When Jana Marketan moved into the Marjulies family home 10 months ago to be an au pair, she was a stranger. Now, she's part of the family.
Jana, 20, came all the way from Muenster, Germany, to cook, clean and take care of Sophia, 9, and Isabelle, 6. After graduating from high school, she wanted to take some time to see the world, something she said many German girls her age do. For Jana, who had never been to America, the decision to move was not difficult.
Before she even came to the United States, she talked with the Marjulies family over Skype video chat to make sure they were a good fit. "I saw the girls, and that just convinced me," she said.
Sarah Marjulies said Jana, who came to them through the Au Pair in America Program, became like an older sister to her daughters. "She helps by being an older sibling that cares and wants to make sure they're safe and well cared for and by being a friend to all of us."
Jana has grown close to the girls as well. She is already sad to be leaving in two months to return to Germany. "They're almost your babies," said Jana, who has improved her English so much that she now dreams in the language. Sophia and Isabelle say they love the water balloon fights and the obstacle courses that Jana sets up for them in the backyard.
But everyone agrees the road a newcomer travels in becoming part of a family is often bumpy. Mike Marjulies said conflicts are just part of it, and that it would be naïve to think everyone would "jibe" perfectly when you bring someone new into your home. "The act of resolving conflicts is what you learn," he said. Jana agrees that she sometimes has to adjust and swallow things she does not agree with.
But for Mike and Sarah, it has been a learning experience to prepare for the years of parenting ahead. "It helps you understand what it's going to be like when you have older children," said Sarah.
The Marjulies said they would recommend the experience to others. "It's a great opportunity to have a cultural exchange in your home," said Sarah. "You need to be open to introducing a new family member into your home, not someone who is working for you, or it won't be as rich of an experience."
Jana will study medicine in Germany, a decision she made while taking psychology and behavior courses at Fairfield University as an "Educare Au Pair," through the Au Pair in America program. She has been applying to universities online from the Marjulies home.
"The culture is different, definitely," said Jana. "Everybody [here] is open and you can chit chat and have small talk with them so easy -- they all have a story about Germany." Jana said she has been accustomed to chatting up people here and she'll have to check herself when she gets back. "That's something to take with me when I go back -- I have to zip my mouth."
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