So as many of you may know, a "cool" thing for young Brazilian girls to do is to move to the US for a year to work as a nanny or au pair (babá in Portuguese) for a rich American family. The girls live with the family, earn a small salary (to the tune of 200-400 dollars a month), but get room and board provided. They take care of the kids, and in exchange, they learn English, get to see (one tiny portion of) American culture, and get to put "a job in America" on their resumes.
Anyway. In the English school industry in Brazil, there is a high percentage of girls who worked as nannies in the US and then came back to Brazil to teach English (you know, because the two jobs are totally related). So I've talked to quite a few girls who have had this job, and the majority of them had horror stories about it. I've also met Brazilian girls on airplanes and at airports who are on their way to be nannies or who have been in the past and made some kind of ties to the US (like a boyfriend who they're going back to visit). But the general consensus that I got from these girls was that, as a foreign nanny in the US, it's very easy to be taken advantage of.
Lots of my students ask me about their options for going to the US that aren't nanny positions. Basically, their options are to go as tourists, to go to private English schools (like the one I worked at where I met Alexandre), or to go to American university English extension programs. They can’t work legally in the US with these options, so they have to save up enough money for classes, rent, and life before they go, or they need someone in Brazil to be sending them money. One of my students did also did a work-exchange program for Brazilian college students. He had to take a year off from school to work for 4 months, he worked at McDonald's, and he lived in Massachusetts in the winter. People have to be in college to participate in this program.
So with these options, you can see why girls would choose to work as a nanny, especially if they don’t have money and if they’re not college students. The nanny option is appealing because it's relatively cheap, and because it gives the girls a chance to work in the US and have a bit of money while they're there (though I don't think they realize just how low their salaries are).
A girl who works at the gym has been asking me a lot about her options to live and work in the US...like, every time I go. My answers never seem to please her, because they all involve money. Sure, I get it that it sucks that it's expensive. But what she doesn't seem to realize that she's not the only one with this idea of "I want to go to the US for free and make money while I'm there." It's not just Brazilians, either. So realistically, the US can't open its borders and work visas for the whole world, in the same way Brazil can't, or any country can't.
Anyway. I didn't tell her about the nanny option, because (a) she's a little bit older - 30 and (b) I've heard many more bad things about it than good things. These are some of the stories I've heard:
*Girls are told that they don't have to clean, that their only job will be to take care of the kids, but when most of them arrive, they're the nannies and the maids, too. And who are they going to argue with?
*One girl worked for a family with a young baby, and the mom made her get up at night to give the baby his bottle, and she still had to take care of the kids all day, obviously.
*The girl above included, many of these girls said that their "40-hour workweek" was almost nonexistent: because they live in the house, the parents often take advantage, making them stay home to babysit at night (their "free time") while the parents go out to dinner, or leaving the girls with the kids for the weekends while they go on trips. One girl told me that she only received 2 Sundays off a month, and she worked every other day.
*Another girl told me that they lived in a rural area, but she was only allowed to use the car for work-related things. So how the heck was she supposed to get around in her free time? The result was that she didn't-- she spent most of her free time in her room, and got out only when she could bum a ride from one of the parents who were going into town, and then she'd wait an hour or two for a bus to take her back.
*Almost all of the teachers and fellow travelers I talked to were unanimous in the fact that the kids were spoiled brat monsters with serious issues after having absent parents and a new nanny every year.
*One girl's experience was so bad that she ended up breaking her contract and paying for her own flight home.
I met a girl who was sitting next to me on the plane on a trip back to the US once. She told me she was on her way to the US to work as a Nanny, and she was very excited. She was from somewhere in the northeast of Brazil. She had paid for her own flight. At some point in the conversation, it came up that she had been given an F1 visa. When I asked her why, she said it was so she could take college classes if she wanted to. The whole thing seemed very fishy to me. Why would the nanny agency give her an F1 visa? Why did she pay for her flight? I told her to make sure to tell the customs agent that she was taking community college classes, NOT that she would be working as a nanny. I also gave her my email and phone numbers in case anything happened.
So anyway, someone else told the girl at the gym about this nanny option. She came to me with the words “au pair” written on a piece of paper.
“Have you heard about this? Can I go to to the US with this?” she said, showing me the paper.
I wanted to say, “With that paper? No.” But I knew what she was getting at. So I said, “au pair means babá. Do you want to work in the US as a nanny?”
"Well that'd be great, right? My friend told me about it. They pay for your flight, you don't have to pay bills, you can work..."
"It's an option," I said, "but I've heard a lot of bad things about it. The nannies are usually treated really badly, and you don't have any kind of boss to complain to, or a company to protect you. And besides, you already went to college in Brazil and everything. Why would you want to go down so drastically in your job? You'd never work as a nanny in Brazil."
Dissatisfied, this girl apparently went back to her friend to tell him what I said. Then she came to me the next day in a huff.
"My friend says that YOU are mistaken. He says these nanny programs are great. He says he'd send his daughter to one. His neighbor told him that her friend's daughter worked as a nanny in the US, and the family paid for her to go to college there! So now what?"
At that point, I started to get annoyed, and a little offended.
"Look, I don't benefit in lying to you," I told her. "I'm telling you the experiences that nannies told me they had. This guy is telling you what his neighbor's friend's daughter said. You can believe who you want, and do what you want. Maybe that girl had a good experience, but does that story even make sense to you? Why would a family pay for college for someone they barely know? Do yo know how much colleges cost in the US? And how did she get accepted into an American university so easily? I doubt all of the families who sign up for Brazilian nannies are evil slave drivers who want to take advantage of you. But I just think it's a job that has a lot more risk for that to happen, and I wouldn't do it."
The girl gave me lots of "but! But!"s, so I just kept telling her to do what she wanted and saying "você que sabe" until she shut up about it.
So now I'm even more annoyed about this nanny thing, and the fact that these kinds of rumors spread. I guess it’s the naivete that bothers me. The US is not the land of milk and honey where money goes on trees and every family is super rich and hoping to take in some young Brazilian girl and offer her the world, that they're going to meet rich American men to be their husbands, that they're going to get degrees from American colleges, just because they work as a nanny (don't they see how little nannies earn in Brazil? Do they have no sense of how economies work?).
It bothers me that the girls are treated so badly, and don't expect to be. Hello! They're going into an environment in which they're 100% dependent on their employers and where they have very little protection or support. Obviously, the US has labor laws! But the most of these girls are totally uninformed, and wouldn't know how to go about defending themselves. Plus, their salaries are ridiculous, even with room and board provided.
It bothers me that these girls see only one tiny fraction of American culture: the small percentage of the upper class that has money for a live-in nanny. In this article that I found (which propagates all the pipe dreams that I just mentioned), a girl they interviewed went to work as a nanny, met an Irish guy with a green card at a Thanksgiving dinner party, and fell in love with him. She got knocked up with his baby, so they got married and now she lives with him in Ireland. Her conclusion about nanny work was:
Nos Estados Unidos, os pais deixam de estar presentes, falam com os filhos apenas na hora em que estão dormindo. É só ''. Eles esperam que a seja pai e mãe das crianças",
She said, "In the US, parents aren't present. They only talk to their kids when they're going to bed. And they just say 'good night.' They expect the au pair to be father and mother to their kids."
Right. ALL American parents are like that, not just the family you lived with. That is a fabulous conclusion. She clearly learned a lot about American culture during her time there.
So my opinion's pretty clear, but now it's your turn. What have you heard about or experienced with these nannies or nanny programs? Are they as fantastic as the girl at the gym thinks? Are they as risky and useless as I think? Or somewhere in between?