Au Pair Exchanges: Background information when reading The Caretakers

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The Caretakers

A Novel

by Amanda Bestor-Siegal

The Caretakers by Amanda Bestor-Siegal X
The Caretakers by Amanda Bestor-Siegal
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2022, 352 pages

    Apr 2023, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

Au Pair Exchanges

This article relates to The Caretakers

Print Review

Woman holding book in front of two young girls The novel The Caretakers centers on several young women who are au pairs in France, living there on special visas that allow them to stay with a family, take language classes and immerse themselves for a year in Parisian social life.

The term "au pair" refers to a (usually young) person who lives with a family in a foreign country in exchange for performing childcare-related tasks. "Au pair" is a phrase of French origin meaning "at par," referring to the idea of an agreement made between equals: An au pair does domestic work for the family; in the meantime, the family provides room and board (and generally, a weekly stipend).

Au pair exchanges have been common in Europe since the era following World War II, and have gained ground in the United States and elsewhere in more recent decades. In 1986, the US created a special J-1 visa category for incoming au pairs, temporary summer camp counselors and other specific cultural exchanges.

Au pairs and families looking for au pairs can organize placements using an official au pair agency—of which there are many, globally. Au Pair in America is one example. Agencies charge widely variable fees to cover visa paperwork and logistics for host family placement. Au pairs may enroll in language classes during their stay. Their childcare duties can range from basic needs (feeding, clothing, transport to school) to homework help and tutoring in the au pair's native language/culture. Each situation is unique and requires careful consideration before packing a suitcase and embarking on the journey. Certain plot twists in The Caretakers spring from misunderstandings between the au pairs and their host families—entertaining in a novel, but not in real life. Because each family has unique characteristics, an aspiring au pair must have a clear understanding of expectations and whether a placement would be a good fit.

Some people organize informal au pair arrangements. An example of this might be if a host family has close ties overseas and sponsors a family member to visit and care for their children. Such informal au pair exchanges may or may not conform with local visa and labor laws. Some countries do not have a formal au pair program but offer a "working visa" category for young people from other nations. Potential au pairs need to research their host family's physical location. Life in a rural small town is quite different from living in the heart of a cosmopolitan city. Each presents unique advantages and challenges.

Visa requirements and cultural customs vary widely from country to country, so it's essential to shop around for the best fit—whether you're a family in search of an au pair, or an au pair in search of a family. Such exchange programs, in best-case scenarios, can foster global understanding and international cultural enrichment, and create lifelong friendships.

Woman holding book in front of children, via Pexels

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

Article by Karen Lewis

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Caretakers. It originally ran in April 2022 and has been updated for the April 2023 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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