Beyond Babysitting: Loudouners Turn to Au Pairs for Culture and Care

For Jaclyn Perovich, it all started with her own amazing experience as an au pair in Turkey a dozen years ago. Now Perovich is a mother of two, au pair host mom and possibly Loudoun’s biggest advocate for au pair programs.

If you live in Leesburg or western Loudoun, you may have caught a glimpse of Perovich’s white SUV with its AU PEAR plates. Perovich is a well-known part of Loudoun’s thriving au pair scene. And for her, it’s not just about child care but about providing a cultural experience for both the au pair and the host family.

“It’s someone who’s going to love your kids like a big sister or big brother,” Perovich said. “You’re bringing the culture into the house and educating [your family] about a different culture.”

Perovich is the main point of contact for Cultural Care Au Pair host families and young au pairs in and around Leesburg, helping make transitions smooth on both sides. At the same time, she’s also a matchmaker for the agency and helps families around Loudoun—and around the country—find the right au pair for them.

Having a live-in au pair is a popular child care option in Loudoun for hundreds of families who want the flexibility of in-home care along with the cultural enrichment that an international au pair can bring. And for young students from around the globe, it’s opportunity to get a taste of American life. The U.S. au pair program, overseen by the U.S. Department of State, issues J-1 visas for one or two years to young women and men ages 19 to 26. As an agency consultant, Perovich’s goal is to make every match a win-win.

“You want this to be a successful year, possibly two years,” Perovich said. “I want the highest success rate for my families so I always make sure that there’s open communication.”

Jaclyn Perovich, top center, of Cultural Care Au Pairs takes a break from playing at Hamilton Community Park with au pairs, from top left Emma Haste, Melanie Rempel and Julia Schneider.

In 2015, at 20 years old, Perovich wanted to travel and got a spot as an au pair for 7-year-old twin girls in Istanbul. She fell in love with Turkey and formed a close bond with her host family. The girls Perovich cared for were junior bridesmaids at her wedding in 2010 and are now in college. Perovich said they still visit frequently and keep in touch regularly via social media.

“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “I’m such a huge advocate … if you don’t know what you want to do and you’re young, go explore the world. This is a way for girls and the boys overseas to come and explore our part of the world.”

When Perovich’s older son was born, she was looking for part-time work and found a position as a consultant for Cultural Care, the nation’s largest au pair agency. She and her husband hosted their first au pair, 19-year-old Annika from Germany, when the boys were 3 and 1. As Perovich’s boys got older, the family decided to try a male au pair and found Rafael from Brazil. And while female au pairs are still a wide majority, young men are gaining in popularity, Perovich said, especially among families with school-aged boys.
Perovich said her entire family knew after just a couple of Skype interviews that Rafael was the one. He was an active and enthusiastic caregiver for her boys, keeping them entertained with Minecraft, music and other activities, and his friendly, warm attitude made him feel like a part of the family and the Round Hill community.

“Everyone knows Rafael in my neighborhood,” Perovich said with a laugh. “We miss him so much.”

Rafael decided to explore the West Coast during his second year with Cultural Care and has spent the last year with a family in California. But Perovich and her boys keep in touch with their “bro pair” by video chat, and the family of four will be traveling to Brazil next spring to visit Rafael and his family. And Perovich says they’re not done as a host family even as both boys get older and she’ll be ready to bring on another au pair soon.

Perovich says au pairs are a great solution for families with a range of needs in Loudoun, including dual-working families and families where one parent stays at home.

Cultural Care also offers au pairs with special certifications for caring for infants under 2 and for children with special needs.

Flexible child care is a huge component for many families, Perovich said, but the bond many families form with their au pair, who often starts to feel like part of the family, is a big part of the experience.

Federal regulations require families to provide au pairs with their own bedroom and meals and set a 45-hour maximum work week. In addition to room and board, au pairs also get a minimum stipend of just under $200 per week per U.S. State Department rules.

Many au pairs take college courses, English classes and other educational programming organized by Cultural Care, and most also take time off to travel and explore the U.S.Perovich also works to make sure that her Leesburg area au pairs are connecting with each other, organizing outings and service projects and setting new au pairs with buddies.

Clare Shepard, 24, just finished a year as an au pair in Leesburg. She had finished college in England and spent a year working as a high school math teacher. But the travel bug that had bitten her on a past vacation to the U.S. left her feeling that she had more to experience in America, so she applied to Cultural Care. In her case, the decision to come to Northern Virginia was all about a personal connection with her host family.
“The location was a secondary decision for me. I spoke to families from all over the country, and the family that I lived with, I fell in love with the first time we spoke,” she said. “The children I looked after were polite and courteous and my host parents were also great. Since being there, I’ve fallen in love with Virginia.”

Leesburg turned out to be an ideal spot for her first experience living in the U.S. As an affluent exurb, Loudoun has many similarities to Shepard’s hometown of Chelmsford, England, a small city 40 miles northeast of London. During her stay, she was able to travel to New York several times and fell in love with the city. This summer, she was offered a spot with a family in Manhattan and will spend her second year as an au pair in the city before returning to the U.K. But with Perovich’s support and connections with other Loudoun-based au pairs, her year in Loudoun was a winner.

“I had a really great time in Leesburg,” Shepard said. “The program that I’ve gone through I’ve loved. I’ve been supported the whole way through. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else right now.”

Learn more about Cultural Care Au Pair and Jaclyn Perovich’s consulting services at aupairconsultant.com.

For more information about the State Department’s au pair program and the J-1 visa, go to j1visa.state.gov.

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