Au Pair Danel Wagenaar expected a “kind and amazing” Host Family; in fact, she says her “expectations were really high.”
But the Pierce Family went above and beyond to help their new Au Pair get the most from her time in the U.S. Their story has already captured the hearts of thousands of people who voted for the 2018 #LoveMyHostFamily Contest; Danel and the Pierce Family were voted the grand prize winners.
Soon after arriving at her Host Family’s home, Danel learned that they were willing to do whatever it took to make her feel at home, including helping fulfill her goal to “see other parts of the world” and explore other cultures.
“They are making that possible,” Danel explains in her nomination essay. Her Host Dad, Aaron, travels for work, and when he got the chance to visit Spain, he didn’t hesitate to invite her along.
“We went snorkeling for the first time… I got to go hiking with Aaron and Asher early in the morning. We went on a boat ride and went to two different beaches.”
In seven short months, Danel has been able to fulfill her goal of experiencing other cultures. She had the opportunity to travel home to Germany with the Pierce Family, where she met people from over 24 different countries through Aaron’s job.
“It’s so interesting to learn about everything… Some countries, like Colombia, Philippines, France, and so forth are so enthusiastic… I love the Colombians’ energy.”
Enthusiasm and initiative were also two of Danel’s goals in joining the Au Pair program.
“I wanted to be less shy and more enthusiastic, and I can already see that is becoming more so with them pushing me to do things out of my comfort zone. Meeting their friends, family. Meeting new people.”
It seems Danel’s Host Family has modeled the type of enthusiasm she was searching for. She describes her Host Dad, Aaron as “the most enthusiastic person I have met in my life.”
“I wish I was that enthusiastic about stuff. He once swatted a fly (that was hilarious), he jumped and hit the fly a few times, but the fly just didn’t want to die. Then, the fly started to go crazy and Aaron just kept jumping—then eventually, the fly sat on a frame, and he just came closer slowly and finally squished it.”
Her Host Mom, Jennifer, keeps the energy up as well. Danel compares her Host Mom to her “favorite Aunt, absolutely crazy, fun, weird… I always look forward to spending time with her and having the best conversations.”
These conversations sit at the heart of the Au Pair program. The program was created by the U.S. Department of State in 1989 to promote cultural exchange in support of foreign diplomacy. The program is designed to provide an affordable means for foreign exchange students to live and study in the U.S. for up to 2 years, trading childcare services for free housing and the chance to live with an American Host Family.
“My biggest reason why we wanted to get an Au Pair was for consistency,” says Host Mom, Jennifer. She explains that before Danel matched with their family, they were in a constant flux of babysitters. But the Au Pair program had hidden surprises in store for the Pierces. Jennifer now describes Danel as “amazing,” and says that being a Host Family has made them feel they “have it really good.”
Danel returns the sentiment, calling Jennifer “one of my most favorite people I have ever met.” She also says, “The children, Asher, Selah, and Hudson, are amazing. They always make me smile when they sing out loud and play… they are so fun to be around, and I love them so much.”
Jennifer explains that Danel bonded with the kids right away. She said before Danel arrived, they were concerned they might have chosen an Au Pair who was too young. “She came to us right at 18… but in some ways, that’s better… she’s closer to age with them than she is with me.”
The transition of welcoming Danel into the household went smoothly, and Jennifer says their new Au Pair had no issues with child discipline or supporting their parenting style.
“At the end of the day, [she] gets 15 minutes to write like, a log of how it went… and so then, at night, I can reinforce any of the issues she may have had with the children.” She says her goal is to show Danel that they’re “on the same team” in both addressing behavior issues and celebrating good moments with the kids.
Successful Host Families Communicate.
The Pierces attribute their success to good communication. They use synchronized Google calendars and plan one month in advance to stay on the same page. Jennifer says she uses the calendar not just to schedule Danel’s hours, but to allow her to “have a life.”
“If she makes plans with a friend and it’s two weeks out, put it on the calendar and I’ll plan around it… To me, her friends and her social life are just as important.”
Successful Host Families tend to look out for their Au Pair’s needs, much the same way they do for their own children. Danel agrees that this has been a factor in building their relationship.
“I get to do what I love with them supporting me, like my own parents normally do.”
Another big factor that has helped facilitate creating a strong bond, not just with the children but with the Host Parents, too, has been the feeling that Danel is a member of her Host Family, not an outsider.
“[I wanted] to have an amazing Host Family that would make me feel part of the family,” Danel says. “There’s no doubt in my mind that they do that 100%.”
“I try to make her feel special,” says Host Mom, Jennifer. “I think her knowing she’s part of the family is important.”
It has been less than a year, but already Danel has achieved so many of the goals that led her to join the Au Pair program.
She says, “One of my goals before I got here was to be self-dependent in life. They make that happen by helping me.” Danel explains that her Host Family has paid close attention to her needs since she first arrived, helping her with everything from getting her Schengen visa, traveling to Chicago and Tampa on her own, obtaining her Social Security number, and even helping her dye her hair.
“I don’t know that a lot of Host Parents do this,” Jennifer says. “You know you’re at a good level when you trust [your Host Dad] to dye your hair.”
The program has had a profound effect on the Pierces, too. Jennifer reveals that she’s “been a better mom because of it. I’m not as exhausted.”
She says, “I absolutely love being around and part of the Pierce Family. I couldn’t have chosen a better Host Family.” Like so many other Au Pairs who have experienced a strong bond with their Host Family, Danel calls the Pierces “one in a million.”
“They are an amazing family with amazing hearts. They are now like my own family; I love them all so much.”