Twenty years ago, a young woman from New Zealand named Joanne came to the United States for the first time, to be an au pair for a family in Connecticut. Today, Joanne shares her exchange story and memories of her Au Pair in America experience as a guest blogger on Kid Notes.
In April 1997, I was so lucky to be picked to go and live in the USA as an au pair. I had always dreamed of going to the States, but I really didn’t think I would make it happen until I applied… and was accepted! My name is Joanne Bateman, and this is my exchange story.
Before I left I got a letter from my host family, so I knew a little bit about them and where I was going to be living. It was so exciting for my family here in Christchurch, New Zealand to know where I was going and the family I was going to spend a year living with.
The first stop, before I got to go to my host family, was in New Jersey where I met all of the other girls at arrivals orientation. We had four days of learning how things are done in the USA. Those four days were the best way to get to know and make lifelong friends. It was a great start to my exchange story.
The highlight of the four days was a trip to New York City. A bus load of girls from all over the world were let loose in New York City. We got to see all the icons and took loads of photos. It was so different to New Zealand. For starters, unless you live in the suburbs, then you eat out so much more. There were also these cute, wee delis everywhere, and on every corner was a McDonald’s.
The city was buzzing all the time. You would never get bored, that’s for sure. It was everything you saw on TV and so much more. One thing I quickly had to learn was when I wanted to go to the toilet, I had to say restroom or bathroom. That was funny.
At the end of those four days, there were lots of tears; strangers had turned quickly to close friends. We were very unsure of what was to come next, as the reality hit that we were all moving to our host families all over the USA.
I had to take a train to get to West Hartford, Connecticut, which was two hours away from New York. I was excited and nervous all in one. Once I got off the train and met a few of my host family, I was put at ease. They were very friendly and the au pair I was taking over was there as well.
I was living in West Hartford with a family of 5. I was looking after three children: Brian age 3, Erin age 7, and Kristen age 11. The first day after I was there, another au pair knocked on my door to say, “welcome,” which I thought was so nice. It’s very important for the girls to get to know other au pairs in the area. Regina and I became best friends, and still to this day we are in touch. She came out to New Zealand when I had my daughter.
Regina cared for three children the same age as my children so our kids had lots of playdates—which was great and fun. Regina was from Austria, so her English wasn’t that good, but by halfway through the year, she was speaking very good English and I learnt a bit of German.
My family were great, and they made me feel like a part of the family. My days were so full on with playdates, school and after school activities, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
The family celebrated Thanksgiving and Halloween, which we don’t really do here in New Zealand. I found that Thanksgiving was like our Christmas apart from the weather and having turkey instead of ham. I must say I have never seen as big a Turkey as the one we had with my family!
My daughter and I celebrate Fourth of July, Halloween and Thanksgiving. I have talked a lot of my experiences in the States with Natasha, and I had my community counsellor and her husband come over her to New Zealand. Now Natasha is mad about America!
I was so wanting a white Christmas and yes, I got one! Here in New Zealand we have Christmas in summer so a white Christmas was so exciting. We are a day ahead here in New Zealand so when Mum and Dad called me they were having Christmas lunch in the summer weather, and there I was shoveling snow just to get my car out of the drive.
Halloween is so different as well. My three children and I did pumpkin carvings that we put tea candles in so they would light up the pathway for all the kids. I took my kids trick or treating and wow! I couldn’t believe how much candy they got—a pillowcase full each! We had so much fun getting dressed up. Here in New Zealand, Halloween is still no big deal; you might get one or two kids come to the door, but that’s about it.
Summer holiday with the family was a week at the beach, which I thought was so weird as in New Zealand I live 15 minutes from the beach. Another thing I found funny was the amount of stuff they took. I thought, “wow three cars full of so much!” I was brought up going on holiday in one car with only the barest essentials. It was such a lovely holiday and great for the parents to spend time with their children, as they worked long hours. Also, we had to pay to go on the beach; you’d never have to do that in NZ.
Regina and I decided early on that we wanted to spend our weekends off away seeing new places like Boston, Maine, Canada, Yale University, New Haven, Rhode Island and so many more. I thought, “if I am going to be an au pair then I want to see as much as I can of America…” and I did.
I am still in touch with my host family thanks to Facebook, and I also keep up with other friends that I made over there.
It was so sad saying goodbye when it was time to leave. The year went by so fast and was filled with great memories. You end up with so much stuff I had to send four big boxes home, and I took three suitcases on the plane.
The family threw me a goodbye party and invited all my friends. Then the reality set in and there were some very hard days. Yes, I wanted to go back to New Zealand to see my family, but I also didn’t want to leave my new family. All of my au pair friends felt the same way. Saying goodbye was so, so hard—lots of tears from me and the kids. Brian didn’t leave my side for the last week bless him.
After we left the family we had a month to travel, so I did a tour for the whole month. It started in Los Angeles and ended in New York. It was funny as the people on the tour were from New Zealand and Australia, and they talked so different to me as I now had an American accent. The trip was so amazing and would recommend doing a tour at the end of an au pair year.
Leaving the USA, I cried on the flight until I fell asleep.
Being with au pair America was so, so much more than I could have ever dreamt it would be. The friends I have made and who are still in touch today are amazing, and the experience is priceless. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Learn how hosting a great au pair like Joanne can enrich your family with culture and the convenience of in-home childcare.