters was a flower girl in my wedding. It’s been too long since we last spoke, but you know how busy life gets. I’ll reach out soon.”