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What do you do to entertain a 20-year-old when you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be 20?
I ask this question since I find myself at the age of 72 in an interesting situation.
A good 15 years ago, an old high school friend asked if I’d be interested in becoming a community counselor for an international au pair placement service. Community counselor? What’s that? Well, my friend said, it’s kind of a “go-between.” You help qualify the host family who applies for an au pair through EurAupair, an intercultural childcare program, and then you check in with both parents throughout the year and take the au pair on an outing once a month.
That sounded easy enough, so I signed up. Now years later, I finally have my first assignment. Kansas, it seems, is not the best state for finding families who would welcome childcare from an au pair from another country.
In the booming ‘90s, there were plenty of high school and college graduates from Wichita who made their way to New York and Connecticut to learn how to become “nannies.” Families from the eastern states are much more familiar with inviting girls from the heartland into their homes, but Kansans, it seems, are a little more reticent in welcoming girls from a foreign country.
Add a lingering recession to Wichita, the Air Capital of the World, and you can see why families might be reluctant to spend the money on childcare of this kind.
The whole idea of having a foreign girl come into my home to take care of my child or children while I work sounds ideal to me. I love learning about people, their experiences, tastes and culture. And having my child become acquainted with the outside world through a caregiver’s eyes just delights me to no end.
I was given the opportunity as a 17-year-old to delay going to college a year in exchange for living in Europe. I lived six months in Paris and six months in Rome with a month-long holiday in England in between. I attended classes at the Institute Catholique in Paris and at the Trinita Dei Monti in Rome, which at that time was an international girls’ school located at the top of the Spanish Steps.
I studied French and Italian, Art and Art History. I never had so much fun in my young life and the experience honed my love of art and architecture, fine food and travel forever.
This was in 1960 when it was relatively inexpensive to travel to and live in Europe. Today, it would be a different story all together. That’s why bringing Europe into my home would be the next best thing for my child, and that’s why I think the whole EurAupair experience is terrific.
So, here I am with my first au pair. Her name is Kim, from Germany, and she’s a darling girl. So bright, speaks English without an accent, can even find her way on an American computer, typing English like a pro (remember at her home her keyboard is entirely in German.) I’m in awe of her poise and diligence, her willingness to learn and please. She’s an excellent care giver to three adorable children. And I love her host family. They are terrific and have welcomed Kim into their home as both an au pair and as a daughter. I’m just completely impressed with the whole situation.
Our first outing was to a store opening (I’m a writer for a family-owned chain of health food stores) where Kim got to take pictures of the event and post them to Facebook. From there we went to lunch at my favorite restaurant, shopped at an outrageous boutique and then went to a movie to see “The Intern.”
Kim is so appreciative and joyful, it was difficult knowing if she really had fun. Cognizant of the age gap, I want to make her experience in Wichita interesting. I just wish I knew other au pairs her age or other youngsters that would make our outings more meaningful for her.
Our next outing was a cultural one. We started out having breakfast and then toured College Hill where Wichitans go all out with Halloween decorations. We then traveled to our new Pop-Up park downtown, took photos, and then onto the Keeper of the Plains where we walked the suspension bridge over the Arkansas River and studied the American Indian wall writings at the other end.
What’s Wichita without its past? Some refer to our city as “encased in the ‘50s.” There’s so much history here, but not much physical beauty. The wheels of government move slowly, but it’s a great family town. I want Kim to get to know her new city intimately and take back a little western-leaning romance from the “Peerless Princess of the Plains” when she returns to Germany next year.
So off to the Sedgwick County Historical Museum to see an exhibit on prohibition, rooms devoted to the early days of aviation and an entire house memorialized on a floor unto its own, complete with zinc-lined bathtub, wood stove, Prairie-Victorian furniture and clothing worn by the gentry of the day.
There are still tons of things that interest me in my home city: Old Cowtown, Exploration Place, the Wichita Art Museum where I’ve been a Friends board member for a dozen years. But do these things really interest a 20 year old?
I know Kim likes to shop, go to basketball games and eat. Basketball is a way off, shopping is a given, and eating…well, we both like to eat. But the addition of more young people would be ever so welcomed.
I guess I’m writing this to spread the word. We need more au pair families in Wichita. I can personally vouch for the excellence of EurAupair. Both the families and au pairs are screened within an inch of their lives. The company has been at this a long time and has a stellar reputation. It gives the company, families and au pairs reassurance that their placements will be successful, everyone will be safe and well cared for and the whole experience worth the money and effort.
Now…what to do with a 20-year-old on our next outing!
By Community Counselor Pamela Porvaznik.