Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the world of au pairs. How have their experiences changed?
Having myself started my au pair adventure in February 2019, in the United States and more precisely in Arizona. I wanted to give the floor to some of us to tell us about their daily lives during this unprecedented period. To do this, I wrote and shared a questionnaire to collect their feelings. In this article, I will focus on this au pair adventure in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Be an au pair
Being an au pair during the global pandemic of 2020
A dream that turns into a nightmare
Relationship with the parents of our host family
LCC (local childcare) support during confinement
Can you become an au pair during the pandemic?
Health crisis and experience
The good sides related to the pandemic and the Covid-19 for the peers
1. Being an au pair
Going as an au pair means going on an exchange program. We have to go through an au pair agency and then fulfill special criteria to validate our J1 visa at the American Embassy in Paris. To put it simply, it’s living with a host family in the USA that you have chosen. The work we do is to take care of the tasks related to the children of the family. 45 hours a week for around $200, while being housed, fed and laundered. I arrived in 2019, so I lived my first year without the pandemic. So I took advantage of the authentic au pair adventure. However, I experienced the arrival of COVID-19 in the United States in March 2020.
Take the opportunity to discover the 5 good reasons to become an au pair in the USA by clicking here.
2. Being an au pair during the global pandemic of 2020
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly disrupted our cultural exchange and our au pair year. The USA quickly became one of the most affected countries in the world.
Each state in the United States is headed by a governor, he is the one who makes the decisions. In Arizona, we are in the middle of March 2020, the governor is asking for the total closure of Arizona, with the closure of bars, restaurants, events. Very quickly masks became compulsory in public places and the order to stay at home was amended. We also experienced the toilet paper war here, the battles to have the last bag of pasta in the supermarkets, we peers were forced to be confined with our host families. But then how does it happen?
3. A dream that turns into a nightmare
I would like to address here the pandemic seen through expatriate peers. At first it’s “Locked up with the children 24 hours a day, school at home so more (+) work” announces Magalie. Indeed, the workload has completely changed our daily lives. Thus the adaptation and the mental which has been put to the test. “You have to be mentally and physically strong, it was very complicated morally speaking to be cut off from everything and everyone for three months” underlines Eliona, au pair in San Francisco, California. Often we found ourselves without a fixed schedule, no more rest with a considerable workload from sunrise to sunset.
We also have a big time difference with our families and friends who stayed in France. We have no physical support, we don’t talk to each other very much. And the concern for our loved ones is felt. I recently read an article by Aude Lasjaunias published on Le Monde with feelings from expatriates from all over the world: “To live the epidemic while being an expatriate is to take the full brunt of the distance”
In life, there are episodes that we fear and that we never want to live.
I lost my grandfather, a very important man in my life. He did not have COVID-19. Fortunately, the hospital accepted that her two sons and my brother stay with her for a few days to say goodbye. Every day I was on the phone with them so we could sing their favorite songs together. I no longer slept, no longer ate, I was petrified at the thought of losing him. The impossibility of going to France to say goodbye to her is one of my biggest regrets, the hardest I’ve had to overcome since my expatriation. It is impossible for me to grieve properly. I thought of giving up everything and finding my grandpa to say goodbye to him, it was my desire every second. Being an expatriate also means losing all those moments with your family.
As far as our relations with our host families are concerned, there were no longer any barriers, as Léna Feron, an au pair in California, explains to us. “My kid who comes to wake me up at 7 a.m. knocking on my door on a Sunday morning for me to make him his breakfast… thank you for the pandemic and the loss of bearings between work and free time”. It’s a tough test for us peers, but it has forged our character, as well as “the development of our patience” she underlines.
For us, the children we consider them as “our little brothers and sisters” evoke Anne-Laure, Magalie, or even Flore Anne. Finally, this episode generally allowed us to maintain a fusional relationship with our little ones. The au pair experience is done initially to discover the country and make friends from all over the world.
4. Relationship with the parents of our host family
Half of the respondents to the questionnaire have already thought about and/or have changed families because of Covid-19 and their degraded relationships with their foster parents. Some have even thought of a one-way return trip to France. There is a real dissonance between the love we share with our host families and the physical and mental overload that assails us. Colloquially, our feelings are “I don’t love you either.”
