L-R: Annalisa Favorido, Melinda Caluori (au pair coordinator), Ellen Gunterberg, Rebekah Medlin, Darcy Shepherd and Karen Zuniga share their cultural exchange experiences. Stephanie Quiroz/staff photo.

L-R: Annalisa Favorido, Melinda Caluori (au pair coordinator), Ellen Gunterberg, Rebekah Medlin, Darcy Shepherd and Karen Zuniga share their cultural exchange experiences. Stephanie Quiroz/staff photo.

A cultural exchange experience in the Valley

Around 40 au pairs live with local families as part of a cultural exchange experience in Snoqualmie and North Bend

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.

To learn more about Au Pair, email Melinda Caluori at melinda.caluori@lcc.culturalcare.com or call her at 425-214-3025.

Au pairs learn about the American culture and become a part of the family during their time in the United States. Photo courtesy of Melinda Caluori.

Au pairs learn about the American culture and become a part of the family during their time in the United States. Photo courtesy of Melinda Caluori.

More in Life

Nityia Photography
Dying from an overdose; not just heroin that’s killing us

A monthly column about mindfulness and health.

Attaining a sustainable summer picnic

Three easy steps for an eco-conscious outing.

VF Outlet to host their Gear Up for Adventure fundraiser

Donations will benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

Balance is a natural part of health

A monthly column from a primary care doctor in Woodinville.

Take time to feel the emotions, don’t avoid them

A monthly column about mindfulness meditation and wellbeing.

Kelsey Saty and her team Bye Felicia will be participating in the 2019 Seattle Brain Cancer Walk on May 5. Photo courtesy of Kelsey Saty
North Bend’s Saty says ‘Bye Felicia’ to brain cancer

Kelsey Saty running to raise funds for brain cancer research.

Snoqualmie honors the time and dedication offered by city volunteers

The time and effort many citizens put into making the city a… Continue reading

Preschool lead teacher Nikki Slaght helps her toddler class write their names. Stephanie Quiroz/staff photo
Encompass making a difference in the Valley and beyond.

Encompass offer a host of programs for children and families.

The King County Sheriff’s Office Marine Rescue Dive Unit will present a talk on river safety and river rescue and recovery at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 15, at the Sallal Grange & Community Hall in North Bend. Courtesy photo
Sallal Grange to host river safety talk April 15

King County Sheriff’s Office Marine Rescue Dive Unit

Paige Bisbee, of Bellevue is a paid employee at Davis Wright Tremaine in Bellevue. As part of the law firm’s inclusive program, Bisbee distributes snacks and office supplies to her co-workers. Stephanie Quiroz/staff photo.
People with disabilities find purpose through new employment opportunities

Paige Bisbee of Bellevue finds employment at Davis Wright Tremaine

Burt Mann honored as North Bend Citizen of the Year

World War II veteran and longtime North Bend resident Burt Mann was honored as Citizen of the Year.

Eastside firefighter Danika Lawson making coffee at the first brew off event at the Trail Youth Coffee Home on March 19. Stephanie Quiroz/staff photo
Local first responders participate in brew off event at Trail Youth Coffee Home

Firefighters and police officers compete for the brew off trophy.