PROaupair’s 2016 Au Pair of the Year Now Working with Refugees in Germany

February 15, 2017
Next month, IAPA, the International Au Pair Association, will announce the winner of the 2017 Au Pair of the Year contest. Last year, Robert Isemer, a professional au pair and teacher with PROaupair, won the national competition. Now, back in Germany, Isemer, age 28, works as a social counselor at a refugee camp run by the German Red Cross. We spoke with him recently to learn more about his job, his life in Germany, and his thoughts on the U.S. Department of State’s J1 au pair program.

How did you come to be a social counselor at a refugee camp?

“When I returned to Germany after my year in the U.S. I needed a job. My mom told me about a social counselor job at a nearby refugee camp, about 30 minutes from where she lives. While in America the war in Syria escalated and when I came back I thought I could help.”

What do you do at the refugee camp?

“The refugees who come to Germany are first put into camps until they get to their real apartments. It takes a little time. We need people to help take care of them – help to take care of their health, storing their belongings, etc. Whenever they have a problem, they come to me and I can help take care of them.”

How many people are there in the refugee camp?

There are about 200 people in the camp right now, which is not very many. Normally, there can be up to 2500 people. It is an old army camp so they have large houses with rooms where people live and a canteen where people eat. They come from all over the world: Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Russia, Macedonia, Yemen, and Poland. There are a lot of families, a lot of young men traveling alone, and also a lot of young women coming with two or three children.

What is your day-to-day like?

“I provide support to the refugees. The people come to me in the office when they need help – like if someone needs glasses or they have problems with their health. I tell them where to go to get help. Sometimes I walk around and ask the refugees if they are happy, if they need anything. Sometimes there are problems in the camp. There are lots of different people from different countries so sometimes they fight and I have to manage that, getting someone into another room, etc.”

What drew you to the work?

“My first thought was that people needed help and I can help them. It was also a job that I could do without extra education. A lot of people are just talking, ‘Oh the refugees no one helps them’ and I thought well, I can help them.”

Is communication difficult?

“It is a big problem. Some people speak German and some speak English, but some just speak their own languages. It is a problem because a lot of time we don’t have people who speak their language, so it’s hard to communicate.”

What experiences from your time in the US have helped you in your job?

“Every person is different but they have the same needs. Everyone wants to have family and safety and basic things and everybody has the right to have it. Some people just need help in different ways. I worked with a child with autism in the U.S. and he really needed help with basic things in ordinary life, like going to the toilet, putting on clothes – working with him helped me a lot. I think that while there are different people around the world they all have the same basic needs.”

What do your friends and family think about your job?

“They like that I do it and think that it is a cool job. I sometimes complain about my job because it can be hard and the refugees don’t always understand you. Sometimes they get mad very easily when you don’t treat them how they want to be treated. Or sometimes you have to tell them bad news – like that they have to go back to their home country. They get very sad or mad or upset but you can’t do anything about it.”

What do you think about the year you spent in the U.S. on the J1 au pair program?

“It’s a pretty cool way to see another culture and travel – you are not just there for 2 weeks but for a full year. You also get paid so you don’t have to have a lot of money before you go. You see a lot of new things, meet a lot of new people, and experience new places. The host family I lived with were really nice and I keep in touch with my host mom every two weeks or so. All in all the year was pretty cool.”

Did the time you spent living and working in U.S. help you to get the job in the camp?

“Yes, I think so – because they saw that I had worked somewhere else, learned English, worked with kids with disabilities, etc. I had to speak English every day and there are always situations where you have to use your English. Right now I’m working with some people who only speak English so it’s very good to have that kind of experience.”

What do you miss from the U.S.?

“I miss my host family, of course, and the food. Also, there were always so many places to go and everything was very good. And I miss some of my friends, which I would like to see again. Now, we mostly text or communicate on Facebook. I also was part of the Cross fit gym and miss the community there.”

Would you recommend the J1 au pair program to others?

“Yes, I would recommend it for everybody. For people who don’t know what they want to do in the future, this really helps you – you have a lot of free time for yourself. I was off on the weekends and during the evenings so I had time to think and to choose what I wanted to do. It is a cool time to figure out what you want in life or who you really are. Even if you think you know yourself! I learned some things about me that I never realized before. I was 27 when I did it (so on the older side) but I wanted to do something different. I learned a lot and had a lot of fun. Everyone who thinks about it should do it and should not be afraid of it. It definitely will help you in your future. It is good for everybody."