Au Pair Orientation Week in New Jersey
Monday morning, 7 a.m. on August 18, 2008, my journey to a whole new life began! I was on the way to Düsseldorf International Airport when it actually hit me that I would be on my own for an entire year, without any of my friends and family close by.
This feeling was exciting and scary at the same time, especially since I just had a horseback riding accident the day before my flight and was fighting a hip sprain. Yes, it wasn’t the smartest idea to go horseback riding just the day before an eight-and-a-half-hour flight to Newark New Jersey after I haven’t sat on a horse for two years. Since horseback riding was and still is one of my passions, I was just too excited to have a chance to sit in the saddle one last time before flying off that I ignored any potential risks that come with the sport. Of course, something had to happen: While I started to canter, I lost balance, fell down and landed right on my hip. All I was thinking while laying on the ground was: “This is impossible! This cannot be happening right now! I am flying to the United States tomorrow!” And I stubbornly insisted that there was nothing that could prevent me from leaving this country. Luckily, my dad who happened to be a doctor had the right medication and advice for me to help me endure the journey over the Atlantic Ocean towards my first stop New Jersey.
Saying goodbye to my closest friends and family was one of the hardest parts of my journey and perhaps my life. I hadn’t expected it to be so difficult and emotionally taxing. But, in order to live my personal American Dream, I had to be brave. I needed to leave my old life behind and be on my own. Ironically, I wasn’t on my own for very long. As soon as I walked towards my departure gate, I heard a familiar voice approaching me: ”Hi, we had orientation together in Cologne. Remember me? I am so glad to meet someone I know.” I was beyond relieved to see this girl with long blonde hair standing in front of me smiling. We quickly bonded, and I was excited to start this trip with at least one familiar face.
Arriving In The U.S.
The flight to Newark seemed like an eternity, and the closer we got, the more nervous I became. What if I can’t understand the language? How is the orientation going to be? Who will I be sharing a hotel room with? All these and more questions made my head spin. Once we landed, my American adventure started right there at the airport: U.S. Customs and Border Control! If you have travelled to the U.S. before, you know what I am talking about. I quickly had to become familiar with the strict American airport security. Going through U.S. Customs and Border Protection meant answering a bunch of questions:”How long are you going to stay?” “What is the purpose of your stay?” “Do you have any relatives living in the U.S.?” Nervously I was hoping that I was answering all of them correctly. But I mastered the questions with a somewhat good level of English and to my relief I was soon released and could pick up my suitcase and go to the hotel where the au pair orientation was scheduled to take place.
The Au Pair Agency I signed up with really did not spare any cost to make all of us future au pairs feel comfortable. In groups of three, we moved into our rooms at the Sheraton hotel before we had to check-in at the au pair orientation desk. Approximately more than a hundred girls and a few guys from all different nations were present when we got greeted by one of the orientation leaders. Once I saw all these other faces looking curiously around the room, I knew I wasn’t the only one with questions and concerns and finally started to relax. That same night, a couple other German girls and I celebrated our first night in the United States with an American dinner at Chili’s restaurant!
The following four days consisted of an extensive orientation program where I was made familiar with such important topics as feeding, swaddling, and first aid. Since I was about to start working for a family with a nine-month-old baby girl, I had to attend the Infant and Small Children Orientation, where only about twenty out of the hundreds of au pairs were placed in. Our group had its own private room, which gave it a much more intimate, familiar feel. I liked it a lot since we soon became our own little au pair trainee family throughout the week. We practiced on dolls how to change a diaper, how to swaddle an infant, and how to use CPR. At the end of the orientation week, we received a CPR certificate and an informative brochure on specialized infant care. All of us also earned an orientation certification.
Time flew by and Friday afternoon approached. Time to say goodbye to the remaining members of the group and my newly made friends. One after one of us was getting picked up at the hotel and either driven to the airport to continue our journey to our guest families or we were directly picked up by them. While I was sitting in the shuttle, I realized that from now on, I was a certified nanny, about to be immersed into a whole new culture and lifestyle. I was excited and nervous at the same time, but couldn’t wait to step on the next airplane that would bring me to my new home- California!
To be continued…
(Next Wednesday: Read about Kathrin’s arrival in California and her first weekend with her host family.)
Images: Copyright ©Anne-Kathrin Schulte
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.