Tips for starting out right with your Host Family (Adventures in America – Part 2)

picagaThis is another guest post from Agnieszka, who is currently working as an au pair in Georgia, USA. Enjoy!

When I first met my host family, I of course was nervous, like all au pairs are. These are things I learned that help me get through the initial strange getting-to-know stage, and hopefully they will help you if you are getting started out in a new place and with a new family!

  1. Be yourself! Nothing is worse than pretending to be someone completely different than you are just because, this is what you think others want to see. If you start out pretending, you will have to do it all the time for the whole year. Is that worth it? I don’t think so.
  2. Be honest! This is a new situation for you, and it is normal to be anxious at the beginning. If there are problems or you don’t understand things that are being said, say that you do not understand and that you need them to repeat themselves. No one expects you to be perfect, so it’s ok to be honest if there is an issue or if something isn’t clear.
  3. Talk a lot! Communication is the most important thing when it comes to relationships with other people. If you do not share anything, it is impossible to get to know and be able to trust, and to be trusted. If you have any problems with your host family, go and talk about what is happening. Of course, communication is important not only when you have a problem! During normal days, when you are happy about something be sure to be open and share.
  4. Listen, too! Talking is just part of communication. The rest of it is listening. Occasionally your host family will have things to discuss with you about their household and children and maybe even how you are doing things. If they have problems to discuss, do not defend yourself immediately, but listen to what they have to say and share your opinion afterwards. Stay open and be willing to hear what they have to say!
  5. Spend my time with your host family! If they eat dinners together – eat with them. If they go somewhere on the weekend and invite you to join, then go with them. Of course I am not saying that you should be with them all the time, but do be sure to spend time getting to know them and having fun with them. The au pair/host family relationship doesn’t have to be all work and no play!
  6. Have fun! Remember, living abroad as an au pair is something you really wanted, so stay relaxed and go with the flow. Living in another country and working and living with people you’ve just met can be challenging, but you will get used to the new place and have a great time. Just remember to stay positive, even when it gets challenging.

 

Adventures in America – Guest post from an Au Pair in Georgia

au pair in Georgia This is a guest post from Agnieszka, an au pair from Poland currently working near Atlanta, Georgia. She will be writing regular posts for us, and you can read more about her au pair experience – as well as advice for others – at her personal blog.

About myself

My name is Agnieszka, and I am a 22-year-old from Warsaw, the capital city of Poland. I came to the US as an au pair in November 2013, and I live near Atlanta, Georgia, with a 5-year old girl named Alicia, and her dad, Nathan. We also have one more member of a family – a cat named Cleopatra, whom we call Cleo for short.

Why am I here?

It  all started when my host dad, Nathan, and I decided to create a series of posts about how children should be treated, which I posted on my personal blog (the link is above). I then got in touch with Talya and was offered the opportunity to share my experience as an au pair, which I will be doing on a monthly basis here.

Why I decided to become an au pair …

My life back in Warsaw was not very easy or pleasant, which is why I decided to make a change. I was working as a receptionist in a dancing school for almost two years, working hard, and more or less just scraping by. I knew I wanted to enjoy life, travel as much as possible, meet new people and make my dreams come true. I was not quite sure what to do and looked into different options. Everything changed while I was on a trip to Slovakia with two friends in 2012, when one of them told me she saw a video of a girl who went to the US as an au pair for a year. The girl talked about how much she liked it, how much she learned, and she also said it was a very good way to become more independent.I was very interested, so after the trip I started to research to learn more and more about au pair programs in the states. At that time, I was not extremely interested in living in the United States, but the more I read about it the more I was convinced it was for me.

It took quite some time to organize my life so that I could go to the US as an au pair. I had to work to save money, get my driver’s license, and finish up my schooling. It was a very stressful time but I am happy that I had a goal and did not give up. I knew I exactly what I wanted to reach so I kept trying and by 2013, after finding an agency and then a host family, I made it to the USA as an au pair!

At the time, my biggest dream was to go to California, but I was offered a job with a family in Georgia, and I am very happy here. I’m enjoying new things, meeting new people, and have opportunities I did not have before. Georgia is not California, but it is a great place!

So … that is all from me today, but I will be back again soon to share more about my experience as an au pair in Georgia. In the meantime, I would love to hear from other au pairs living and working in the US, so please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below, or join our forum!

 

How to be a fantastic host family

family-picture au pair blog

So … ages ago we talked a bit about characteristics needed to be a great au pair in a guest post by Lisa Kempton from Au Pair International. Getting back on task, now we’re going to take a look at what makes a great host family.

For this I’m digging back into my own experience as an au pair in Germany  (way … back … when!). The family I worked for was not perfect – just as I was not the picture perfect au pair. But they were a great family to work for, and here are the traits they had that made them that way.

A great host family is …

  1. Flexible – Flexibility is a must, both for au pairs and host families. Although au pairs generally are the ones having to be the most flexible during their stay, host families also need to remain flexible and good ones will do so occasionally.
  2. Fun – No one wants to be a part of a boring family. You don’t have to be circus acrobats or the most exciting ever, but a good host family knows how to have fun with each other and include their au pairs in on the fun.
  3. Forgiving – Fact: your au pair is human and will make mistakes. Even the most dedicated, hardworking au pairs will screw up occasionally, so be ready to overlook a few things and be forgiving.
  4. Generous (no, they couldn’t all start with ‘f’s!) – My host family could have won an award for generosity. They always included me in family activities and trips, gave me awesome Christmas and birthday presents as though I were part of the family, and occasionally surprised me with gifts and random nice little things. Generosity makes one feel welcome, and au pairs are no exception.
  5. Loving – Au pairs thrive when being welcomed into a warm, loving family environment. Of course, no family is perfect, so don’t feel you have to be 1960s- American-tv-show perfect, but if a family loves each other and is happy it’s going to be much easier for good au pairs to want to live with them as part of their family.

So there you have it! What are your thoughts on what makes a good host family? Anything I missed that should definitely be on this list?

 

Traits you need to be a great Au Pair

au pair photo(photo courtesy of dreamstime)

This is a guest post by Lisa Kempton, an Alternate Responsible Officer and Regional Director for Au Pair International, an au pair agency designated by the US Department of State and specializing in matching and supporting au pairs and host families both in the US and abroad. She has been working to help host families and au pairs to have successful matches since 2008. Contact her at lkempton@aupairint.com with any questions.

Having working worked with host families and au pairs for over 4 years, I have had many opportunities to see wonderful matches where the host family and au pair end up truly caring for each other like they were family, and I have also seen matches that haven’t been as wonderful.  While each match is unique with its own set of pros and cons, there are some common au pair traits that seem to help ensure success.

