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 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.

Another new resource for Au Pairs:

au pair ads founder photoThis is a guest post by the founders of, two sisters from Sweden who want to create the best au pair service on the net.

In 2006, I returned to Sweden after an exciting year abroad as an au pair in London. It had been a great experience and I had learned a lot! When I came back from England I was full of ideas of what an au pair should do in order to maximize the au pair experience; how to choose a host family, where to live, and how to use spare time. So while completing my business degree at university, my sister and I decided to create a web guide for Swedish au pairs ( since there was a lack of non-commercial information. In connection with this, we also started a forum for au pairs (, which helps au pairs find friends and offer them an opportunity to discuss issues with other au pairs.

We began getting requests from families wanting to get in contact with the au pairs. In general, Swedish au pairs have a very good reputation of being trustworthy and friendly. We evaluated the market of au pair agencies and matching sites with one question in mind; how is a great match between an au pair and a family made? Finding mutual interests between the au pairs and the families is a good start, so our aim was to create a site that enabled a high level of involvement from both sides during the matching process, sort of a cross-over between an agency and an ads site. We wanted it to feel modern and personal.

We also saw a gap in the market of au pair sites in terms of quality. We simply wanted the matching process to be enjoyable, safe, and easy for both the au pairs looking for an adventure abroad and the families looking for a new reliable family member. We then launched in the spring of 2011.

Currently, 99% of our au pair members are Swedish. The service is easy; families create an ad describing themselves and what they are looking for, and au pairs apply to families of interest. The families also get to search and contact au pairs of interest. So far the response from families has been very positive and many express a genuine relief when finding our site. So far we have a unique and very large network of Swedish au pairs, unlike other agencies. This is exactly what other agencies are unable to offer their host families.

The very best advice we have to families looking for great au pairs for their children is to be sure of the uniqueness of your family, the specific needs for your children, and what qualities you are looking for in the perfect au pair. Then communicate this to potential candidates. A good, honest and welcoming ad will naturally attract the right au pairs.

Our site is growing, and we are currently devoting all our spare time it and our other sites. We also get support from others in our team, such as Bill, who is in charge of programming, and John, who helps us with search engine optimization. We also have another team member, Maria who is in New York, working to establish co-operations in the US. We are very excited about what the future holds!

How to learn a new language without losing your mind

languages and continents(photo by dreamstime)

If you are working abroad as an au pair, there is a good chance that one of the reasons you are is to learn a new language. Right? Or you may be there to perfect a language that you already have started to learn. OR – you’re an au pair simply for the fun of it, and learning a language is part of the deal.

Whatever the case, learning a foreign language can be challenging. And interesting. And overwhelming some days too. Some learn languages more quickly than others, but even those who learn foreign languages easily still have their days.

So how can you learn to speak your new language like a native? Because let’s face it, even if you are taking a language class (which you should be, it’s one of the benefits of being an au pair) you are still going to have to work hard outside of class if you want to learn to speak the language fluently.

Here are a few things that help speed up the language-learning process:

Stop speaking your own language with your host family – if your host parents speak your language well, it’s tempting to stick with the comfort of your mother tongue when speaking with them. Give yourself a set amount of time to learn the basics of the new language and get comfortable with it, and then stop speaking your own language with your host parents so that you are forced to speak the new language. It’s a bit scary at first, but it will make a difference.

Meet locals and speak their language – Getting out and meeting people is important – not only socially, because you want new friends – but also to speak the language. And just like with your host parents, even if your new friends and acquaintances speak your language, do your best to converse – at least as much as you can – in the local language. As they say, practice makes perfect, and with languages, it tends to be true (as long as your friends are willing to correct your errors!).

Watch local tv shows and movies – Even if you don’t understand everything that is being said, watching TV and movies in your new language is a fabulous way to learn the language, especially because you will learn the language the way it is actually spoken – not school-book language. To baby-step it, you can even rent movies that you have already seen in your own language and change the settings to watch it in the local language. You’ll know what is going on AND benefit from learning new words and expressions. Give it a try!

What do you do to learn a new language? What other ways are there to become fluent in the language of your new home?


New forum for au pairs!

girls talking (photo courtesy of dreamstime)

After using a simple page as a forum on this blog since its creation, I have finally upgraded and added a real forum by adding a community from BlogFrog to this site. The new forum makes it possible for you to sign up to connect with others through discussions, related blog posts, and more.

If you have questions for other au pairs, need help, or want to connect with fellow au pairs in your area, please be sure to visit the forum and join the community here.

Looking forward to meeting you there!