About 40 au pairs are living with local families in the Snoqualmie and North Bend area as part of a cultural exchange experience. Colombia, Australia, Sweden and Italy are a few of the countries represented with their citizens being hosted by families in the Valley.
An au pair is a young adult between the ages of 18 and 26 from another country who lives with an American family for as many as two years on a J-1 visa (a non-immigrant visa issued by the U.S. to exchange visitors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange). The au pair provides as many as 45 hours per week of childcare. Au pairs learn about American culture and become part of the family during their time in the United States. The au pair program is overseen by the Department of State.
In order for au pairs to be considered, they must be within the age group and have at least 200 hours of childcare experience. They must also have graduated from high school, be able to obtain a driver’s license (or already have one) and be proficient in English. Au pairs also undergo a screening process that includes verification of their education, a criminal background check, a personality profile and they provide three personal and professional references.
To host an au pair, families register online. The families are then given access to the available au pair candidates, all who have been screened and interviewed. Families are paired with “matching specialists” who guide them through the process. Being a host family means welcoming an au pair into the home and exposing their children to other cultures and languages. Families must also provide a room for the au pair.
“The sharing of cultures in this program is just so fun. Not only do [au pairs] experience the American culture, but when they go back to their home countries, they share that with their families and it spreads,” said Melinda Caluori, Au Pair local childcare coordinator.
Caluori has been helping families find au pairs for 10 years. She said it’s a big decision for families to make, but many end up choosing au pairs because of the program’s flexibility. Au pairs live with families and the scheduled hours fit with many families’ individual schedules. Families also choose the program for the cultural exchange. They want to expose their families to different cultures and languages.
“It’s so gratifying for me to make that connection for the family and au pair,” she said. “I think it’s worth exploring. It might not be for everyone, but it’s a really interesting and fun form of childcare.”
Darcy Shepherd, 19, came to the United States from Australia three months after she finished high school. She wanted to further her childcare experience and she appreciated the opportunity for cultural exchange.
“I had to do this for myself, and I wanted to jump in there and make the most of it,” Shepherd said. “I think going in with that attitude, I found it easy to adjust with everything around here and my host family. It’s been an awesome experience.”
Coming from Colombia, Karen Zuniga, 23, said she feels like a child experiencing the different seasons in America. She said she feels comfortable here and she appreciates how people are open to other cultures.
“Everything is so exciting. I want to experience all the seasons. I want to know the snow. I’m so excited for that,” Zuniga said. “It’s a new life for me. I’m experiencing two different lives. I have one here and one in Colombia. I love the cultural experience.”
Coming back for a second time is Ellen Gunterberg, 24. Gunterberg, who is from Sweden, said she loves her host family and that is the reason she came back. It was a great match for her.
“I respect them and they respect me,” Gunterberg said. “I was here for a year and a half the first time, and [when] I got back home [to Sweden], I was just missing this place. I love the area and the mountains.”
Rebekah Medlin, 25, also came back for a second time. Medlin shared that she was close with her host family and she never lost touch with them. When she returned to Snoqualmie, she came back to the same family.
“It’s like getting a second family and home. They’re always going to be there for me. I have a family on the other side of the world,” Medlin said.
Annalisa Favorido, 23, from Italy said her family was skeptical at first, but after speaking with Cultural Care they understood that this would be good for her. She decided to enroll in the program in July and arrived to the Valley in September.
“My family is very happy for me,” Favorido said. “They see that the kids are with me and they hug me — my family is very happy. I’m not homesick now. I thought that when I arrived, I was going to be homesick immediately, but no. I don’t know why I’m not homesick.”
According to Gunterberg, being an au pair gives them the opportunity to learn more about the country and themselves.