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Monday, June 16, 2014

How Being Billingual Helped Me Pick a Friend Out of a Precarious Situation

Like Ariel the Little Mermaid all of us have dreams and fantasies about being part of another world. And thanks to working and study abroad opportunities many of us can turn those fantasies into realities. After seeing Europe and coming back to Argentina, a good friend of mine started to have flights of fancy about working abroad and getting out of the hellhole that Argentina was quickly turning into every minute that goes by. So she set up a profile on a website for Au Pairs where they can be matched up and interviewed by potential employers.

There is a saying that goes "if something is too good to be true, it probably is"  I am writing this post to demonstrate how important it is to have good knowledge of the laws as well as good foreign language skills if you intend to be anything more than a tourist passing through. Already in Argentina cab drivers and produce sellers and such have been known to try and take advantage of foreigners especially if it is obvious that they don't have a good grasp of the language.

6 mths after my friend put out her profile she got contacted by some people in Canada that needed a live in care-giver.  Also note that my friend speaks nearly zero english and has no experience with life outside of a latino world. Naturally she told me about the experience. I told her I would be there to help and translate as needed. Nothing about this situation raised red flags in me.....YET.

After some general intros between her and this potential employer, it looks like things were gonna get serious and it might really happen. I was naturally happy for my friend that she might end up living in the same country as me.  The employer then sent a message to my friend which asked her what she would like for a salary.


I thought it was slightly odd that she would just ask her what she wants to get paid. Cuz there are strict laws about live in care-givers, minimum wage, hours and such. Usually to create a contract there needs to be specific detailing about hours worked and has to be signed by both parties

My friend had also checked out what she would need for a visa to be a caregiver. The embassy told her she would have to pass an english test as well as have a contract from her employer. She relayed this info back to her potential employers.  But another email from these people (in english that had to be translated by me) said "Ok, you sound great, we need to hire pretty quick. Just let us know when your plane lands. And you'll just need a tourist visa"

Upon reading this that is when RED FLAG TWO and RED FLAG THREE got raised inside of me. Firstly, by law for au pair programs the employer is responsible for paying for transportation. My friend did not have the funds to buy a ticket for herself nor is it legally her responsibility.

The 2nd thing that irked me was just asking her to come up on a tourist visa.  For most first world passports we can get a stamp to visit without a visit to the embassy. But due to my friend's nationality, she would be required to have an interview at the Canadian embassy with proof of funds and a return ticket and even with those the embassy might only grant a mth to visit. So coming up on a tourist visa would not work nor would it be legal.

My friend gave these people my number and they said they would call me. I decided that when they called I would be ready with a specific line of questioning to get further details on this situation. Their emails to her made them sound like they were ignorant and don't know what the laws are on getting a live in caregiver.

This is where i couldn't be more wrong. When they called I fired away with the questions that were brewing in my mind. My 5 min conversation revealed what was really going on . These were people who did know the law and the rights of live in care givers. They have had plenty of employees that they have processed and brought over to work for them. And they did have the money to go through the process, they were just too busy to do it and were going to try and do it illegally by getting my friend to come up on a tourist visa and work for them.

If my friend did that and come without a contract or the appropriate visa, there is no way that the laws governing and protecting caregivers will be able to protect her because she wasn't going through the caregiver program run by the Canadian gov't.

I explained to these people and to my friend that there is no way that this can happen in the time given. It is virtually impossible to contact someone and get them into the country with only one months notice. As soon as these people heard this they dumped my friend like a hot cake and stopped all communication with her.

My friend was naturally upset but in the end she said the whole experience was worth it cuz she learned alot. She saw how important learning another language is and it gave her the drive to learn english well. During this whole situation I had to translate emails for her. Had i not been there she would have been left in a vulnerable situation.  Had this been a legit work opportunity she still wouldn't have been able to go due to inability to function independently in a foreign land.

Staying safe and savy works both ways, for north americans europeans going to south america and third world countries and people from the third world going to work and study abroad. Taking the time to learn another language well is never waste of money.  In fact the opposite is true, billingualism can save you a massive amt of time and money when you are well versed in another language as well as the laws and rights of another country.

The heartbreak my friend went through in this is nothing compared to the heartbreak she would have had if she had thrown herself headfirst into a situation in the middle of a foreign land with little language skills or knowledge of the laws and rights for foreigners.

It's summertime and soon airplanes filled with excited study and work abroad people young and old alike will be landing in foreign exotic lands. If this is you, then I am beyond ecstatic for you and wish you the time of your life making new friends and experiencing another culture and language. Don't let this post deter you from having an amazing adventure. Simply use it as a cautionary tale....

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Amorous Alpacas

Amorous Alpacas