Former au pair Andrea Villa lost her job, her residence and, potentially, her legal immigration status when a dispute developed between her and her host family. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

The Nov. 6 Washington Post Magazine article “Culture clash” noted that many au pairs are overworked and disrespected. As an au pair who has been living with a host family in Northern Virginia for a year and a half, I believe that what makes this program fail is lack of information. I applied to become an au pair completely aware of the fact that I was going to be working 45 hours and making $195.75 a week. In the two-day training I received upon arrival, my agency made it very clear that host families expect “exceptional child care.”

I live with an amazing host family who treats me like a daughter. I feel respected and valued. However, other au pairs haven’t been as lucky. Au pairs need to be more aware of their rights and obligations. But, more important, host families and agencies need to take the State Department’s regulations more seriously.

Julia Ansaldi, McLean

The au pair program simply could not exist unless its participants, including the overwhelming majority of au pairs, expressed satisfaction with the program. In fact, Andrea Villa, the au pair featured in the article, was clear about the positive experiences she had with two of her three host families. Yet the article gave the impression that the program is fundamentally flawed.

The au pair program has been among the State Department’s most successful exchange programs for many years. It provides opportunities for young people to have direct involvement in the daily lives of American families, allowing them to learn more about our country and traditions and strengthen their English skills. At the same time, American families are able to expose their children to different cultures and languages. Au pairs typically are treated like a member of the family. Many form life-long bonds with their hosts, with whom they stay in touch for many years after the initial exchange.

For all those reasons and more, thousands of au pairs, including Ms. Villa, choose to extend their stays and many seek the opportunity each year. Given the myriad challenges we face globally, we must support exchange programs such as the au pair program that contribute to greater mutual understanding among peoples.

Ilir Zherka, Washington

The writer is executive director of the
Alliance for International Exchange.