"If you want to live like a tourist, travel. If you want to live like a local, become an au pair."
--Samantha Van Natta
I was always involved with my sorority, so I never had a chance to study abroad while I was in college. After graduating, I still had a strong desire to travel so I started looking into different programs. After speaking with a friend had just been an au pair in Italy, I was convinced to apply through GeoVisions.
Q: Tell us about your host family and a typical day.
GeoVisions matched me with the most perfect family. My "family" consists of my "mom", Elena, my "dad", Marco, and their four children, Federica (15), Matilde (13), Tommaso (9), and Edoardo (3). The children are very athletic. They participate in Athletica, which is similar to track and field, and they are professional level skiers. Another wonderful aspect of living with this family is the grandparents play an active role in the children's lives. So, I get to interact with their extended family every day.
A typical day for me begins at 7:30. I wake up the boys, help them get ready for the day and drop them off at school at 8:30. Then, I get a coffee at the cafe across the street and head home. From 9:00-12:50, I have time to myself. During this time, I usually practice yoga, read, and write in my journal. At 12:50, I go to pick up the girls from school. Then, we go to their great-grandparent's house or their grandparent's house for lunch. They are all wonderful cooks here and lunch is enjoyed in courses for about an hour.
I always leave the table full but content. Then, I help the girls with homework or simply converse with them in English before I go to pick up the boys from school. We arrive home at 4:30. Edo goes to his great-grandparent's house. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I take the kids to Athletica from 5pm-7pm. While they are practicing, I am also able to exercise. It's wonderful to have time to keep healthy. Before we return home, we pick up Edo and then at 8pm we eat dinner. Rita, their housekeeper, prepares dinner so I have plenty of time to focus on caring for the kids. My day usually ends at 9:00pm. I call my family and friends and go to bed.
Q: Where have you traveled around Italy?
Elena and Marco work long hours during the week but the weekends are for family fun. On Fridays, we often go downtown for special events. My favorite was the chocolate festival! On Saturdays, we stay at home during the day. Nonna makes a big lunch for everyone and then later we usually go to Elena and Marco's friend's house for dinner. Sunday is family day and it is always spent out of town. We have traveled to Genova, the Seaside of Liguria, Torin, and many little towns in between. One time, we even went chestnut hunting in the forest!
Q: What advice for others thinking of this program?
Even if you don't speak the language, you can still be an au pair. Don't let the language barrier hold you back from communicating. You can get creative with body language or draw pictures. After two months in Italy, I could understand what people were telling me even if I couldn't fully express myself in Italian. Of course, if you have time, learning the basics can make your experience even better. Also, try new foods! In Italy, they eat foods that I was not used to eating at home such as octopus, anchovies and liver. I tried them all and actually enjoyed them. You never know until you try!
Q: Do you find Italy to be gluten free friendly?
Italy is extremely gluten-friendly. I think it's the best country to travel to for people with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance, like myself. Most Italians know a lot about food so, in general, they will be able to modify recipes as needed. I also printed out twenty copies of a "gluten-free card" that explains my condition and what foods I can and cannot eat in Italian. I gave a copy to everyone that cooked for me and carried extra copies in my purse for when we ate at restaurants which was extremely helpful. Additionally, almost every store here has a special "gluten-free" aisle. Just look for the words, "senza glutine." Since I am also allergic to corn and intolerant to dairy, that has made it a bit more difficult for me. Thankfully, we found a gluten-free specialty store downtown that sells pasta made with only rice. Also, I was surprised to learn how much of food here is naturally gluten-free. I can eat risotto, gluten-free pasta with many different pasta sauces, potatoes, cured meats, fish, fruits and vegetables, eggs, and dairy-free desserts such as gelato, chocolate, hazelnut cake and granita.
Speaking of food, here's a recipe for homemade tomato sauce my host family loves. Buon appetito!
1/2 shallot, minced
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 sage leaves, torn
1 sprig of rosemary, minced
1/4 cup tomato sauce
Salt, to taste
Rice spaghetti, cooked al dente
Heat olive oil in a small saute pan.
Add shallots and cook until tender, about 2 minutes.
Sprinkle in herbs and add the tomato sauce.
Add salt to taste.
Simmer sauce for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook your pasta in salted water until al dente.
Drain pasta and add to the saute pan.
Mix with the sauce and heat until hot.