November 20, 2017

by Bob S. Keyes

PORTSMOUTH – Great Bay Community College has long been a northern New England destination for International Students.  Some of these students come to the United States to work as au pairs.  The au pairs come from across South America, Central America, and Europe to live with host families and help care for their children.

In their free time, many au pairs enroll in classes at Great Bay to improve their language skills, meet students their age and become acclimated to the United States.

“Each year we have one or two au pairs come in and ask if they can take a class at Great Bay,” said Diana Varga, Diversity Programming Coordinator for the college.  “This year we have had five, and the demand seems to be increasing.”

To help meet that demand, Great Bay has created an informal program for au pairs that includes a one-credit course and access to non-credit courses, workshops and other resources of the college.  Resources include CAPS (the Center for Academic Planning and Support), the library, online language tutorials to help improve English reading, writing, and oral communication, membership in the International Club, and access to all student clubs, activities, and sporting events.

Great Bay offers the program to au pairs living in the local area.  Host families are required to provide a $500 educational stipend for post-secondary education as part of their agreement with the Au Pair agencies. The Great Bay program is tailored to meet that requirement, providing au pairs with a 72 hours of English-related course work, or the equivalent of six credits, and opportunities for more classes and student-life activities.

In exchange for room and board, au pairs provide housework and child care for host families. Au pairs come to the United States on a one-year J-1 visa.  The visa can be extended to a second year if the au pair has completed the required 72 hours of education.  Occasionally, some au pairs apply for an F-1 student visa in order to obtain a college degree.

The Au Pair Program is part of a larger effort to support a growing population of non-native students attending the college.  Great Bay has about 100 non-native students who represent almost 50 countries and more than 20 languages.  Among them is Aneta Vanickova, a 27-year old au pair from the Czech Republic. She enrolled in September. “I wanted to learn something, and began searching for classes to improve my English,” she said.

She considered Great Bay and the University of New Hampshire, and chose Great Bay because it was less expensive and to her, more inviting to a first-year foreign student. “When I found out about Great Bay, it was like Christmas,” she said.

Since Vanickova enrolled in September, her English has improved and she’s become friends with many people outside her circle of au pair peers. That’s important, she said, because it gives her the opportunity to talk with students in English about life in America, and to share experiences on a peer-to-peer level. “When we are with other au pairs, we talk about our jobs and our kids,” she said. “I am interested in getting to know the life here and how it goes.”

She appreciates having access to CAPS and the library, including individual tutoring and general academic support.  She also enjoys attending sporting events because universities in the Czech Republic do not offer sports.  Until coming to Great Bay, she had seen sports like baseball only on TV. “I like that you can join all kinds of activities,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot and I’ve had many new experiences.”

Vanickova is an au pair with a family in Greenland. The kids she cares for are sisters, ages 10 and 12. Many host families hire au pairs for kids who are much younger. Vanickova thinks she is lucky, because the girls treat her like a sister, helping with her English and talking about American culture and society.

She hopes to extend her stay beyond one year. “I like it here,” she said. “I want to learn more.”

In addition to the Czech Republic, au pairs come from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Italy and France. Dr. Sarah Bedingfield, Vice President for Student Affairs, said the au pair program is evolving. Great Bay saw a need and responded to fill it, she said. “As we attract more au pairs, we are talking about what we can do to make it a more formal program and promote it,” she said.