As published in the Washington Post on November 8, 2016.
The au pair program simply could not exist unless its participants, including the overwhelming majority of au pairs, expressed satisfaction with the program. In fact, Andrea Villa, the au pair featured in the article, was clear about the positive experiences she had with two of her three host families. Yet the article gave the impression that the program is fundamentally flawed.
The au pair program has been among the State Department’s most successful exchange programs for many years. It provides opportunities for young people to have direct involvement in the daily lives of American families, allowing them to learn more about our country and traditions and strengthen their English skills. At the same time, American families are able to expose their children to different cultures and languages. Au pairs typically are treated like a member of the family. Many form life-long bonds with their hosts, with whom they stay in touch for many years after the initial exchange.
For all those reasons and more, thousands of au pairs, including Ms. Villa, choose to extend their stays and many seek the opportunity each year. Given the myriad challenges we face globally, we must support exchange programs such as the au pair program that contribute to greater mutual understanding among peoples.
Ilir Zherka, Washington