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Svenja Kupke - EurAupair Au Pair of the Year 2013
"So you never know what awaits you at a new place. I didn't expect this unknown city to change my life so profoundly."
- Svenja Kupke
Every year thousands of young people from all over the world embark on a special journey by becoming au pairs. Leaving behind the familiarity of their homeland for as long as one year, au pairs travel to distant countries, where they are welcomed into another culture as part of their host family. To reward au pairs for the wonderful job they do caring for children, EurAupair has announced its 3rd Annual EurAupair Au Pair of the Year in 2013.
Svenja's host family story
What qualities identify an au pair of the year? Is it taking your very first airplane ride halfway around the world, yet succeeding in your new environment as the quickest study ever? Is it helping a family of six adjust to a new infant? Or is it special patience and compassion shown to a child with behavioral challenges? Or maybe something even more dramatic? Maybe being first on the scene of a medical emergency complete with the call to 911 and the ambulance? In the case of our beloved au pair Svenja Kupke, let's just say, "All of the above, and then some".
When Svenja arrived in our world, she found a lot of action at the Denenberg household. Four children under 10. Three in different schools. One demanding extra consistency, attention, and patience. All with different personalities, preferences and interests. Svenja took us by storm. She learned the city faster and more thoroughly than any other helper we've known. She bonded with the other au pairs and made local friends. She grasped all the schedules and routines quickly enough to make herself immediately useful, and scrupulously enough to pick one child up at school when Mom forgot to! Speaking of Mom, Svenja leads by example, reminding us NEVER to talk on our cell phones when driving.
And the emergency? Mom fell down a flight of stairs while carrying heavy boxes. Her arm was broken, and her knee gashed almost to the bone. There was Svenja...bringing a compress, calling 911, taking care of the entire household while mom recuperated. All this from the girl who boarded her first plane ever to travel to the middle of the United States at the age of 19. Is it any wonder that all of our neighbors, teachers, friends and family love her too? A true Connector, Svenja made life-long friends of us all.
Svenja truly did rise to every occasion with brains and competence, yet there's one more quality that we think makes her truly stand apart. Svenja Kupke has a golden positive attitude. Her sunny smile, her true embrace, her positive, karmic energy is a gift that she shares generously with everyone. Grandma says she loves calling the house when Svenja answers. Life is more fun, less scary, and more sunny with Svenja around. We know we have been blessed to have her shine that energy on our family, and we whole-heartedly nominate her for EurAupair Au Pair of the Year.The new infant did arrive, requiring less sleep, more work, and keen compassion to help the other children adjust and love their new little brother. When Mom and Dad left for the hospital, they left with the confidence that loving, patient, competent Svenja was at the helm. Always there with a new idea, song, or game. Eager to play ball outside or just patiently get her nails painted for the 50th time by a 3 year old. When Svenja's on the job, you know the house runs just like you want it to run; there is structure, learning, and joy. There is trust.
Tippi, Steve, Danny, Michael, Sasha, Sima, and Sol Denenberg
Before Svenja won the award, she, too, had to write an essay about her experiences of being an au pair.
My American Dream
"You are going where?" "Where is that?" "Why aren't you going to New York, Chicago or Los Angeles?" Saying yes to a family with 5 children and living in a city I have never heard of (and neither had anyone else) might not be everyone's dream. But the moment I said "yes" to the Denenberg family of Omaha, Nebraska, I had an incredible feeling that it was the best decision I had ever made.
The truth is that it doesn't really matter what city you will live in for the next year. What matters is having a great connection to your host family. The rest is secondary. And believe me Omaha is magical! It wasn't at all easy for me to say goodbye to my family for one year, but I'm glad I did. The flight to NYC was my first flight ever. As I boarded the plane, I had no idea what experiences were in store.
Once in New York City I felt overwhelmed and couldn't believe that I was actually there. I met a lot of new people from all over the world, who were also launching a year as an au pair. Exchanging experiences and feelings about the whole situation felt quite good. During the workshop in New York, we learned a lot about childcare and cultural differences. In our free time we explored this amazing city. Our year was off to an amazing start.
