October 1, 2013

A favorite au pair returns to her American host family after two years back home

3 minutes
Au pair stories

In 2008, the U.S. Department of State made it possible for au pairs to return to the U.S. as au pairs for a second time—either with their previous host family or a new family. All au pairs who successfully complete 12+ months as an au pair the first time around and who have lived outside the U.S. for at least two years are eligible for this opportunity.
Pia Wessendorf, from Dortmund, Germany au paired for the O’Grady family from July 2010 to July 2011 and recently returned to become their au pair once again in August, 2013. She is currently loving her second experience as Cultural Care au pair to Reilly, 14, Caitlin, 12, Brianna, 10 and Sean, 7.
We talked to both Pia and her host mom, Gretchen O’Grady, about their experience together.
How did it come about that you decided to return to the U.S.?
Cultural Care au pair, Pia
Being an au pair in the U.S. meant a lot to me. I gained so many competencies, learned about child care, the ‘American Way of Life’, holiday traditions, and the English language. I made many new friends from all over the world and traveled a lot. All in all I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, the day that I left my wonderful American host family was the worst day of my life. I realized that I should have extended and it suddenly felt so wrong to go back ‘home’.
Back in Germany I am studying English and Social Education to become a teacher. One day I found out that my English studies require a so-called “stay abroad”. I asked for more information and learned that an au pair year would fulfill such a requirement. I got all excited and immediately wanted to be an au pair again. Since I have always enjoyed the au pair job, it felt like the right thing to do. I never thought it would be that easy, but here I am again doing exactly what I want to do: taking care of children!
Cultural Care host mom, Gretchen:
Pia contacted us early last year about the opportunity to have her be our au pair again. I couldn’t say ‘yes – of course’ fast enough!
How is this year different than your first au pair year together?
We’ve actually had two au pairs since Pia so the kids are definitely older but she has come back for visits and has continued to maintain a connection with the kids via Skype and email so it was as though a long-time family friend was coming back to stay.  The kids were as excited as we were to have Pia join our family for another year!
I think the biggest difference from the first time to this second time for Pia is that the kids are older and the job requires different activities and timing. She has handled the transition well and has only gained skills and maturity to handle more complex situations. It’s probably more tricky for me to realize she doesn’t necessarily remember all the rules or how to get around to places … we laugh about this a lot.
In my opinion, another au pair year will impact my authority as a teacher. It seems to be a great opportunity to improve my cultural and linguistic knowledge, as well as my teacher qualities.
You must really have to like one another to commit to another year together, no?
One of my family’s commitments is to forge life-long connections with our au pairs—our love for them doesn’t end at the border or the calendar. They always have a place in our hearts and a spot on our pull out couch in our basement. This past summer we were lucky enough to have visits from two other of our previous au pairs, Elisabeth and Nicole (and Nicole’s boyfriend), and their stays overlapped each others and Pia’s arrival.  Nicole even got engaged while she was visiting us! We are a lucky family to have such wonderful women be part of our lives.
After I ended my first au pair year in July 2011, I came back for a visit twice. The O’Gradys always gave me the chance to stay with them as long and often as I wanted to. I really appreciate this. Last summer I was able to stay with them for five entire weeks. That is why I feel like I have never really left. Even though I wasn’t their au pair anymore, I got the chance to be still part of their lives. Besides, we were exchanging e-mails and little birthday and Christmas presents. I always tried to not lose the great contact we’ve had. I enjoy spending my time with the kids and am glad that I’ve decided to do another au pair year again. My host children are not only the children I am taking care of, but also became the little siblings I never had.
We wish Pia and the O’Gradys a wonderful second term together. Former au pairs: would you ever consider returning to the U.S. be an au pair again? Host families: would you enjoy welcoming any of your previous au pairs back?