When Annika Ritter came to Westport in 2010 to work, she did not want to hang out with other au pairs.
“90 percent of the girls are German,” she says. “If I wanted to speak German, I would have stayed there!”
The lively, fun-loving 24-year-old — raised in a village near Frankfurt — vowed to immerse herself in Westport, and discover as much about her new town as she could.
Now — her 2-year stint almost over — Westport has become more than the place she works.
She knew very little about Westport before Au Pair in America matched her with a family here. Wikipedia made it sound “very fancy.” When she saw some of the houses, how people dressed, and stores on Main Street that were way too expensive to shop at, she understood how wealthy it is.
But she realized something else: There is lots to do here, and plenty of good people to do it with.
Because her host family belongs to the YMCA, she was added to their membership — free. Annika took morning classes: step, spinning, whole body conditioning, yoga, Zumba. There were a number of “older ladies,” she says diplomatically, but also mothers of children in her host family’s classes at Saugatuck Elementary School.
Annika was up for anything. She talked about “global awareness” at Saugatuck El and Earthplace. Twice she did face painting at the au pair agency’s booth at the Fire Department’s “Touch a Truck Day.”
Nearly every morning, when the kids were at school, she went to the Westport Library to read. “It’s one of my favorite parts of town,” she says. In the afternoons she returned with her host family’s children, for chess, crafts or story time.
The Memorial Day parade was special. “The whole town was together,” she says. “I saw people I have gotten to know well. I felt really at home.”
She ranged beyond Westport too, taking watercolor and drawing classes at Norwalk Community College, and color theory at Parsons School of Design. She volunteered at a media company nearby, sang karaoke at Southport Brewing Company, and met great people through her church in Black Rock
But Westport holds a special place in Annike’s heart.
“When I first came, I thought it was too fancy for me,” she admits. “But once I got past the surface, and got to know people, I had a total different view.”
Midway through her stint here, her family moved to a new house on Lone Pine Lane. “The neighborhood is so cute,” Annika says. “Everyone waves, and helps each other out. When we first got here, every day someone else brought over cake or cookies. That was so nice.”
Annika wants to give back to Westport a small part of what she’s gotten out of it. She hopes to give a “mini-German lesson” in the library children’s department. She offered to do a bake sale for the Y, but they basically said, “We need millions.”
This summer, Annika’s au pair job ends. Her parents are coming, and they’ll do something typically American: a road trip to the West Coast.
Annika is ready to start her real career. A very accomplished photographer — she took over 10,000 photos in the US (including family portraits for Christmas cards and head shots for a professional actress), and has a wonderful blog — she hopes to study media management back in Germany. She’d also like to open a photography studio.
Her dream is to come back to the United States, for good.
“I’m going back to Germany in September,” Annika says.
“But my home is Westport.”