I like to talk about my host family as "my family" because they feel like my very own. So may I present them to you? We have my (host) parents Tippi and Steve, and "my children" Danny (10), Michael (8), Sasha (6), Sima (4) and Solomon (9 months). Not only do I have the best host family in the world, the extended family (who are in and out all day) are just as loving, patient and helpful. They just work together as one super big family and the dynamic is indescribable.
Is my job as an au pair work or play?When I take care of Michael, I need to pay a lot of attention to him. Michael needs structure, patience and care, so that he understands the consequences of his behavior and actions. Sima, Sasha and Danny require a playful creativity. The girls play with dolls or pretend to be at the beauty salon. We make puppet shows. We go outside to ride bikes, swim, or shoot each other with marshmallows. I'm quite a bit older than they are, but it takes all of my energy to stay one step ahead. I enjoy playing with the kids, because it isn't just work. It is a pleasure to be part of their lives and to watch them grow and learn more and more each day. And I'm really not just playing with them, I am teaching them about right and wrong and they look up to me as a role model.
Then there's logistics. I help drive the kids to schools and pick them up, since 4 kids go to 3 different schools. In no time I proved my ability to adjust and integrate quickly with my family's schedule and daily errands. It makes me very happy because it makes Tippi and Steve happy.
In the middle of my year, Solomon was born. I took responsibility for the young family while Mom and Dad were at the hospital. Then came baby fun. Changing diapers, cooking delicious baby foods and feeding the newborn were built into our daily routine. And if I may say, it is an indescribable feeling to see a little person growing up, to see him change and learn more things day after day! It's also a precious responsibility to take care of an infant...a responsibility that I will be proud to mention to future employers.
I love my personal journey this year. Another au pair named Bianca lived just down the street. I now count her as one of my closest friends. We connected in a way that is hard to explain, but I made in her a friend for life!
My host mom is a very loving, well organized, and awesome mom who speaks a few languages. She is also an amazing cook. Since we spend a lot of time in the kitchen together, a frequent topic is English and German linguistic "twists". For example, the American who is the first to try something becomes a "guinea pig", but the adventurous German becomes a "bunny". And when in love, you are flying on the German Cloud 7 but the American Cloud 9. If you can't sit still in English, you have 'ants in your pants', but in German-bumble bees. But the sayings "long time no see" and "silence is golden" are the same. Most importantly, as different as we are in culture and lifestyle, in the end we are all the same. We all have the same needs and joys.
My time here in the U.S. has been quite exciting. In October, I visited Vala's Pumpkin Patch, a family farm with Halloween attractions. I took a road trip to beautiful Colorado Springs. In May, I attended the famous "Annual Berkshire Hathaway Meeting" where I heard Warren Buffett, America's most famous investor, speak in person. In July, the family took vacation back to Colorado where we rode horses, hiked to a four-level tree house and visited the real ranch where Tippi attended summer camp. In August, we donned baseball caps for a live College World Series game where I figured out some rules of America's favorite past time.
Next on the docket are trips to Las Vegas and Club Med in Florida. Being an Au Pair is a great way to see the country, and my friends and I made the most of it. We went to Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle. All are incredible cities and definitely worth visiting. After that was another trip to Orlando to see the "Harry Potter World" in Universal Studios. We continued our trip on the beach in the Caribbean during Bianca's travel month. The kids and I grew so close together that Sasha asked me if I could stay with them forever. Part of me feels the same way. The years 2011, 2012 and 2013 (I extended my stay for six months) have been the best time of my life! I learned so many new things and got to know so many incredible people who I will truly miss when I am back.
So you never know what awaits you at a new place. I didn't expect this unknown city to change my life so profoundly. What about Omaha was so magical? The many fun things to do, and the friendly and awesome people who live there. This magic definitely made me fall in love with the city, my family and the people! My time as an au pair has been unforgettable, and I can't recommend this experience highly enough.