Jelva, an au pair from Germany, is one of several au pairs that stayed with the Davis family in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, over the past two decades. Jelva and the Davis family were such a great match that she extended her stay for a second year of memories and adventure. She provides some great information in the following Q&A to share a bit of what the au pair experience is like.
Where are you from?
I’m from Hattstedt, Germany. It’s in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, 20 minutes from the Danish border right at the North Sea.
Where did you live in the U.S. when you were an au pair?
I lived in Huntley, Illinois, which is about 40 miles from Chicago, outside the northern suburb.
What was your host family like?
My host family was big, a perfect mix of chaotic but well organized, loving and lovely. I always felt and still feel welcome anytime.
Why did you decide to become an au pair?
I wanted to go out and see the world after my A-Levels. I chose to do this as an au pair, because I wanted to not just see the culture, but live it and to be part of it.
Describe any travels on your own or with your host family from your stay as an au pair.
I travelled all over the place. As of now I am only missing three states I have not been to – Hawaii, Alaska and New Mexico. I only traveled at the end of my stay and during a couple weekend-trips with my friends/family from home, other than that I was welcome to join any trip the Davis family did and am more than grateful I had that opportunity. We would all jump into their “big red bus” and have an adventure on the road, before the actual vacation even started.
How did being an au pair impact your personal outlook and development?
I learned that distance is and never should be an obstacle for anything in your life but an extension to your personal horizon. I became independent, self-reflecting, selfless and more adventurous. I learned that not every rule should stop you from your goal and there is more to life than being serious and playing it safe.
Have you been back to the U.S. since your time as an au pair?
I used to go back several times a year, but now that work and college are taking up all time and money, I am going back once a year for Easter and am planning to keep it that way. It’s always nice to go back and see what changed and how the kids keep on growing, but at the same time that nothing has changed at all. Our relationship is like I never left.
Do you keep in touch with your host family?
I stay in contact with the family, every now and then we check up on each other and exchange the latest news. Social media makes it easy to let people know what’s happening in your life right now and especially with the older kids, that’s a huge advantage. We don’t really talk very much, but with apps like Snapchat it’s possible to let people on the other side of the ocean be part of your life, by sending them pictures of what you’re doing right now.
Do you keep in touch with anyone else you met when you were an au pair?
Since I am close in age with my oldest 2 host kids, I became good friends with them, as well as their friends. I always go visit them when I am in the U.S., and they came with a big group to visit me in Germany as well. Besides that, I became good friends with some of the moms from school, in addition to employees and friends of my host parents. We still exchange emails regularly.
I met a lot of other au pairs in the cluster meetings and such, but only created friendships with a couple girls that also have been au pairs. These ones are still good friends, and we stay in contact. We are trying to meet and weird fact: most of the times we see each other is when we’re back in the U.S. visiting the families that indirectly brought us together.
In addition to all the people I met in the U.S., I got to know most of the Davis family’s former au pairs, and we talk and meet at a more or less regular basis. We all are connected through the Davis family and together we have a community that can’t be explained.
Are there any activities or traditions you learned while in the U.S. that you have continued in your home country?
- I send Christmas cards every year. I did not do that before, because it’s not really a thing in Germany, but I really like the idea of that.
- Traveling, even if people will tell you it’s insane. If there’s distance included, Germans always think twice. I don’t anymore, because I realized it’s about making memories and not gas money. I always enjoyed how crazy my host family was, and I guess I adapted. A weekend road trip to Rome from Northern Germany? Sure thing!
- Listening to country music
- I now fold my towels, socks and underwear in perfect shape and order – thanks Jenn!
Why do you think the au pair program is important?
It’s the best way to find yourself and appreciate the place you have at home as well as abroad. I think it is important to see the world from another perspective – to understand their view, get first-hand knowledge about cultures and mentalities (I did not think at all that there is such a difference in mentality between the U.S. and Germany). You get the great opportunity to learn about a country with the best guides (natives). You get to know great people and have an experience that will impact you and your life, not just during your stay.
Besides that, it’s a good way to improve your English and there is no better English teacher than kids, who don’t mind telling you every single time you say something wrong.
Any advice for people who are considering becoming an au pair?
Do not expect a year-long vacation. Of course, you should be able to see a lot and have a great time, but as an au pair you are committing to a family, not joining a travel group. If you are not willing to take responsibilities, the au pair program is not the right program for you.
Any advice for families who are considering hosting an au pair?
I am very grateful to the Davis family for always including me. Do not forget that most au pairs are far away from their friends and family, all by themselves and most likely for the first time in their life. A lot of girls (including me) underestimate the step from being a student living with their parents to becoming a responsible caregiver in a new country, and it’s hard. The best you can do to help and keep them in your family is to include them as much as you can. Nothing could be worse than leaving your home and feeling all alone like an employee living with strangers.
What are some of your favorite memories?
I have two whole books of quotes, pictures and random memories from my two years as an au pair and even that could not describe the experience you will make. Some random memories:
- Going on trips with the entire family and do the craziest stuff that would push me to exceed my limits, but also experiencing the most awesome things like: Canoeing with alligators, swimming with dolphins, zip lining across cliffs, taking trapeze class (I am afraid of heights and still have nightmares), loading all the kids up in the back of the bus, so we could make it up grandma’s snowy driveway
- Handing out missing dog flyers all over the neighborhood, just to find out she was locked in the office all day long
- Every year for Halloween we would have a family themed costume which I really loved
- For Christmas we would get ornaments that represent the year, I still have them and hang them in my Christmas tree
- Dancing on the kitchen counter – parents included
- Jamming out in the car to Disney songs and Taylor Swift
- Spending the entire Christmas day in the Christmas PJ’s we would get the night before
- When the oldest convinced me that “anus” is a word for being joyful
- When we were on our way back from West Virginia, my host dad would not admit that he really wanted Waffle House (because we don’t get it in Illinois), we all had to starve for hours until a Waffle House “randomly” appeared around midnight
The Davis family and several of their au pairs from over the years have agreed to periodically share their thoughts and experiences related to au pair exchange as part of an ongoing series. In the future, we look forward to more of these insightful posts about travel and culture, live-in child care, international education and more!
If you want to learn more about au pair exchange and how you can welcome a wonderful au pair like Jelva into your family, our website is a great place to start. Visit www.aupairinamerica.com or call 800-928-7247 for more information.