In Giselle Machado's native Lima, Peru, neighborhoods are a patchwork of colors. Directions to any house are easy: turn left at the blue house; it's the yellow one.
Now, in Ashburn, Machado takes a different approach to finding a home among a street of nearly identical brick colonials.
"Here, I need to go very slowly and look at the mailboxes," she said with a laugh.
It's just one of the many different things Machado has experienced since coming to Ashburn 13 months ago.
She's one of many au pairs in the area. Hosting an au pair is a popular way for working parents to assure top-quality, consistent care for their children.
For 45 hours a week, Machado cares for four children between the ages of 18 months and 10 years old.
While au pairs receive housing, a weekly stipend and an education in American life, parents get peace of mind at a rate that's comparable to full-time daycare.
According to Cultural Care, the agency that brought Machado and 58 other girls to America this year, parents pay about $275 a week to the au pair and for other expenses such as the agency. That equals out to about $6 an hour. A local 10th-grader could charge more than that for babysitting.
"The boys benefit because we're not dragging them back and forth to the day care," said Bonnie Stith, a Leesburg resident who works in Washington, D.C., for the federal government. "Their day tends to be a lot more routine."
Stith's German au pair, Katrin, has become like a member of the family. She's the Stiths' third au pair. They keep in touch with their first au pair from more than five years ago.
"It builds our family," Stith said. "Our family grows with every au pair we get."
AU PAIRS with Cultural Care are between the ages of 18 and 26, proficient in English and have completed their secondary-school education as well as undergone a screening process.
For some, working in America is their equivalent to a "gap year" — a year taken by many Europeans to travel before entering college.
In Ashburn, au pairs get a healthy dose of suburban life. In their time off, they can hang out, or go to the gym, or go a movie.
Or they could do something totally American.
"We discovered Starbucks," said Amelia Naidoo, who is originally from Durban, South Africa. Naidoo is pursuing her master's degree in communications through the University of South Africa's online courses while in the United States.
The girls often make their way into D.C. for a night out in the clubs.
"You have to go out of the house after you're done working," said Anna Rohde, a native of Brandenburger, Germany.
And in addition to the two weeks vacation au pairs get every year, they often find themselves traveling the United States with their host families.
Naidoo has been to Nantucket with her family.
"If I hadn't met the Reeds, I wouldn't have been able to see this very beautiful but very costly island to live on," Naidoo said.
FOR AU PAIRS, the experience is galvanizing. After from six months to two years in America, they're ready to re-enter their own lives with a new perspective and a new sense of purpose.
"I think, now I can do anything," Rohde said. "If you can handle three kids, you can get so certain with all the situations. You're on your own."
While many au pairs head back to school or to work, they also carry with them the experience of being in an American family — and learn how to start their own families.
"I see the difference now, how we raise kids and how Americans raise kids," said Ilona Studnickova, from Most, a town in the Czech Republic. "Now I know I'm ready for how I'm going to live my life."
To learn more about au pairs, visit Cultural Care Au Pair's Au-Lympic event at Olde Isaak Walton Park in Leesburg, June 4, at 12:30 p.m. Reserve a spot by calling Kathleen Shultz at 703-724-0024.