Anna Kuroczycka Schultes
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
The au pair program is known as a cultural exchange providing its participants with the ability to see what life is like in a different part of the world. Advertised to potential host parents as one of “the most affordable childcare options available” (“Program costs § Cultural Care Au Pair”), au pairs are intertwined with the global market of migrant female domestic workers. The au pair program can be analyzed in conjunction with globalization not only from the standpoint of the transnational mobility of services, but also due to the clearly defined division of reproductive labor and intra-gender power relations that this type of work entails. Women entering the professional sector to work in high-powered managerial positions have contributed to the rise of what Saskia Sassen calls “professional households without a wife.” As a consequence, domestic roles get reconfigured: professional women leave the home, providing room for the young student from abroad in the form of an au pair.
The following paper is a qualitative analysis of the role of the au pair in light of her responsibilities as a domestic worker within the household. Data gathered for this paper have been a result of my work over a period of six months (January – june 2009) with a group of ten au pairs, serving the North Shore of Chicago, who were my students in conversational English as a Second language classes. After meeting on a weekly basis in the academic setting throughout the course of the semester, each woman sat down with me for two hours in a mutually agreed upon setting to discuss her role as a cultural exchange visitor in the United States, and as a member of the host family, with which she resided. The au pairs who are the participants in this study range in age from 19-26 and descend from both European and South American countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Italy, Brazil, Bolivia, and Colombia).