Advice for Au Pairs

The Power of Translation: Au Pair Sofia’s Story as a New York City Marathon Interpreter

When Sofia arrived in the U.S. as an au pair in August 2022 from Spain, she was excited to participate in a cultural exchange experience like the au pair program. “I had never done an Erasmus program and wanted to participate in one.” At 24, she felt mature enough to travel across the globe and not feel overly homesick.

Shortly after her arrival to Brooklyn, New York, Sofia’s Local Coordinator (LC) offered her and other Au Pair USA au pairs the opportunity to be volunteers at the New York City Marathon. Most volunteers would be handing out water to runners alongside the course, but Sofia noticed a volunteer position that might suit her even better. She read there was a need for medical interpreters. Since she had been a translation professional back in Spain she decided to apply.

“I didn’t know if I’d even have a chance to be selected since I graduated in another country. They answered three weeks before the marathon that I had been and gave us next steps, including a training program to learn about how to manage that day and what would be expected of us. I made a glossary of the specific vocabulary, since I’m not a doctor and wasn’t used to some of the words.”

Sofia was placed at the finish line checkpoint location. It was busy all day because, as Sofia says, “People were determined to finish the race, no matter their medical conditions.” As runners began needing support earlier in the day, they requested interpreters over the loudspeaker by language, but by the end they were calling Sofia over the loudspeaker by name. Sofia thinks she was able to support more than 50 runners by translating their medical conditions that day!

Sofia translated French, Italian and Spanish. Sometimes she was translating from one non-native language to another, which was challenging.

 “It was difficult, I needed to remain very focused. Then I’d get called to another patient and need to switch my brain into another language and do it again.”

Sofia developed a personal relationship with the medical team, which was truly a memorable part of the experience. Dr. Calvin Sun, physician, author of The Monsoon Diaries, and captain of the tent that day, wrote Sofia a personal email congratulating her and thanking her for her support, welcoming her back to participate the following year. This was meaningful for Sofia as it gave her additional confidence in the work she had done that day.

Sofia would give this advice to future au pairs: “I recommend looking for opportunities. It will be useful for your future to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. Volunteering is even nicer than working because it makes you feel very useful and you are giving something to this country. The U.S. is giving us the opportunity to live here, so it’s an action by giving something back to the country.”

Au Pair Sofia volunteer translator at the New York City marathon

Marisa Lonic

Marisa is a lover of all things cultural exchange. She and her family have hosted au pairs from Brazil, Germany, Colombia, Spain, and Ecuador. As a mom of four and the founder of Mama Work It, she helps working moms juggle mom life, work life, spouse life, fill in the blank life through her books, courses and coaching programs.