  1. An interest in children:  I know that it has been said that you don’t need a burning love for children in order to be an au pair, but you do need a general interest in them.  Let’s face it; most au pairs are alone, in the house, with the children, all day long.  If the sound of a child’s voice grates on your nerves like nails on a chalkboard, then this probably isn’t the right path for you.  This goes for after the au pair arrives, too.  If an au pair acts interested in the children and their activities when Skyping with them before she arrives, but then couldn’t care less once she arrives, the family feels deceived  and wonders what else the au pair has misled them about.
  2. Patience: Anyone who thinks that working with children all day is easy hasn’t ever done it.  It takes patience for crying, sticky fingers, messes, crying, toys everywhere, homework battles… oh, and crying.  Au pairs need to be prepared that most days will be pretty good, but some days will be very hard.  Patience on the hard days will be rewarded when the children put their arms around you and tell you how much they love you.
  3. Flexibility: There are certain rules put in place to protect the au pair and host family.  It is very important that those rules are followed, but there also needs to be some flexibility.  Sometimes schedules change.  Sometimes parents are late.  Illnesses happen and life is sometimes just crazy.  If an occasional bending or breaking of a rule happens, then you just need to let it go or talk to your host family about it in a casual way.  If your host family repeatedly disregards the rules, than that is another issue entirely and should be discussed with your agency.
  4. Interest in the family: Most families really want their au pair to be a part of the family.  If the au pair is distant or spends little of her off-duty time with the family, the family feels that she only matched with them to get come to a new country and not because she wanted to participate in a cultural exchange program.  I worked with an au pair once who would go up to her room as soon as her shift was over, and wouldn’t come out for the rest of the night.  The family would ask her if she was hungry for dinner or wanted to do activities and she would decline and then sneak down after everyone was in bed and go find something to eat.  Needless to say, this match didn’t work out.  The best matches are the ones where everyone really cares for each other.  This is demonstrated when the host family invites the au pair along to different activities or does extra things to help her feel at home, like introducing her customs into their household.  I once had a host family who had a traditional German Christmas for their au pair.  This helped her to feel loved and accepted.
  5. Initiative:  Families don’t want to have to tell au pairs to do every little thing.  If the baby needs changing, the families want the au pair to go change him.  If the kids have homework to do, the au pair should make sure that happens on time.  If the kids are bored, the family wants the au pair to come up with activities to do.  You are in charge during certain hours of the day, so take charge.  Make sure the children are well-cared for and engaged and if you are off-duty still be attentive to the children’s needs, like you would a member of the family.
  6. Maturity:  There is a reason that au pairs must be at least 18 years old.  Families are not looking to bring another child into their home; they are looking for an adult to help make their lives easier.  Successful au pairs are the ones who take responsibility for their needs and happiness.  If you have a problem, don’t expect your family to solve it for you.  First, you will need to research your options (the internet, your agency and fellow au pairs are good resources for this), come up with some possible solutions, and then go to your host family and discuss with them what will work best.  They are there to help you, but not solve your problems for you.

I know I have just focused on what qualities are important for an au pair.  There are just as many qualities that are important for host families to have, the most important being dependability, compassion, appreciation, and trust.  In my experience, matches that have these qualities are amazing experiences for everyone involved and result in life-long friendships.

Three ways to guarantee you keep your Au Pair job

Young woman (photo courtesy of dreamstime)

During my time as an au pair in Germany, I had an unnerving fear of losing my job. Seriously. I imagined myself homeless on the streets of Stuttgart, wondering where to go next. It isn’t something I obsessed over daily, but randomly throughout my stay with my host family, fear of losing my job – and therefore my temporary home – would come to mind.

It was probaby an unfounded fear founded more in paranoia than in reality, but I know that I was not the only au pair I knew who was afraid of losing her job. Because when you live where you work, which au pairs do, your job is not just your source of income, but your room and board as well.

With that in mind, I have three tips for au pairs who want to keep their jobs. From my experience with au pairs and host families, if you follow these three rules, you are very likely to keep your job and have a great time as an au pair.

  1. Work hard – A good work ethic and willingness to go the extra mile is priceless and will win you respect with your host family and help cement your position with them. If you put effort into your job, even if you aren’t perfect, your host family will most definitely want you to stay.
  2. Be reliable – Host families need au pairs whom they can depend on. Be ready for work at the scheduled time, get done what is needed, and be sure to be honest about your expectations and what you can do.
  3. Don’t hit on your host dad – This one is obvious, but I thought it worth mentioning (because according to a 2009 poll in Au Pair Mom, over 40% of those who answered have heard of this actually happening). Even though most au pairs wouldn’t think twice about their host dad in that way, some out there do, and I can’t think of a quicker way to lose your au pair job.

What about you? I would love to hear from au pairs and host families on this one. What do you think helps make an au pair someone a host family would never, ever want to lose? Please let us know in the comments field below.