My name is Melanie, and I am a former Cultural Care au pair from Mexico. As the new COVID-19 outbreak numbers rise and most of the world is in quarantine, I wanted to share a few thoughts about being an au pair in a different country while you or your country are going through rough times—because I have been through it myself.
During my time in the USA, my beautiful Mexico suffered two catastrophic earthquakes, which took many lives and destroyed entire cities. I was in my first year as an au pair, and I don’t think I had ever gone through a more terrifying experience in my life. The first days after this disaster were full of stress and uncertainty, I was very anxious and I knew my family wanted me back home. Some part of me was ready to go back too. All I wanted was to be there to help with the relief of Mexico City with my own hands. But how?
While looking for some comforting words and maybe a hug, I talked to my LCC. She listened to my fears. She wisely told me that staying or leaving was my own decision to make, but that if I stayed, to think about what I could do to feel connected to my family and friends back home. Even though I was afraid, I slowly came to realize that I could make a bigger difference by staying and finding a more effective way to help from afar.
That’s how I decided to create a fundraiser for the relief of Mexico while in the USA. I used my artistic abilities to generate funds while also giving me a window to express what I was feeling and heal. This was a hard process, and it took lots of courage and support from the people around me, but knowing that I was doing something of value while keeping my commitment and staying, helped me cope with the situation. The feeling of giving my host children such an example of passion, compromise, and strength was incredibly fulfilling.
A few months later, I had to face yet another challenge. I woke up on a Sunday with a terrible pain in my belly, so I had one of my friends take me to the ER. That night I had to have my appendix removed. I don’t think there is anything scarier than going in for surgery while your mom is a country away. So, I called my host dad in the middle of the night, right before the surgery, crying. He said, “When you wake up, we’ll be there.” I spent a week in the hospital, another week in recovery, and a month without driving or much activity.
After all of this I thought I had reached my breaking point, I was feeling frustrated and scared. But honestly, something inside of me kept saying that all these challenges were meant to make me a better person. That all this fear I was experiencing one day would become my greatest strength. And it did.
In October 2018, I finished two years as an au pair in the USA. And looking back—at the friends from around the world I made, how I am now totally fluent in English, and the opportunity I had to take art classes at the prestigious Tufts University—all the challenges I faced seem like a small part of my overall experience. In the moment that I was going through all this, I felt very lucky I was able to find the support I needed, and with it the courage to keep going. I don’t regret my decision at all, and now I can see how being an au pair has made me a more confident woman.
If you are going through tough times, either because of the coronavirus outbreak or for other reasons, here are some things I know helped me.
When you are going through a hard time, take time to breathe and reflect. It is very easy to make irrational decisions when we feel afraid, concerned, and worried. But when a situation is out of our control, it is important to think about the impact of our decisions. Think about the long-term, and who would be affected by it.
Though to me the right thing to do was to stay, there is no right or wrong decision; as long as you are sure you are following your heart and give yourself enough time to think, instead of acting just by instinct.
We all have different reasons for becoming au pairs, whether it is to seek out an adventure, or to improve your English, or simply the idea of living in a different country. We all have goals that were strong enough to make us pack everything and come to the U.S. So remind yourself of them! Make a list of all those wonderful things that convinced you to come here and give yourself a round of applause for them. Nobody said it was easy, but taking the first step is admirable—and you have a whole community to support you to reach those goals. We got you!
When the earthquakes happened in my home country, everything felt so intense right away. But life did return to a new kind of normal eventually and I felt proud that I could say I did my part to help. I was able to contribute to a greater good, while showing my kids you can be both hurt and strong. I think it is important to say that I never hid my emotions and my pain, but I also didn’t let the way I was feeling at the moment control the bigger picture of my future. Hold on to your passions, your hobbies, and anything to keep your mind off this feeling of helplessness. Sooner or later, this situation will improve, and I can promise you, you will feel better by knowing you got through it.
Just a few days after I arrived in the USA, it was my birthday. I knew I was coming to a different culture, but I never really knew what that meant until that day. I come from a culture of hugs, and that morning I came downstairs hoping to be surrounded by them. But that didn’t happen. Though my host family did say “happy birthday” I felt like something was missing, MY HUGS! I was very disappointed. I also knew that just a couple of houses away there was an au pair from Colombia, so I went on a quest to find her and ask her for my hug. I knew she’d understand. After that day, we became inseparable. What I mean with this is, don’t let feelings be only for yourself—I can guarantee that a lot of people are feeling the same. It is normal!!! You are NOT failing for feeling this way. Reach out to other au pairs on social media, text, or get in touch another way. Talk to your family back home. Call your LCC. Stay connected!
When I was in crisis, I found comfort in focusing on the things that were under my control—for instance, the things I ate, what I did for exercise, and in general how I took care of my mind-body-soul. Hard situations will only get worse if you forget to take good care of yourself. I understand what it’s like to feel vulnerable and like the world is attacking you personally. But I learned that talking about the way I was feeling helped me put into perspective the things I could do for myself to make the situation better.
I was very lucky I had my drawings to keep my mind busy, and you, too, can find something that makes you feel more in control—even simple things, like stretching for 20 minutes in your room, or making a DIY facial, brushing your hair (I did some DIY hair coloring—please avoid do-it-yourself bleach from the pharmacy, you’ll regret it), calling someone you love. Listen to your body and remember to always keep nourishing it and thanking it for everything it does. The more you take care of yourself, the easier it will be to be prepared for what’s to come. You deserve to be taken care of, and who better to do that than you?
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