When you bring a nanny (or other domestic helper) to the United States, the initial part of the process is mostly focused on the technical aspects: things like obtaining the visa, or all the stateside processing can take up a lion’s share of your time and focus. So much so, that it is sometimes easy to forget that paperwork alone doesn’t make for a smooth transition for a good working relationship for both parties.
For most nannies or helpers that enter on this visa, they are most likely arriving to the US for the first time, and that can be quite a bit of culture shock. I mean, I was in total (reverse) culture shock when we arrived after several years away, so I can only imagine what it felt like to our nanny who arrived for the first time. What’s more, chances are that in the post country where you started your working relationship, your nanny might have been your right hand for more than just your children. For many of us, our domestic helpers taught us how every day life worked when we were at post. There, we were the visitor and they were usually the pro, not only taking care of the kids but also letting us know where the post office is, how trash pick up works, where you need to go and when in order to get things done…all those little things that we often took for granted.
That dynamic essentially gets flipped upside down when you come to the US – roles shift, and the change can be rather sudden. You might not be used to your nanny asking you all the questions instead of vice versa. Your nanny will likely not know your neighborhood or how things work; there will be a heavy dependency on you to get paperwork and processing pushed through; she might not be used to the city and what goes along with it, or the suburbs and what goes along with that.
The biggest piece of advice then we have from our experience is to have patience. Don’t make your nanny feel as though she can’t come to you with questions or concerns. Once that happens, the consequences are inevitably more complicated. Even though you might be absorbed in our own transition back to the US, it will be helpful to have a little extra empathy around what it must feel like to arrive in the US for the first time. Put yourself in their shoes. Be mindful to take the time to explain things that might be second nature to you, but are natural questions to your nanny. She’ll get into the swing of things soon, but she will rely on you more to explain things you never thought to really explain before.
A few additional things that we found helpful in our own situation:
- Consider signing up nanny + tots for playgroups in the area, it’s a good way to meet other nannies and she will likely come across someone from her home country. For our own nanny, she ended up making several good friends from other nationalities who were from all over the world. She wasn’t used to that at first but by the end they had their own group of friends for advice and for coverage and playgroups and even for recipe exchanges from their respective countries.
- See if there are any church groups or cultural groups that have members from their own home country – this helps with weekends and evenings and starting to build up a social/support network that goes outside of just you. If their faith or a particular hobby is important to them, try to help them keep it up. It makes a difference when people feel that they have a community outside of just their work.
- We provided our nanny with a simpler laptop for use in evenings/weekends, and that allowed her to keep up with her own social media, Skype and even soap operas from home. A smart phone wasn’t really her thing, but having an easier to navigate, old school answer really helped open up her world during her free time.
- See if there are local groceries/markets that stock some products from where your nanny is from – we would make a monthly run to an Asian grocery store on the outskirts of DC that let our nanny pick up some of the products that she enjoyed cooking with and that were most familiar to her.
The best thing to do is to reflect a bit on the things that make you comfortable when you’re away from home in a new culture – sometimes it’s the little things that have the most impact. Everyone can use a touch of home from time to time, right?
If anyone has suggestions on what’s worked for them in making for a smooth transition – please feel free to add to the comments below!
Author’s Note: Please be advised that this series is meant to shed some light on the process of bringing a domestic helper back with you from post or other foreign assignment as part of the B1 Domestic Worker Visa program. This is not official, legal, or immigration guidance. As always, please check with your local consular section, federal regulations and official state laws related to domestic employment for the most updated information and requirements.
Image by Irene van der Poel via Unsplash.