By LAUREN HALLIGAN
One of the many unique features about The College of Saint Rose is that it offers courses designed specifically for au pairs, young women from other countries who provide live-in child care for families in the United States.
The au pairs, similar to nannies, come from countries as diverse as France, Thailand, Germany, Poland, China, Austria, Brazil, Sweden, and Mexico.
Au Pairs ages 18 to 26 working all over the nation travel to the Capital Region in order to take intensive weekend courses on topics that will help introduce them to American culture such as American Holidays, American Politics, or sessions that will help them with childcare like Creative Storytelling and Music Activities for Kids.
Some other courses also include time and money management and personal fitness. Each course has extensive homework. Instructors are typically Saint Rose faculty, staff, alumni, or students.
The weekend courses have three different locations: Silver Bay on Lake George, The Century House in Latham, or right at the Saint Rose campus. The courses do cost a fee for the au pairs, the price factoring in lodging and meals.
Mike D’Attilio, executive director of government and community relations at The College of Saint Rose, founded the au pair study program 19 years ago. After coordinating the program for many years and communicating with the international students, “I learn from them,” said D’Attilio.
Many au pairs in the Northeast take advantage of this opportunity, coming from New York, New Jersey, Mass. and Conn. Others have even flown in to take these courses from Florida, Texas, and Washington.
Kira Teckenbrock, a German au pair living in New York has taken two courses already through The College of Saint Rose and plans on enrolling in more. “It’s always a lot of fun because there sometimes are more than 100 au pairs from all over the country,” she said.
Another au pair Jenny Letsoalo, originally from South Africa who attended weekend courses at Silver Bay said “I felt like a sponge, absorbing every bit of information I could. Everything we did was immediately applicable to my life circumstances and my job. I would highly recommend this workshop to new au pairs so they get started.”
“Not only did the experience provide me with an opportunity to make a change in the lives of children by doing stimulating activities, but it also provided me the opportunity to grow and learn about myself as a care taker and as a person,” Letsoala said. “I was overwhelmed by the support and involvement of the entire staff.”
Even more so than studying abroad, it takes a bold personality and a great sense of adventure for one to immerse themself in an entirely different culture. Teckenbrock is a brave young lady, with the tremendous ambition to live and work in a different country where she initially did not know anyone. First stationed in Saratoga Springs, and then in Chicago, Teckenbrock is now back in New York as a nanny in Katonah, NY.
Far From Home: One Au Pair’s American Experience
Kira Teckenbrock arrived in the United States for the first time on Aug. 14, 2011, the day she moved to America.
“I think what I liked most about becoming an au pair was the opportunity to live in another country far away from home for a whole year, become part of a new family and have a stable income,” she said.
Originally from Dormagen, in North Germany, Teckenbrock signed up to be an au pair through an agency called Cultural Care after hearing of the opportunity through her best friend. “I didn’t like the idea too much at first,” said Teckenbrock, but the more she researched, the more appealing it became to her.
Teckenbrock, a 20-year-old at the time, had graduated high school in June of that year, and worked at McDonald’s to bridge the two month gap until her departure to the U.S.
“I didn’t really start packing my suitcase until my last night at home,” she said “because I didn’t want to believe how fast the last few weeks had flown by.”
The next morning, she recalls, about 17 of her friends and family members at the airport with her. “I didn’t realize the whole situation until I finally had to say goodbye.”
She cried for an hour, although not typically an emotional person.
When Teckenbrock arrived in America, she said it felt more like a vacation and that it took a while to get used to the thought of staying an entire year.
Teckenbrock’s new home was in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. specifically on America Way, her first U.S. residence. There she nannied for twin boys, age two, whom she grew to love dearly.
At the end of her first year, however, Teckenbrock decided she wasn’t quite ready to leave her new country, but decided to relocate and explore.
“One year just went by way too fast and there were so many more things I wanted to see and experience before going back home,” said Teckenbrock.
Another reason she stayed, she reported, is that she didn’t get to save as much money as expected during her first year. She is currently using the second year to save for a big road trip she plans to take before returning home.
At this time, Teckenbrock relocated another thousand miles west, to the “number one city” on her list: Chicago, Ill.
She quickly fell in love with the city. “Chicago just looks so much cleaner than other big cities like New York and it has a little bit of everything: downtown with its skyscrapers and beautiful Millennium Park, the beaches and Navy Pier right next to the city and all the neighborhoods with their little houses.” Teckenbrock lived there for two months, although she wishes it could have been a year.
Back on the east coast, currently living in Ketonah, N.Y., Teckenbrock’s current host-mother Dawn Baird appreciates her help with her two boys, ages seven and 10. Baird said that Teckenbrock takes personal responsibility for their care. “She is very even-tempered and does not get flustered easily,” said Baird, adding “this is important when you have so much responsibility for young children.”
Baird says that she chose Teckenbrock for a number of reasons. “She impressed me with her command of English,” Baird said, “She seemed mature and independent, and that is quite true.”
“I appreciate that [she] has a very positive attitude, and helps the children with a range of projects from homework to helping them to keep their things in order around the house.”
While discipline is also an important aspect of the job, Baird said that Teckenbrock is playful, but able to set rules and limits. “Her ability to follow through on rules really allows me to trust her as a single parent.”
Most importantly, “[She] wants to interact with the boys and they really love her company,” said Baird.
Living amongst an American family, there are countless cultural differences that Teckenbrock has encountered. One huge difference that especially concerns her job as an au pair is that never leaving kids unattended.
“When I was a kid [in Germany] I walked or rode my bike to school by myself from first grade on, and my friends and I went to the playground without an adult, which I could [and would] never let my host kids do without getting in big trouble.”
“At first the American culture and way of living didn’t seem that different to the German culture since both are highly industrialized countries, but soon I noticed a lot of small differences,”
Teckenbrock said, mentioning tipping generously in restaurants, the absence of sidewalks, being asked how you’re doing when entering a shop, and “having three pantries full of food that nobody even ever eats,” as a few.
The one thing Teckenbrock reports missing the most from her homeland is bread. “Crusty on the outside and soft inside” is what she craves, dissatisfied with the sponginess of American bread. Even beyond bread, “living here made me value some things I took for granted in Germany,” said Teckenbrock.
One American custom Teckenbrock said that she will never get used to is taking a car everywhere, even if it’s just down the road. “All my host families had bicycles but all of them were broken and hadn’t been used in years.”
In a challenging situation in which it is easy to feel alone, upon arriving in each new city, “It hasn’t always been easy to make American friends outside of the au pair network and get away from the touristy lifestyle,” said Teckenbrock.
After a year and a half spent nannying in the States, Teckenbrock reports that she is definitely glad that she chose this bold life decision. “Starting a new life by yourself 3,600 miles away from home makes your personality develop a lot, and you learn many new things about yourself.”
“It’s the memories and experiences that nobody can take from me and that I will remember for the rest of my life” that make it all worth it, she said. “I’ve been to so many places that I never even thought of going, and I have a lot more travel plans for my remaining seven months.”
Finally nearing the end of her life-changing American journey, “I feel like I’m ready to go back home,” she said.
Realizing that it is the end of her two year vacation, “I’ll be 22 years old when I get back and it’s time to start studying or job training.”
Concerning further plans for life, she plans to apply for a pilot training position at German airline Lufthansa, a long-time dream for Teckenbrock.