By Pietro Rossini
There are many ways to come in the United States. One of them is through an “au pair” agency, which is a cheap and easy way to get a visa to the U.S. I interviewed Vanessa Caballero, a Colombian au pair student and worker in the U.S., to know more about an au pair’s life.
Vanessa in New York
Vanessa, when did you come to the U.S. and why did you choose to come here?
I arrived in Boston in December 2019, so it’s almost one year that I’m in the U.S. I was really wondering how to master my English, and at the same time, how to have an opportunity to live abroad. So, I’m from Colombia, and I thought that coming in the U.S. was the better option for me.
Was it hard to get a visa as an “au pair”?
Not really! To come to the U.S., people need to refer to an agency that takes care of all the documents. They will also ask your level of English — that is an important requirement because au pair students will live in American families, and au pairs need to have at least an intermediate level of English. I think this is a good way to come to the U.S. I think it is one of the cheapest and fastest ways to come here. I have pondered other ways to arrive here, for example, I tried as a student with an F-1 Visa, but I found it very expensive. Being an au pair, furthermore, is a flexible program; it lasts one year, but students can extend this program for another year more. And this is what I’m going to do, as well!
To be an au pair makes you living inside the American culture. How is the experience of living with an American family?
This depends a lot according to the family that you will live with. In my case, I was very lucky because I found a very welcoming family. We have dinner together, they pick me up with them when they travel, and they try all the time to make me feel as a part of their family. I think it is not easy to live abroad, far from your family, and it is a great help when you find someone that makes you feel at home. Moreover, I like to have my space, and the family that I’m living with are very respectful in this sense.
What’s something that you really like about the U.S.? What is something different from your country that you liked most here?
I really like that in the U.S. it is possible to find people from different cultures in the same country. Not just because there are people like me that come from other countries, but also between Americans. Indeed, even between different states in the U.S. there is a lot of multiplicity. On the other hand, in Colombia there is more uniformity in the society. I can say that in Colombia we are more “conservative.” With this word I mean that people in Colombia have the same religion and same background, so there is not much diversity among the population. Obviously, there are differences also in my country but it’s not so noticeable like it’s here.
Vanessa and Pietro during the interview on Zoom
Is there something that you don’t like about the U.S.?
I can tell you that before coming here I was afraid to be victim of discrimination. However, I found that here there are opportunities for everybody. It doesn’t matter where you are from or what is your racial background. On the other hand, I don’t like the American routine. I mean, I don’t like the American lifestyle where people are worried about their career; I don’t like this stressful life, and the consumerism of this society. I don’t like what American people used to call a “workaholic.”
You came just a few months before the pandemic started. How the coronavirus affected your life?
Oh, this pandemic changed everything! Of course, I had a chance to improve my English, but I didn’t have so much opportunity to travel, to know more about this country. And I think that studying online is not the same as in-person classes. In general, the pandemic is not a full experience. I spent a lot of time with my host family. I spent more than one month without seeing anyone except my host family. I couldn’t hang out with friends. Even for classes, during breaks I couldn’t go to take a coffee with my classmates because everybody was at home taking the break in their own kitchens!
What do you think about remote-learning?
The professors are trying to do their best. The students are doing their best as well. This technology is very helpful, but for me it will never be the same as in-person classes. We need to change our environment, to take coffee with classmates. I generally prefer in-person classes because I need social interactions.
What would you suggest to someone who’s going to come to the U.S. like you?
I have some recommendations: consider that this is not a vacation, you will have responsibilities! You will take care of the most precious thing that a family has; you will take care of their children. Please, be clear with your family about your expenses and your free-time. Moreover, take into account that here people are very direct in saying things. Do not be afraid to express your idea!
Vanessa lived in Boston since her arrival in the U.S., but now she has moved to South Carolina with her host family.
What is your project for the future?
When I initially came here, I had in mind to improve my English for one year and then apply for a master in civil engineering in Germany. But now that I’m here, I’m changing my mind. I’d like to study here in the U.S. I like this country; however, education here is very expensive, and I don’t think I’ll be able to afford the tuition here. So, I think that I’ll work another year as an au pair, and then I’ll look for a less expensive education in Europe. Also, in Germany there are many opportunities for my field.
As Vanessa told us, being an au pair is one of the fastest and cheapest ways to come to the U.S. However, international students that are considering this option have to take into the account that they will have the responsibility to take care of children. Au pair life is about study, work, and a full immersion in the American culture. Have you thought about this possibility? Could be a good choice for you?
Pietro Rossini is a Xaverian Missionary and an ESL student at Framingham State University (MA). He came to the U.S. in January 2020 with the purpose of studying a master of arts in journalism at Boston University. His dream is to collect and share stories of humanity around the globe, making the world a single family.