The most unique and important aspect of an au pair/host family relationship is the opportunity for long-term cultural exchange. Cultural exchange differentiates the au pair program from other options and enriches au pairs, host parents and children alike. Not only are host families able to learn about their au pair’s home culture, traditions and language, but host families are able to share American culture, habits, and customs with their au pair. This cross-cultural sharing helps create lifelong memories for both families and au pairs, building the foundation for a relationship that can last long beyond an au pair’s time with your family.
Cultural exchange also broadens the worldview of children as they learn to be more understanding and respectful of others while appreciating differences. Throughout their year with your family, au pairs are able to share not only major cultural differences, like language, holidays, and food, but more minor differences in daily routines and habits between cultures.
Here are some ways to promote cultural exchange that will positively impact au pairs and families alike
Encourage au pairs to share children’s activities from their home country. This could include teaching indoor or outdoor activities, games, or songs that children would learn in school or sharing popular books and stories. Learning about the lives of children in another country helps children not only to broaden their horizons but understand there are as many similarities as difference between countries. Many cultures have the same songs or games, only in a different language.
Likewise, families are able to share with au pairs their favorite games, activities, and books. You might find that you and your au pair share similar favorites or family traditions!
Make language learning a part of children’s daily routine. Helping children learn greetings, basic phrases and questions, the names of common objects, colors and foods is a great way to incorporate the au pair’s native language into your family’s daily life. Since young children learn languages more easily than adults, this is a great way to capitalize on this critical learning period.
As many au pairs are non-native English speakers, living with a family enables them to learn colloquial English, slang, and phrases or words unique to your area. Improving language skills or accent reduction is often a goal for au pairs and host families play a vital role in helping them achieve it.
Share both typical American foods as well as foods common in your area or with your family. Many people from outside the US are not aware of regional variations in American cuisine so having an au pair in your home is a great way to share! Including family or regional specialties is one way to help your au pair have a unique and memorable experience while with your family.
Also, encourage your au pair to share foods common not only in their country, but also with the family or in their region. This gives children an opportunity to expand their palates and discover new foods. They might even find some new favorites!