Ask an expert - Business profile

Even with her requisite 200 hours of training behind her, Piyorose Narakol felt ill equipped on her first day as an au pair. Placed with a host family in Virginia, the young woman from Thailand didn't know how to open a stroller, use a dishwasher or, most critically, attend to the 16-month-old left in her care.

"I knew nothing about how to take care of the kids," said Narakol, who earned her 200 hours by volunteering in her mother's school.

As owner of Asia Bridge Childcare, Hinsdale's Narakol aims to change that and to make things better both for the au pairs from her native Thailand and the families they serve.

An au pair, Narakol explained, isn't a nanny or a babysitter. Au pairs are trained young women between the ages of 18 and 26 taking part in a cultural exchange. While spending a year living with a host family, the au pair practices her English and experiences the culture while providing the family with childcare. They are paid a stipend of just under $200 a week in exchange for 45 hours of childcare. Host families also provide a private bedroom and food.

Having served as an au pair herself back in 2005, Narakol found herself on the other end of the program in 2015. She and her husband, Ken, along with their 5-year-old son, Ty, moved back to Thailand. With Ken in school and Narakol working full time, she needed help with childcare. Once again immersed in the world of au pairs, Narakol saw a need to make the process easier for both the caregiving guest and host family.

As founder of Asia Bridge Childcare, Narakol partners with schools and child-focused organizations in Thailand to help women gain the 200 hours of childcare experience required, ensuring that they learn the skills needed to fulfill their job.

There is a steep learning curve for Thai au pairs when they come to the United States, Narakol said. In Thailand, children are often discouraged from activities and from trying new things as a means of keeping them safe.

"We're told no," Narakol said.

U.S. parents, on the other hand, tend to encourage their children to try new things and enjoy new experiences.

"There's like a 360-degree difference," she said.

Narakol also assists with paperwork needed for the au pair application and visa process. Finally, she assists in finding matches between au pairs from Thailand and host families around the world, interviewing host families and making sure their homes have suitable accommodations. She also follows up monthly to ensure the arrangement is going well.

"I will be the one to listen to both of them," Narakol said, noting that one of those matches was with Narakol's next-door neighbor.

A business partner takes care of operations in Thailand while Narakol communicates with au pair candidates and the training organizations remotely. Her dual role as business owner and au pair representative allow Narakol time to do the job she loves most - being a mother to her 9-year-old son.

"I choose to have my own company because I want to spend more time with him," she said.

- by Sandy Illian Bosch

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean