It comes as no surprise that au pairs come to the USA to learn about American traditions and culture. But cultural exchange becomes a two-way-street once au pairs share their own cultures, traditions, holidays and language with their host families. Below are some tips to help families take advantage of the opportunity for cultural exchange during the year.
Talk to your au pair before she arrives
Make sure your au pair knows even before she arrives that you are interested in learning as much about her culture as possible. Particularly when au pairs will be sharing their home country’s cuisine, they often want to pack cookbooks, spices and goodies from home so they can share authentic flavors and dishes once in the USA. Au pairs generally share lots of words and songs with their host kids but if your hope is that your children will become fluent in her native language, make sure you make these wishes known during the matching process.
Shannon, host mom in NJ:
Amandine brought with her recipe books, childrens’ activity books and songs, and we received a steady stream of French treats from her family too! Amandine shares her special French traditions in food and holidays and everyday habits, which we have happily folded into our own.
Cooking and sharing a meal together is one of the easiest ways to share culture and is the most popular way families and au pairs bond. Encourage your au pair to share her favorite recipes and be sure to include her in your family meals.
Charles, host dad in NY:
On the simplest level, our au pair Arthur introduced our children to all sorts of delicious foods they had never tried before: Creme brûlée, choux pastry, éclairs, even escargot. On a deeper level, though, he showed us that food can be a source of joy, and a chance for families to connect, both in the preparation (our son learned to love cooking with Arthur) and in the mealtime itself.
Combine holiday traditions
Incorporating some of your au pair’s traditions into your own holiday celebrations is a way to make her feel special, combat homesickness and enrich your own traditions. It’s also a good idea to acknowledge and celebrate other holidays unique to her home country.
Kirsten, host mom in CT:
We really blended our families’ traditions over the Christmas holidays to create one of our most memorable and enjoyable holidays yet.
Erin, host mom in FL
On Australia Day, our au pair taught the kids about Australia and played a game with them testing their knowledge on Australian “slang”. They loved it. It was very funny to hear their answers on what they thought each word meant.
Make time to just talk
When you have an opportunity to ask questions about your au pair’s home country and background, take advantage of it! Everyone is eager to talk about what makes their upbringing unique and you can learn so much just by sharing these small details.
Dorie, host mom in CO:
Our children have learned a lot of about the Great Wall in Berlin this year. Our au pair Martje shared her grandfather’s experience as a young boy escaping from East Germany in a plane in the middle of the night. This made the “story” of East German Great Wall real for them.
Leah, host mom in MA
We have very interesting discussions about the political happenings in Thailand and this country. We have learned a lot about the history of the monarchy in Thailand and about current political turmoil. The Buddhist holidays and practices have also been a great learning experience for us. Tomorrow we are visiting our first Thai Temple with Dee for an observance of the New Year holiday. And, of course, she has taught us to make some delicious traditional Thai meals!
Get to know her family and friends, too
Au pairs love when host families are interested in their families and friends back home, so consider taking advantage of the chance to meet them, either over a Skype call or even by inviting them to come stay with you for a visit.
Lisa, host mom in CT:
We FaceTime with her family often and we have gotten to know them. We are all friends on Facebook so we can all share our daily lives.
Shannon, host mom in NJ:
Our au pair’s family came to visit us in October and we had such an amazing time getting to know her parents and brother. We shared our love of hockey and sent them to watch a game in Rangers jerseys—it was so fun to see! I know we will all visit them in France one day, a trip we are so excited to plan.
Keep it fun!
Cultural exchange should be fun, so encourage your au pair to think of creative ways to share her culture with your children. (And be sure to use Cultural Care’s “Let’s Play” cultural activity and game, included with every host family and au pair’s Welcome Box)
Brooke, host mom in TX
Murphy shares Chinese stories, songs, books, movies, and language with my daughters. She found a Chinese ballet school for Allie. She seeks out opportunities for the girls to play with other kids who speak Mandarin, order books for them in Chinese, and even had another au pair bring movies from China that we can’t purchase here.
Good luck to our families and au pairs who are eager to learn more about each other’s cultures. If you have another way to share cultures or want to share a story, tell us about it!