Au Pair of What?
Apr 10, 2018 09:43AM
● By Maleesa Johnson
As she flips through pages of five different homemade photo books, Nikki Stovall starts to get a little emotional. Each book was made for, or in the case of one, by previous au pairs. Page after page reveals fun times had by the Stovall family with young women from across the globe. It is clear as Nikki thumbs through the albums that while these women can only be a part of the program for a maximum of two years, they easily became a part of the family.
But before we get too ahead of ourselves, we know you may be wondering “what is an au pair?” Nikki has been faced with that question many times herself.
“A lot of people think that I’m bringing in these super expensive, foreign nannies,” she says.
There is some truth to that but has quite a few misconceptions wrapped in as well. Au pairs come to the United States on a J-1, or Exchange Visitor, Visa. This visa is granted to individuals coming to the U.S. for work- or study-based exchange programs. Au pairs must live with their host family for a minimum of 12 months and have the option to stay up to a year longer. In the Stovall family’s case, almost all of the au pairs – they have had seven – have opted to stay longer.
Before au pairs are matched with families, they go through a series of interviews. This is not just for the family’s benefit. Currently, the Stovalls are hosting Katie Holmes – an au pair from South Africa. She says the interview process really helped her feel comfortable when choosing her host family.
"[Nikki] has a very detailed interview process, but that is what I appreciated about her,” Katie says. “She was so open about everything and ask very important questions. It made me feel like she was genuinely interested in getting to know me.”
Katie isn’t alone in her sentiments. Nikki knows she doesn’t give a softball interview.
“A lot of the girls have said that it is easier to get into the CIA than to be my au pair,” Nikki laughs.
But the process must be working, because the only au pair that didn’t opt for an extended visa wanted to stay but couldn’t. In addition to only being allowed to stay for a maximum of two years, au pairs must be at least 18 and no older than 26 years old.
For many busy parents, the program is probably sounding too good to be true. Or you are thinking, “but at what cost?” Au pairs are paid a weekly stipend, but it is only about $200 per week. All in all, hosting an au pair costs an average of $1,579 per month. The best part? That is per family, not per child. However, even though au pairs live with host families, they are only legally allowed to work 45 hours per week, in addition to completed six credit hours of schooling while here. The program aims to be mutually beneficial for au pairs and hosts families, and according to the Stovall family, it definitely is.
“I’ve had an au pair for as long as I can remember,” says Ryne Stovall, age 12. “My favorite part is learning their different languages.”
All three Stovall kids happily agree: they love their au pairs.
“I like them because they are more energetic than my mom and dad, so I get to play outside more,” says Tori Stovall, age 7.
Her older sister echoes these sentiments.
“You can play games and be silly,” 9-year-old Carly Stovall says.
All three children are incredibly active. Tori goes to swim classes, soccer and dance while Ryne is involved in basketball, football and baseball. Carly – who, according to her little sister is the busiest of the bunch – plays volleyball and softball in addition to gym and dance. The lists of activities are enough to make anyone’s head spin, and that is why Nikki swears by her au pairs.
Katie has a busy life of her own as well. When she is not taking care of the Stovall trio, she attends a class at the King’s University to fulfill her schooling requirement within the au pair program. It was there that she bonded with a fellow South African au pair.
"I feel very at home here,” she says. “Having a South African friend helps too because I hear the accent and we can trade stories."
While the culture shock was fairly minimal according to Katie, homesickness will still set in from time to time. This is the 21-year-old’s first time to fly the coop, as she has been attending a correspondent college from home. In Johannesburg, Katie works two full-time jobs to pay her way through college as she majors in biochemistry and anatomy. The draining schedule, combined with her love for children, inspired her decision to take a gap year as an au pair. Now halfway across the world, the distance from her family and boyfriend can be daunting. But her host family is here for her.
"If I'm feeling a little bit 'blah', I know I can just tell Nikki and we'll chat,” Katie says.
And there is always her favorite part of the day:
“Everyday I have to wait at the bus stop for the girls. And every day both girls run out of the bus and give me a hug,” Katie says. “So it doesn't matter how bad my day is. I know at that moment that they are going to be excited to see me."
The kids’ instant acceptance of Katie is not rare for them. Each au pair in the Stovall home has been greatly loved. In fact, they are now all a part of a What’s App group (basically a group chat) that allows present and former au pairs to communicate. It’s not uncommon to see birthday wishes, pictures of the kids and exciting updates within the group. Nikki likens it to a sorority, only this group of ladies is all over the world.
"It's like a little family, which I really love,” Katie says.
In many ways, family is an appropriate word for the Stovall’s au pairs. Many precious moments have been shared between the Southlake family and these seven women from across the globe. For example, their first au pair, Priscila, traveled from Brazil and found her home here in the U.S. She married an American and had Carl Stovall walk her down the aisle as a father traditionally would. The kids were not left out, as they filled the roles of ring bearer and flower girls. Carl and Nikki are now godparents to Priscila’s two girls. In fact, Priscila asked Nikki to be in the delivery room when both Grace and Tiffany were born.
Their second au pair, Gabi, also from Brazil, became really involved with Gateway Church when she settled in to her host home. She included the Stovall family on her own milestone.
“I was so honored when she asked me to be the one to baptize her,” Nikki says.
The stories and memories go on. From family vacations to half marathons, every au pair has left her mark. In Ryne’s words, he “could never pick a favorite.”
"Each au pair has the kids at a different age, so you take out your own little space in time with the kids,” Katie says. “I think that's so cool that they have one person that marks each stage of their life. The kids learn something unique from each au pair, which is really awesome."
For more information about host families and au pairs alike, visit NStovall.AuPairNews.com.