October 7, 2019

A host family and au pair form a forever bond

All thanks to cultural exchange

7 minutes
Cultural exchange

Sometimes, a host family and au pair just click immediately. They share the same values, sense of humor, and outlook on life. They both are excited to learn about a new culture—and perhaps most importantly, they both embody the “spirit of the au pair program.”

That’s certainly the case with the Lepak family of Oklahoma, who welcomed Argentinean au pair Luciana—or Lu, as they call her—into their home and hearts and instantly fell in love. Their bond has become so strong, that without even knowing the other was doing the same, they both nominated each other for Cultural Care Au Pair’s prestigious Au Pair of the Year and Host Family of the Year awards!

In order to nominate your au pair or host family, you must submit an essay detailing out why they are such a standout participant of our program, how they’ve changed your life, and why they deserve to win. Both the Lepak family’s essay and Lu’s essay are so well-written—and do such a beautiful job of detailing out what it’s like to exchange cultures—that we thought we’d share them with you here.

After all, what better way to learn about their incredible experience together than to hear about it in their own words? So first up, the Lepak family’s essay that they wrote about their wonderful au pair, Lu.

“Lu joined our family at a time of many transitions for us. We had just moved into a new house, pulled our three-year-old daughter, Livie, out of daycare, gone through two job changes, and given birth to a beautiful baby girl named Violet. Having Lu as our au pair has made what could have been a daunting year of major changes into an exciting year of growth for our family. She has been a stabilizing force during the past year. While we have dealt with a lot of uncertainty this year, we know we can always count on one thing: our kids have outstanding childcare from someone who loves them like family.

What sets Lu apart is how much she cares about our children. She feels almost as much responsibility for helping our children develop as she would if she were their parent. We work as a team to determine the best ways that we can help our children grow and develop physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Lu works tirelessly coming up with games and activities to help both of our girls master new skills. Whether it is coming up with a new and more effective approach to toilet training, or working with both girls to help them learn Spanish, Lu has been instrumental in our girls having a fantastic year developmentally. She seems to always know the right way to handle our kids, even in difficult situations, which has earned her the nickname Super Lu. There isn’t a childcare situation she can’t handle!

Lu has a special relationship with Violet (the baby). Violet has known Lu basically her entire life, and she gets excited every morning when Lu greets her at breakfast with her special greeting “Hola Manola!” and when she sings her Argentinean lullabies. She loves snuggling and playing with Lu, and her eyes light up whenever someone speaks Spanish near her as if she knows that’s Lu’s language. Lu has done a great job of introducing a new language for both of our children, which has been a wonderful experience for our family. Livie even pronounces words with an Argentinean accent, and is always excited to show off her new words.

In addition to the work she does day-to-day, she is fantastic on special occasions. For Livie’s birthday, Lu helped us set up a pirate themed treasure hunt for Livie where she would follow a series of maps to find her birthday presents. We all stayed up late working on the maps and hiding the presents, and Livie was so excited when she woke up and got to use the maps that Lu drew. Then, Lu helped Paige develop a backyard carnival for Livie’s birthday party with her friends complete with fun games and prizes. During the party Lu did face painting for the kids, and everyone had a blast! Lu has done creative things like that repeatedly throughout the year for special days and moments, and it has made this year unforgettable for Livie.

It seems like our house is a constant cultural exchange because we talk about cultural similarities and differences every time we encounter something simple and mundane (a trip to the DMV) or special (holidays). It seems that we are always telling our friends about how things are done in Argentina, and Lu is always messaging her family and friends about all the new American things she has learned.

Lu shared with us her country’s love of futbol. This year we planned a big day for Argentina’s first game in the World Cup. The game was early in the morning here, so we got up extra early to get ready. We all wore the team colors, and Lu helped the girls paint their faces like real Argentina soccer (OK… futbol) fans. While we watched we did the team cheers and celebrated every big play. We also ate Argentinean panqueques with dulce de leche and drank two iterations of yerba mate (the national tea-like communal drink) – the regular hot version and then an iced lemonade version. Bobby got hooked on mate and now Lu and Bobby share it regularly. Paige and the girls got hooked on panqueques and now Bobby rarely gets to make his old pancake recipe anymore.

