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Aikaterini S. of Greece – Au Pair in California

We would like to congratulate Aikaterini for being runner-up in our 2020 Au Pair of the Year contest! Katerina embarked on her wonderful cultural exchange adventure in October of 2018, capturing the hearts of her host family and many others in the process. The Papavassiliou’s were a family of 5 prior to Katerina’s arrival, but state that number has grown by 1 since her arrival.

Please read Aikaterini’s nomination essay below to learn more about her cultural exchange experience.

Aikaterini’s Nomination Essay – Submitted by the Papavassiliou Family

The Exchange Visitor Program, under which au pairs gain entry into the United States, is designed to positively impact four different entities. We can measure the success of a particular au pair exchange by the effect on these four areas: the host family, the au pair, the host country and the source country. Katerina has clearly made a huge impact on all of these areas, and is positioning herself to continue to do so in the future. 

Most obviously, an au pair benefits the host family, and Katerina has made a profound contribution to our family. 

We have an unusual family, with uncommon needs, and Katerina has been the Swiss Army Knife we needed. We home-school our kids and we are self-employed. This means we have very uncertain schedules; never mind laying out a schedule for the week – plans change hour to hour and we need to be flexible to meet last minute demands. Instead of drowning in these waves of uncertainty, Katerina has done the most California thing possible – with enthusiasm and a strong work ethic, she has learned to surf above the waves! 

Simply stated, Katerina is a member of our family. Our kids love her completely. They climb all over her and plop down into her lap for cuddles. We discuss everything as we would with our daughter. She has had the largest impact on our family simply by growing it by one, herself. 

Soon after our third child arrived a few years ago, things started falling apart at home. There were just too many demands from the children and not enough adult hours to meet them.  

Katerina brought sanity and balance back into our household. We are now stable and prospering to the point where we are even discussing something unthinkable a couple of years ago – the possibility of maybe, just maybe, having a fourth child. 

Equally importantly, au pairs have the opportunity to grow themselves, and Katerina is taking advantage of the au pair opportunity to change the course of her life. 

She could have taken an easy educational path, but instead, she is taking high level, demanding psychology classes at the University of California, Berkeley, a world class institution. Furthermore, she is taking steps to apply to schools either for a second Bachelors in a different field (Psychology) or for a Masters in her field (Education). She is treating the opportunities of the au pair program as a first step in her educational growth, with the hope that she can continue her education under a student visa in the future. 

She has embraced the US culture and gone out of her way to gain exposure to all facets of US society. With her passion for photography and camera in tow, she has made several road trips to thoroughly explore our local area. She has traveled to Hawaii, Los Angeles, New York and Boston. She has sought out cultural events such as music festivals and concerts, even attending by herself on occasion, if friends are unavailable. 

She has embraced the California culture of health and fitness. She either goes to the gym or runs around our local lake several times a week. In fact, she recently signed up for a half-marathon, something very common in our area, but new to her. Thankfully, she has rejected the US fast food part of our culture, and instead, embraced the more local, natural, organic food that is also common in our area. 

She has adopted an open-minded, non-judgemental approach to others. We live in a very diverse part of the country, and it can be a challenge, not just for people from other countries, but even for people from different parts of this country, to understand and accept people with very different backgrounds and mentalities. Katerina has been exposed to people with values very different from those with which she has lived, and she has always responded with curiosity and respect. We have had many conversations about very sensitive and controversial topics, including gender fluidity, social justice, reverse racism, polarization in politics, tattoos, body piercings, sex, drugs, etc. These are all issues that we encounter through our families, our friends and our kids’ friends. How do we talk to our children about these subjects? This is not the usual warm and cuddly part of child rearing. Katerina obviously doesn’t have to run point on these topics, but it’s wonderful that we can discuss them freely, admit to each other that we don’t have all the answers, and approach all perspectives with an open mind, ready to change our opinions in the future. 

Furthermore, the program is expected to benefit the host country, and Katerina has brought a fresh perspective and uncommonly positive attitude that adds to the richness of our culture.    

Whenever she interacts with our friends at social gatherings, she contributes to the conversation with original ideas around childcare, education, life goals, interpersonal relationships, social mores, etc. 

She is also unapologetically optimistic and willing to be vulnerable and expressive with her appreciation of new experiences; we find these qualities especially desirable to counteract a pervasive tendency among her generation towards sarcasm and detachment. We are very gratified to expose her to new experiences and hear the joy with which she consumes them! Her friends appreciate her in similar ways and we imagine she brings this openness, exuberance and passion to all with whom she interacts. 

Finally, and equally satisfyingly, Katerina is positioning herself to have a long-lasting influence on her source country of Greece. Our parents are from Greece and we visit often, so we know well the difficulties facing that country. 

She has had several visitors from Greece, including two friends and family (both parents and brother in three separate trips), because she is eager to expose them to the inspiring differences and opportunities she has experienced. 

She sees with a new perspective, the economic and cultural challenges facing Greece, and she has adopted a long-term goal of positively influencing the mentality of her peers by bringing a positive, optimistic and dynamic energy back to her country. More than anything, Greeks these days lack hope; an outlook of futility pervades the country. When she returns to Greece, she will take a large part of the US with her; she will return with inspiration for the future. 

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