5. LCC (local childcare consultant) support during confinement
During this period of confinement, I had no news from my agency and more specifically from my LCC. An LCC is a person who follows you since your arrival in the USA, to find out if everything is going according to the rules and who is here to accompany you throughout your year. I had no feedback or messages, to know how I was doing or how I felt. A simple e-mail with “Did you do 45 hours max? If not, contact me” that’s all. A surprising lack of support from LCCs for their au pairs. However, my case is not a generality, because three quarters of the LCCs were present for their au pairs according to my study conducted with the main concerned. Which is a very good sign. Indeed, it should not be forgotten that LCCs have very different ways of working.
6. New au pairs
Au pairs already on American territory benefited from a 6-month extension after their two years of adventures if they wished. Indeed, this allows families on the territory to always find au pairs while the borders between France and the USA are closed. Currently, no new au pair is authorized to enter the United States. Only NIE (National Interest Exeptions) visas are issued, i.e. for au pairs who go to priority families such as hospital staff.
7. Health crisis and experience
Being an au pair means being in total immersion, we must not forget that. “The au pair experience is rich in every way and especially in emotions” says Louanne Berlot, former au pair in California and Pennsylvania. However, babysitting and living with a host family can have its downsides. By carrying out this questionnaire, I realized that I was not the only one to bear my experience with difficulty because “you still have to have strong shoulders and even more so with the pandemic, it requires us to take on ourselves a lot more, we feel even less free, in terms of independence we can forget” she agrees.
The au pairs, who answered this questionnaire, left me some really hilarious anecdotes.
“My host mom understood that I was going to have sex in the car. When I was just saying that I was happy to have the ‘sexy car’. We nicknamed one of the cars like that ‘Julie Mancip au pair at Denver in Colorado.
“One of my little ones didn’t want to shake hands with his little brother ‘because of Covid’. Crazy laughter of the week 😂” Flore-Anne
And the best anecdote goes to Eliona “My host dad quarantined the food outside for 3 days. And disinfected everything 4 times…”
Jokes aside, I asked THE ultimate question, because after all, we became au pairs to discover the USA.
Can you travel as an au pair to the USA during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Julia tells us that she “was able to travel more because the total cost is much more reasonable because of the crisis!”. However, for the rest of us it is more difficult to combine this period with travel. This completely changes the game of this program based on exchange and discovery. “More trips, more activities, host dad parano, be very careful and limited number of friends” says Eliona. “Less travel, not possible to go to friends for an evening and stay overnight, have children much more often. Less time to discover the States.” says Lena. “More meetings, more outings, completely isolated, children H24” continues Anne-Laure Terrier.
Au pair rhymes with salary… no it’s a joke, being an au pair we are generally paid only $200 a week for 45 hours.. But in this period of confinement, I did not see myself earning more than $200 $ while I worked well over 45 hours from sunrise to sunset, day and night. I was finally seen as the big sister. Fortunately, some host families have been generous with the work provided by their au pairs. These have been increased by sometimes $50. This period of confinement has been a nightmare but let’s see the good sides.
8. The good sides of the Covid-19 pandemic
Nevertheless, I would like to end on a positive note. This experience has forged our character, our personality as young adults, believe me, it’s no small feat to live on the other side of the world, without contact, without friends, without family and above all without support! But it’s also the perfect time to discover a hidden facet of our personality and get out of our comfort zone. We learn more about ourselves, we escape differently. For example, through hiking or outdoor activities for people who were not used to it. “Personally I find it great (if you like to do activities in nature)” exclaims Julia.
To end this article, it should be noted that the prices of air flights have dropped by hundreds of dollars. This is also where many have been able to book their tickets in advance and at a lower cost as Julia tells us “it’s the best time because the planes are not expensive and the hotels either!!! Best time to travel when you’re a poor au pair!!!”.
Here you will find our YouTube channel with videos filmed during the quarantine. The videos are filmed with my host family, Jennifer my host mom and the twins.
I would like to thank all the women who answered my questionnaire and who allowed me to illustrate this article. Tell me in the comments, how you, au pair, or expat managed the distance with France?