Moving to the United States
by Dianny Puentes-Westenfield
When I decided to start a new experience in my life, I never imagined it would last so long. It all started when a friend from my college in Colombia recommended an exchange program to me. “You should try this only lifetime experience,” Nathalia said. This program consisted of going to live in the United States with a host family for one year. I would have to find the family that best matches my profile to live with them and in return offer them childcare. The host family had to provide me food, study and of course housing. I was very interested in the idea because I have always liked children.
My friend Nathalia was already in South Carolina and she was living her best life. Her excitement was well known and all she transmitted was happiness. All the information she was telling me at that time seemed to be unreal. After talking with my friend for a long time I decided to talk to my family and tell them everything about the au pair program. It seemed weird to my parents because they said I was probably not coming back home. However, they recognized the great opportunity that was in front of me and that I could not miss.
My biggest goal was to improve my English, even though I considered myself to be at a good level. I had to think for a long time if this was what I really wanted and I could only imagine the good things I could do in this country. It was all a process and once I decided that I was going to take the risk I had to start looking for a host family.
In total four families were interested in my profile. The first family that contacted me was from New York and they only had one baby that I had to take care of. For some reason in the interview things did not go well because I was not sure of living in such a big city. In addition, my experience with infants was not the greatest and that age scared me a little bit. The next family was from Hawaii. I was only thinking about how good it would be to live on the beach for 365 days. Nevertheless, I had to say no. This family had 6 children and I felt that it was going to be a great responsibility. With my heart wrinkled and a trembling voice, I had to go through the pain of rejecting them. The third family I do not remember very well where they were from, but we did not have a great connection. The last family, and the one I picked, was from Minnesota, I had never heard of this state before and started doing my research before talking to them. This family had three children, the two girls were three-year-old twins and the boy was one year old. When I had the opportunity to speak to them for the first time we knew that we were the perfect match. Everything about them caught my attention and we decided that we were going to work for a year together.
After all the interviews and having the paperwork ready the most difficult moment was approaching, which was the packing and the goodbyes. All my family and friends were happy because they knew that I was about to have a great experience. However, my dad was the only person who looked sad all the time and was not convinced of my plan. The day I left Colombia I could feel how devastated my dad was when we were walking through the airport. He was trying to forget for a moment what was about to come, then he asked with his shaky voice, “Do you want to go for a walk?,” to which I answered, “Sure.” His heart was sick and his eyes were unreadable, which did not help with the mood during the moment. He and I have always been very close. We knew we were going to miss each other, but we were always going to be in touch.
The day I left Colombia was one of the saddest days I have lived because I felt that I would never see my family again. My dad with a big hug and some tears in his eyes said goodbye to me. My heart was beating so hard, my hands were sweating and my broken voice did not let me say goodbye in the best way.
In September of 2015, I started a new adventure when I flew to Minnesota with this amazing host family and with the au pair program. My host family was different because there were multiple cultures in the house. My host mom was from China and my host dad from New York, we were always celebrating a different holiday and I was learning so many things from them. I was also able to maintain my Spanish with my host kids since I was always speaking to them in Spanish.
Like any other experience there are always difficult moments and the first month in the United States was not very good for me. I was homesick all the time and I missed my house, Colombian food, my friends and especially my dad so much. One day I called my dad and said, “I’m ready to go back, I feel alone and I want to go back to Colombia where I belong.” My dad was scared because he thought something bad was happening to me, that my host family was treating me badly. When he found out that I was homesick he was overly supportive and cheered me up giving me the best reasons to continue.
At the end of October, I met a person who crossed my path and now he is my husband. The adventure that had begun and was going to last only one year has now been going on for almost six years. During my year as an au pair I had the opportunity to visit different cities and I will always be grateful to my host family because they opened their doors to me. I learned many things about Asian culture. My love for Chinese food grows every day and I will always remember that my host mom cooked the best dishes.
After so much time my dad and I learned how to build our friendship from a distance. We know that everything is fine and we always find a reason to smile. I cannot deny that there are days when I would like to be reunited with my family in Colombia. However, I have my husband’s family who always make me feel like I am in my own home.