The First Weekend with My “New” Family
Having met so many wonderful fellow au pairs during my weeklong orientation in New Jersey and having made even friends with some of them, I once again had to leave my familiar surroundings and step out into the unknown. The Friday after my au pair orientation I boarded my United Airlines flight towards my final destination California. This final trip to my host family was thrilling and nerve-wracking at the same time. I was so excited to meet my new family, who I was about to spend a whole year with and experience traditional American customs like Halloween and Thanksgiving . On the other hand, I was about to step on a plane with more than a hundred strangers, who spoke a language that was not my native tongue. Even though my English by that time was fairly experienced, it was still a challenging situation, which made me feel foreign and a bit lonely. Luckily, I happened to sit next to a really nice Mexican-American man who engaged me in an entertaining conversation throughout my flight, helping me ease into speaking English even if it wasn’t all perfect.
The five-hour flight literally flew by, and as soon as we touched ground in Oakland, California, I couldn’t wait to step out of the plane and meet my host family, and yes, my new life. I walked down the terminal, and when I approached the baggage claim to pick up my suitcases, I saw a tall, teddy-bear-like guy holding a sign with hand-written letters that spelled Kathrin. “That’s me! Yes, he is waiting for me!” I though excitedly and walked straight towards him so that he would notice me. I was getting ready to shake hands with him, but instead he gave me a big welcoming hug. What a warm welcome! I was pleasantly surprised about the gesture since I had believed Americans to be even more reserved than us Germans (without meaning to stereotype here :)). He introduced himself as my host dad Tom, and after he helped me get my luggage, we made our way to the car, a real American Ford pickup truck. I was already overwhelmed with all the new impressions when we passed the San Francisco skyline on our drive home. I was instantly in love with the tall buildings and the big bridges and couldn’t wait to explore the city more during my California stay.
A new Neighborhood. A new Family.
But for now we were heading east towards Walnut Creek, a city with a population of about 64,000, located in Contra Costa County. The drive took about 30 minutes, and as soon as we entered my host family’s neighborhood, I felt a sign of relief. During orientation I had heard several horror stories about former au pairs that had to live in really bad neighborhoods, so to see the quiet, clean and neat streets was really comforting. As soon as we entered the ranch style house my host family owned, the two older kids Johnny and Mary approached me curiously but right away made me feel welcome with a big hug as well. Last came my sweet host mum Anne with nine-month-old baby Carol, looking at me with big blue eyes and smiling. I was in heaven and super happy to see how nice everyone welcomed me into their family. That day we all enjoyed a home cooked meal together, trying to get to know each other a little better and getting used to having an additional person in the household. I was the family’s first au pair, so the situation was totally new to all of us. Fighting the New York jet lag and still digesting all the new impressions, I went to bed early so I would be ready and energized for the next day.
That Saturday we headed out to a BBQ party at one of my host family’s friends. Once we all arrived, I felt a little bit like an animal in the zoo, even though I knew nobody meant to make me feel that way. All of a sudden I felt overwhelmed with all the attention I got just because I was from a different country. The people were all really, really nice, but I just wasn’t used to all the openness and curiosity they approached me with; and having to answer all these questions from people that I just had met somewhat exhausted me. In that particular moment I realized that I was thousands of miles away from my family and friends, unable to just hop into a car and drive to meet them for a cup of coffee and conversation. I felt alone!
After politely excusing myself from the BBQ party crowd, I laid down in the hammock in the backyard and just let my thoughts flow. “I will be fine,” I kept repeating to myself, “it will all take time to get used to this new culture, but I know I will be fine!” It had been my dream to move to the U.S. and experience the true American lifestyle, and that meant having to be open to a new culture. And in fact I had a hack of a year ahead of me, I was working for an awesome family that I still keep in touch with, I made new friends from all over the world, and traveled to hotspots such as Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
At the end of the day, I decided to not distance myself from everyone and rejoined the crowd, enjoying some good American style burgers and fun company.
To be continued…
(Next Wednesday: Read about Kathrin’s new life in California and her conquering American streets.)
Disclaimer: Names in the story have been changed to protect people’s privacy.———————————————————————————————–
Anne-Kathrin Schulte, is a contributor for CaliforniaGermans.com. She writes on her personal experience of the American Dream as well as on working as an au pair in CA. She was born and grew up in Düsseldorf, Germany, where she completed her degree as a state-approved Kindergarten teacher. After her au pair engagement in the US and a quick return to Germany she decided to attend university in California and moved back to the United States. She lives in Southern California since 2011.
If you would like to contact Anne-Kathrin, please send an email to californiagermans(at)gmail.com and place her name in the subject line.