From Argentina to New Mexico: My Au Pair Experience.

Argentina and New Mexico Flag

Notes from Jen

How moving to the United States to work as a nanny changed my life

By Uma Platz

I found out about the Au Pair program in 2021 through my dad; his step-niece had been living in California for a year at that point, and he thought it would be a good opportunity for me. I had put off my studies during the pandemic. I didn’t really have anything going on, so he set me up to work as a nanny with one of his friends, so I could gain experience and see if working in childcare was a good fit for me. I ended up loving it; I worked with three kids, twins age 6 and their older brother age 8. The decision was made and I enrolled in the program.

At the beginning of 2022, my profile went live. The system works in a way that Au Pairs and American families have profiles in an online platform, and families can browse for Au Pairs, looking for people that would be an ideal match. Then families can send connection requests, and then the Au Pairs can review the family profile. Au Pairs can then accept or deny the connection. If the connection is accepted, the family and Au Pair contact each other, usually through a video call for a two-way interview, and if both parties are OK with it, a match is made. This means that the Au Pair will move in and work with that family.

In March 2022, I received my first connection: it was a family of four from Florida. We FaceTimed a couple times and exchanged a few texts, and we decided to match. Looking back, I was very naive, and that led me to not make good choices. If there’s a piece of advice I would give anyone, it’s don’t match with the first family you talk to. Interviewing with families is difficult, and asking the right questions might not be very intuitive. Talking to more than one family will expose you to different types of situations that will eventually lead you to be aware of red flags and simple preferences you might not have known before.

My parents and me at the airport the day I left.

My parents and me at the airport the day I left.

I arrived in Florida on June 10, 2022. My host family wasn’t there to pick me up from the airport. Instead, a private driver met me and drove me to the home. Immediately, I was in a state of shock. It was my first time traveling to the United States, and all the information I had about it I had learned through media. So when we started driving on a six-lane highway, with big green signs passing overhead, I felt like I was in a movie. The driver dropped me off at a big house in a gated community with palm trees all around.

I only lived in Florida for a total of seven weeks. For the first three I was living in bliss, adapting to a new environment (both the Florida biome, and the new job), learning all the quirks of my new family, and getting all the initial paperwork done. Then, on a random afternoon, my host parents called me down to the kitchen and told me they wanted to rematch. Their reasoning was that I didn’t have enough driving experience, but to this day I believe they had other reasons that they didn’t tell me about. I was struggling with handling their two small children, one of whom had health complications I wasn’t made fully aware of prior to us matching. Going into rematch was inevitable, but at that moment I was devastated. In the end, this decision was the best thing that could’ve happened to me; people in Florida were cold and unfriendly. I had never felt so alone in a crowded room.

Rematch happens when an Au Pair or a family (or both) don’t think they are as good of a match as they had thought. There’s a two-week period in which an Au Pair has to find a new family; if the two weeks are up and they haven’t matched yet, there’s three options: stay with the host family for an agreed amount of time until a match is made, move into a hotel chosen by Cultural Care, or go back home. My two weeks of rematch came and went with no connection requests, and there was no way I was going back home, and my host family didn’t want me to stay at their home any longer. So I packed my stuff and moved into a hotel with another Argentinian Au Pair who was also in rematch. I stayed there for ten days, before I matched with the Schroer family from New Mexico. (Jen and Justin Schroer are the owners of Tumbleweeds.)

I didn’t know a single thing about New Mexico before coming here. I hadn’t even watched Breaking Bad. I was definitely nervous and the experience of rematch has left me with anxiety to this day.

From the first moment I arrived at the Albuquerque airport, things were completely different than they had been in Florida. Justin was there to pick me up, and he talked to me the whole way up to Santa Fe telling me things about New Mexico. The thing I remember the most clearly was him telling me about the Sandia Mountains, and how I found it funny that they were named after watermelons. When we got to Santa Fe, I got to meet Jen, Ryker, and Aviva (and Sprezzi, the dog). Ryker smiled big, showing me his three front teeth.

From left to right: Jenny, Gaston, and me,
having a picnic.

From left to right: Jenny, Gaston, and me, having a picnic.

At first, I was weary of opening up to my new host parents. I’ve always been an introverted person, and my previous experience in Florida left me a bit shaken up. Slowly but surely, I made myself comfortable, and now I consider Santa Fe my second home.

Many things happened in the year and nine months I’ve lived in Santa Fe. I have grown and matured, much like my host kids, who were 2 and 4 when I got here and will be 4 and 6 by the time I leave. Having been able to see Ryker and Aviva grow up has been one of the best experiences of my life. There is something new to learn everyday for them, and I have taken that as an opportunity to learn and relearn as well. I will always look back on our memories together with fondness.

My host parents, Jen and Justin, couldn’t have been any cooler. I am eternally grateful for having found them. I truly believe that if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have lasted in the program for as long as I did. They have helped me out and listened to every single concern, problem, or issue I had. They understood when I felt homesick, and what I like about them the most is that they always took active steps to make me feel like I was truly part of the family.

From our family photoshoot in June 2023.

From our family photoshoot in June 2023.

I have met tons of people and made a handful of friends. One of the downsides, and probably the saddest part of being an Au Pair, is that you meet and befriend other Au Pairs who eventually have to leave, either because their program is over or they went into rematch. Now it’s my time to leave, but what I will always keep with me is all the fun adventures I got to experience with my friends. I hope we can reunite in the future.

I will be returning home soon, just a couple days before my birthday, and I’m an emotional mess. I’m anxious about moving on from being an Au Pair, something that with time has become second nature to me, and having to find a new job. I’m sad, and I cry every time I think about saying goodbye to my host family. But I’m hopeful that it’ll be more of a “see you later.” I’m so excited about seeing my family again; I miss my home, my bed, my mom’s cooking. I have a baby sister who was born while I was in my extension year, so I haven’t met her yet. I can’t wait to see all my friends and tell them all about this crazy, crazy experience.

Through highs and lows, I think being an Au Pair has changed my life, and I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t done this.

Uma Platz Bensak is a 22-year-old Au Pair from Buenos Aires. She’s been an Au Pair for a year and nine months with Cultural Care Au Pair. She’s bilingual, speaking Spanish and English fluently. During her Au Pair year, she studied ASL (American Sign Language) and is now planning on returning to continue her studies as an ASL interpreter.

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