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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Au Pairs Get Taste of U.S. Life

WASHINGTON -- The new nanny's crying jag began on Times Square and didn't sputter to a stop until dozens of trans-Atlantic phone calls and way too many cigarettes later, when she finally settled into her new life in a McBasement on the outskirts of suburban Leesburg, Virginia.

This wasn't quite the America that Antje Waleschkovski anticipated when she painted her fingernails red, white and blue before leaving Germany for her year abroad.

Officially, the State Department calls this a cultural exchange, a government-regulated year in America for more than 15,000 young foreigners willing to baby-sit 45 hours a week in return for about $135 plus room, board and a few college credits.

Antje lands in a dreary Holiday Inn in Stamford, Connecticut, with 200 equally stunned au pairs undergoing four days of training before fanning out to their host families.

Sandee Plescia has flown in from Chicago to train Antje's class, and she scans the ballroom counting heads. Across the rows of jet-lagged newcomers, giggly Portuguese flows into anxious Polish, which crashes into earnest German before Sandee commands attention in English.

"How many came because you want to improve your English?" Everyone raises her hand.

"How many came because you hope to find a rich American husband?" Half the hands in the ballroom shoot up, amid giggles.

"How many came because you want to take care of American children?" One hand.

On their final night of orientation, the au pairs board buses for their $55 tours of Manhattan. In the neon bewilderment of Times Square, Antje pulls out her cell phone. It's 4:30 a.m. German time. "I'm standing in Times Square!" Antje tells her parents. She begins to cry.

Before meeting the families, the counselors try to explain how hyper Americans are. "We have 1-year-old children with social calendars," Joan says. One au pair is going to a family whose 2-year-old twins take private Italian lessons.

Orientation over, Antje takes the train to Washington. Scott and Heather Pospichel arrive to pick her up for lunch at the mall with their two kids, Andrew, 2, and Katrine, 5.

The Pospichels have had four au pairs, including the Brazilian who rarely came out of her room and the Pole who announced upon arrival last year that she would be looking for an American to marry. She left, six months pregnant by an unemployed boyfriend who had dumped her.

The Pospichels are worried now that the children will get attached only to have Antje bail.

"The phone would ring, and Antje would cry," Heather recalls about her first couple of weeks. "We'd mention something, she'd cry. Her parents were calling four times a day. We'd just get her calmed down and focused on something else, the phone would ring, and it would start all over again."

But things are getting better now. Antje follows her favorite television show, "The O.C.," and reads Nora Roberts novels. Antje and a classmate from orientation even talk about going to Florida on spring break "because we want to see how American students get drunk."

At the very least, she says she can hang on until January, when she turns 21. The Pospichels have dropped hints about a trip to Las Vegas.

It would be a shame, Antje thinks, to leave America without gambling.