Finally, Lu has made it possible for us to take on new career opportunities without the added stress of sorting out childcare issues. Shortly after Lu arrived, Bobby was given the opportunity to teach a study abroad course in England for 3 weeks. Our baby was only 3 months old, and he would have never felt comfortable leaving Paige alone with the two kids for that long. However, knowing Lu was going to be there gave him confidence that everything would be fine while he was gone. Later in the year, it was Paige’s turn to travel extensively for work, and Lu facilitated that travel by going with her to watch Violet so Paige could continue to nurse Violet while out of town and not have to be separated from our baby during her work travels.

Lu has allowed us the flexibility to have a rich family life while pursuing our careers, and we couldn’t be more thankful.

Lu’s essay about the Lepak family is just as touching …

“I do not nominate my family out of gratitude. I think the best way to say thank you to them is to take care of their children every day as if they were mine. I nominate my family because I think they deserve recognition for all the love they give me.

Because of my experience with children, I was lucky to have many interviews before finding the Lepak family, with whom I felt a very special connection from the first moment. The first email was surprising for me (I still have it saved), as it was written for my host dad. Until then all the interviews I had were with the mother of the family and I was looking for an equal relationship with all the members of the family. In that email Bobby (my host dad) wrote about Quilmes (the city where I live), and I talked about my customs and there I realized that they were really interested in a cultural exchange. They live in Oklahoma, and it was clear that the main thing for me was not the place; it was to live this new experience being part of an American family.

I arrived in the U.S. with a lot of fear, because in Argentina I have a wonderful family that takes care of me and they are always with me—and I was afraid of not feeling that way. Fortunately it was not like that. They received me with a lot of love. My English was not the best so the first time we posted papers on the walls with the phrases that I could not say to memorize them, and with great patience every day they taught me something new. A few months after being here, the World Cup began. Maybe here it’s not a big deal but in Argentina it is. So the first game that my country played was at 7AM in Oklahoma—I woke up and my family was waiting for me with typical food from Argentina!

They had made for me “panqueques with dulce de leche and mate.” They put on t-shirts of the color of my country, they painted their faces and watched the game with joy and nerves like me. And as I write this my tears fall, because I realized that this way of showing love is very difficult to find and I found it here, 5,416.493 miles from my house.

We constantly try to exchange our cultures—we usually eat food from my country, celebrate the holidays of my country here, watch movies or documentaries that speak about the history of Argentina and about the culture of United States. They also always take me to different restaurants to taste meals typical of here, we talk a lot about the history of this country, we watch movies together, etc. They always help me, too. I wanted to take English classes and they called all the universities with me, they helped me choose the best option, they helped me organize my trips and they gave me recommendations. We celebrate all the holidays so that I can be immersed in American culture.

The perfection of our relationship is that we are not perfect—we’ve had moments where we had to work as a team and family. They invite my friends to dinner with them, and they make my family from Argentina part of their family too. My mother came to visit me and they gave her so much love that I do not have words to thank them!

I have two host kids, Olivia and Violet. I cannot express in words what those girls mean to me. They raise the girls based on love and respect—and I do the same way.bMay l also say that my family exceeded my expectations, they have been there for me at all times, and I know that forever I have a family here that made me live the best experience of my life. I have decided to extend another year here with them and continue being part of my beautiful family! Nominating my host family is my way of say “I love you and thank you” for all they do for my day to day!”

The nomination season for Au Pair of the Year and Host Family of the Year is quickly approaching—and if you’re a current host family on our program, we’d love to receive an essay from you on what makes your au pair incredible!

All awards aside, however, the Lepak family and Lu have a heartwarming connection … one that we are fortunate enough to see every day in our program participants across the country.