by Barrett Seaman –
Maria and Sophia need help. They are due at a lecture on personal safety, but they don’t know how to get to the lecture hall in one of the many buildings that make up the sprawling EF campus perched on the hilltop overlooking Tarrytown and the Hudson. Their English is not perfect, but they manage to get across what it is they’re after—and that’s all part of the process. While they’re here, it’s English Only all the time.
The two young women are from Mexico and here for only five days as students at Cultural Care Au Pair Training School. At the weekend, they will head out to meet with the families that will be their hosts for the next year and possibly more. Maria is on her way to San Francisco; Sophia is going to Boston. They have already communicated, including via Skype, with their respective families and the young children they will soon be caring for. They are excited about the opportunity.
Eventually they find the lecture hall, where they join dozens of other young women between the ages of 18 and 26 (there are a few men in the program as well) listening to a retired New York City Police Detective work through a PowerPoint checklist of things to do and not do to keep themselves and the children in their charge out of harm’s way in America. The detective’s presentation is rapid-fire, covering topics ranging from how and when to use 911 and how not to leave young children unattended in a car to what the consequences will be if they are caught using drugs or stopped on a DUI.
During their hectic week in Tarrytown, they will have classes in CPR and first aid, child nutrition and child development, the American culture of child-rearing, household safety and stress management, among others. They’ll have one-day trip into New York City before they go, and they are free to head into Tarrytown in the late afternoons and evenings.
The term au pair, French for “on a par with” or “equal to,” is an old European concept of providing families with child care using (mostly) girls who come from families of similar social stature and are thus considered more part of the family than a hired nanny. Families typically host au pairs for up to one year, although they are able to extend for up to two years under the J-1 visa program.
Maria and Sophia are part of a particularly large class of au pairs: there are 380 of them during this week in early January. Last year, thousands of au pairs came through the program, which is housed at Tarrytown’s EF most of the year but also at Hofstra University on Long Island during the summer. They come from all over the world and go out to families all over the U.S.. Germany, Colombia and Brazil typically lead the list of feeder countries, but the au pairs come from dozens of countries where Cultural Care Au Pair, the agency that runs the program, has employees who screen applicants, with help from the U.S. State Department.
The connection to Cultural Care, one of dozens of similar placement agencies connecting au pairs with American families, doesn’t end when the au pairs move on to their respective families. Each one has access to a local or at least regional childcare consultant, or LCC, within 30 miles of their location—someone they can turn to for advice or help in case of a problem. Cultural Care has over 900 LCCs around the country.
Host families pay a program fee of $8,695 that covers the au pair’s time at the training school, as well as the initial recruitment and screening, round-trip airfare, travel insurance and the support provided by the LCCs in the field. The agency also requires host families to pay their au pairs a weekly stipend of $195.75.