Congratulations to our Au Pair of the Year runner-up, Hana Abiru! Hana arrived to the United States in August of 2019, initially beginning her au pair program in Texas.  Her cultural exchange journey eventually led to California where she spent a wonderful 14 months with the Villagomez family and their 2 children. Hana has since returned home to Japan, but will always be considered a part of their family.  Please read their match story below!

Hana’s Nomination Essay – Submitted by the Villagomez Family

We had a wonderful and pleasant experience hosting our first Au Pair, Hana Abiru. She has changed our perception of what the Au Pair program is all about. And we cannot see our recent family life without her. Let me tell you a little bit about ourselves. We are a working-class multi-cultural family in Southern California. The most important thing to note about us is our kids. We have an 8-year-old son with moderate autism and a 4-year-old daughter.  My husband and I both work full time and we were in need of a long-term childcare solution. When COVID started, our childcare situation changed. We were searching for options then we discovered the Au Pair program. We had great interviews with some candidates and were actually very close to a match. But due to COVID au pairs from South America were unable to come to the US.  We were advised to start over and search for in-country au pairs. Then we got to interview Hana from Japan, our very first au pair. She was already in the States with a host family. She was looking for a re-match because the host family she was with was discontinuing the au pair program. We were very impressed with her level of engagement and interest in our family and children. By the second interview, she told us that she has researched and learned about autism in her own language to understand our son more-which is just amazing beyond our expectation. We were very nervous of hosting our first Au Pair but we became more relaxed and got to trust the program more thanks to Hana’s high level of care and love she provides to our kids and family.  

Our kids loved Hana from literally the day she arrived. Hana was playing with them as if they were always friends.  It was just a beautiful sight to see them getting along so well right away. Hana had about 1 week of training period to get comfortable and get used to routines and to take care of the children. To support her better we had our kid’s ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy team support Hana on how to discipline, teach and care for our kids who were unique. She went over all the educational videos and materials and also asked questions to the therapy team to better understand. We were very glad to see that Hana became in sync with us parents and the therapy team very fast. Not only had she managed children’s behaviors very well she did a ton of fun arts and craft activities, taught them how to draw, had them practice writing and math, and helped them with Online Zoom distance learning with School for both kids. We were also and thankful for her ability to be flexible with some changes of plans-especially last-minute ones. She was able to adapt to the changes of plan and make new plans and executed quickly. For one example, when the therapy company let us know last minute that the therapist could not make it that day, Hana thought of taking our daughter to a petting zoo and actually got the tickets online and took her there. My daughter had a great time with her. Hana constantly thought of fun ways to spend time with our children. We also loved that she was an active person and played with kids outside our backyard encouraging them to get fresh air and move around when they are stuck at home due to COVID. Kids loved playing with Hana. Nothing felt better than when I come home from work I could hear my kids and Hana from outside the door, laughing with excitement. 

Happy home noises were not the only thing I noticed when I arrive home from work. I was able to smell something delicious from time to time!  Hana cooked Japanese food for dinner for the whole family often and even my picky kids enjoyed them.  She has introduced a variety of Japanese food and they were all very delicious and delightful.  She also loved my Korean food as well as American food. It is such a great feeling that we all were enjoying the food on the table together and sharing the experience together.   Hana also taught my little girl some Japanese words and she will surprise me by remembering those words! It was fun also for me to learn Japanese from her. Exchange of the English and Japanese language was a unique experience I enjoyed: I did not know learning a new language can be this fun.  While she taught Japanese to me I helped her with her.  We also talked about some cultural differences in certain topics and it’s always fascinating to talk about them. For example what we do on New Year’s Day versus how Japanese celebrate them, how child care is like in Japan and here, or how people think in certain social situations, and etc. We could literally talk for hours over coffee at our dining table. We became more educated, interested and fond of Japanese culture all thanks to our au pair Hana.  

We were hoping that we can do lots of fun outings as a family with our au pair but things did not go exactly as planned due to the pandemic.  But we still tried our best to find fun things to do together as a family while keeping the COVID safety. We played lots of games together as a family after dinner and we laughed until our stomach hurts sometimes while playing games! It was a great bonding time. Also Hana played a game called Just Dance on Play Station which our kids call it “Dance Party”.  It was super fun way for getting kids exercise especially they are stuck at home most of the times; they would play until they were sweaty!  Gardening was another thing Hana was great at. In our small back yard Hana planted some flowers, herbs and vegetables in our small backyard and intrigued our children to learn how things can be sowed and it can become flowers or vegetables that we can eat. What a beautiful sight it was to see our 4 year old telling everyone in the morning by the window pointing at the blue morning glory blossomed and tomatoes turned red. 

For outdoor activities, we did camping, visited National, State and City Parks and hiked at the nearby trails. Hana was so amazing wherever we went by the way; she has always sanitized her hands and children’s hands often. She was very safety conscious which is very important especially during this pandemic. I felt very safe with Hana. When we were exploring outdoors our kids also had opportunities to experience learning more about insects and animals up close.  Hana would catch lizards, chickens (at a farm) or insects such as a praying mantis and encouraged kids say hi and pet gently and let go. This was something that I could not do for our children because I am not so fond of insects and animals. We thought this was such a great influence for children as well as very educational; rather than to get scared of them kids were able to observe and feel them up close, all thanks to our Au Pair Hana.  

In summary, our family was truly blessed to have Hana as our au pair. She was smart, responsible, consistent, safe, considerate, fun, energetic and full of love! We thank her to making our decision to become a host family one of the best decisions of our lives for kids and for the whole family. Now we can say that we have a family in Japan! Hana will be our friend and family forever. 

We truly believe that Hana has all the qualities as a child caregiver as well as a cultural ambassador to be nominated for the Au Pair of the Year 2021! 

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