Au Pair program matches foreign youth, local families
Sue and Dan Furry and their three children, Alex, 11, Tyler, 6, and Marisa, 4, participate in the EF (Education Foundation) Au Pair program. “Au pair” is the French term for nanny. Au pairs, ages 18-25, represent several European and Latin American countries. They are carefully screened and trained and are required to take six credit hours of college work while in the United States.
“It extends your family,” Sue says. “Having an international au pair makes your children realize the world is smaller than we think it is.” The Furrys are members of Lord of Life Lutheran Church (ELCA), Ma-ple Grove. The au pair term runs for a year, with the beginning date chosen by the host family. Host families are also screened and interviewed.
“You don’t have to be a wealthy family, and you don’t need a large house as long as you have a separate room for the au pair,” Sue continues. “I run a business in my home, and my husband travels. Conven-tional childcare for three children can be costly. Knowing that we have childcare in the home is reassuring, and we also have help on vacation. The biggest plus from the parents’ point of view is flexibility.
“The au pair’s responsibility is the kids’ meals, the kids’ entertainment, helping the kids keep their rooms picked up and the toys organized. At the same time, we enjoy getting to know another culture, their food, some language, and more about sports, for example soccer.
“It’s nice living in the metro area where there are other families with au pairs, so that they have friends. Local Childcare Coordinator Linda Hahn meets with the group on a monthly basis and gets together with each au pair individually. If personal problems should arise, she’s there as a buffer.”
Hahn, of Maple Grove, supervises approximately twenty au pairs in the northwest quadrant of the Twin Cities and suburbs. She is a family therapist who speaks French and German. Her counterparts in three other portions of the metro area share the supervising assignment for a total of around 75 EF au pairs locally.
“Most au pairs come to the United States to perfect their English, then go home to be more employable,” Hahn says. “They are here on a J-1 student visa, stay with a family for one year and then have an optional 13th month for seeing more of this country.
“They each must have hundreds of hours of documented childcare experience before they apply, plus 800 documented hours of infant care if they are assigned to a family with a child under two years old. They must be proficient in English and able to drive a car. Some have taken water safety instruction or have studied child psychology.”
Coordinators like Hahn help with cultural subtleties. “I ex-plain that one soap is for the dish washer, another for the sink. Peanut butter is new to them and I warn them not to mix peanut butter with mustard in sandwiches as one au pair tried to do.”
EF Au Pairs is a division of Education Foundation, Stock-holm, Sweden, with offices in Berlin; Warsaw, Poland; Boston; and Portland, Oregon. Founded more than 25 years ago, it sponsors about 4,000 au pairs in the U.S. and has operated in Minnesota for ten years. EF also arranges high school exchanges, cultural travel and language camps.
Au pairs arrive in New York every week during the summer. They attend a one-week course at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University to familiarize them with everything from pay phones and dialing 911 to taking temperatures, recognizing chicken pox and using the Heimlich maneuver. Au pairs then fly to their destinations, where the host families meet them. Hahn phones in the first forty-eight hours and does a home visit in the first two weeks.
Most au pairs are young women, but more families are beginning to request young men. “Some families always want an au pair from the same country and others want a different nationality each year,” Hahn says. “One family always requests a Swedish au pair because they want their children to speak Swedish. Many are requesting a South American au pair to help the children improve their Spanish.”
Some au pairs volunteer for community outreach. A Brazilian au pair spoke to third graders at Weaver Lake Elementary School about the tropical rain forest. An au pair from Germany volunteered with Girl Scouts throughout her stay. Other au pairs spoke to Hahn’s son’s Boy Scout troop when the scouts were working on their “Citizen in the World” merit badge.
To fulfill their study requirement, au pairs Hahn has worked with have attended Normandale, North Hennepin or Anoka-Hennepin colleges. A few select the University of Minnesota, take courses by correspondence or study via the Internet. They choose the subjects they wish, ranging from English as a Second Language and American literature to psychology, computer science and cake decorating.
EF program guidelines require that au pairs work no more than 45 hours per week and not over 10 hours in a single day. Their stipend is $139.50 per week, using a scale established by Congress.