The event took place at the Hostel Christal in the city center of Munich on Friday, March 24, 2017. After a warm welcome by Susan Asay, apex PROaupair founder and CEO, attendees participated in a get-to-know-you icebreaker led by Sarah Kodinksy, apex PROaupair placement director. During the activity, the attendees stood in a circle while a list of statements were read aloud. When a statement applied to them, they stepped forward – allowing the group to quickly see their commonalities. The activity highlighted an aspect of apex PROaupair training for it’s professional au pairs – to expect differences with their host families but to look for similarities.

Similarities and differencesCaption: Group Icebreaker

Three representatives from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs attended the event: Stacey Gomelsky, Program Analyst in the Office of Designation, Private Sector Programs; Darra Klein, Branch Chief, Office of Private Sector Exchange Administration; and Joy Proctor, Program Analyst, Office of Private Sector Exchange Administration.

Stacey spoke to the group and described the goals of the J-1 exchange program as set forth by the U.S. Department of State and Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. She highlighted the mission of the J-1 Au Pair Program – to promote mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by educational and cultural exchanges. Stacey also invited the alumni to share their experiences and the impact the program had on their lives on the Route J-1 blog and to connect with the J1 Exchange Program on Twitter. She encouraged the participants to share their cultural exchange experience with their network at home in an effort to promote a greater understanding among cultures.

Later, Susan and Sarah gave an overview of the organization’s mission statement - “Helfen – Weiterbilden – Reisen” which means “Help – Further Education – Travel.” All the professional au pairs from apex PROaupair come from the social services fields – including occupational therapists, preschool teachers, and social workers. Most of them end up working with host families who have children with special needs.

alumni with susanCaption: apex PROaupair founder Susan Asay with some of the au pair alumni from the event

A highlight of the afternoon was hearing from the alumni. The apex PROaupair alumni in attendance had been placed with host families that spanned the U.S. – from New York, NY to Palo Alto, California and well as Rockaway, NJ; Baltimore, MD; Encinitas, California; and Chicago, Illinois. They spoke fondly of their host families and how they stayed in touch with them. They shared information about their current work and how the program made a difference for them both personally and professionally.

Mattis Riel, an occupational therapist and alumnus of the program who cared for a child with special needs in Chicago, IL, felt the experience had helped her in her career. “All in all, I feel great about my experience and had the chance to gather diverse occupational therapy experiences, which no one can take from me,” Mattis said. “This makes me unique as an occupational therapist and helped me with the job search back in Germany.”

Susan and JuliaCaption: Susan Asay and Julia Pest, a preschool teacher and apex PROaupair alumni who now works in a bilingual kindergarten in Munich.

Another alumnus, Johanna Mai, an occupational therapist who lived and worked with a family in Baltimore, MD, explained that she is now working full-time as an occupational therapist in Munich. She said her experience caring for her host child, Bella, in Baltimore, MD, gave her an insight into the family life of a child with special needs that she would have never had if she had not lived with a family.

Alumni also shared stories about their travel experiences within the United States and during their post-program travel month, since travel an integral part of the program. Jacqueline Aigner, an alumnus who was a psychology graduate placed with a family New York, NY, explained that she spent her travel month staying in New York City, as she had grown to love the city so dearly while living there!

All attendees received gifts as well as framed certificates honoring their participation. The event ended with a group dinner at 1912 Restaurant.