On Saturday, December 14, 2019, over 50 Au Pairs gathered at the Courtyard Marriott in Bloomington, MN.
The occasion? A cultural event at which Au Pairs collected gifts for Toys for Tots and held an “American” gift exchange.
What is a “Cultural Event”?
Being an Au Pair means becoming immersed in U.S. culture for up to two years. During their stay, Au Pairs experience life with an American Host Family, explore the U.S., and make friends from all over the world.
The U.S. State Department requires Au Pairs to attend a minimum of four cultural events each year of their stay. Local Area Representatives (LARs) are responsible for planning and orchestrating cultural events that teach Au Pairs about U.S. culture and give them time to bond with other Au Pairs.
“Cultural events are important because it helps the Au Pairs build a community here, which ultimately helps them to be more successful and happy,” says Tessa, LAR for Go Au Pair in Minnesota. “At the cultural events, it’s important to get a lot of participation so they can meet and make many friends.”
For a cultural event that takes place near the holidays, many LARs want to do something special for their Au Pairs. Even more so with over 50 Au Pairs in a cluster, and cultures from 20+ different countries.
Fran, from Brazil, says that cultural events are a valuable experience for Au Pairs. “I think it’s important to have a new cultural experience and meet new people and places.”
Erika, an Au Pair from El Salvador, agrees cultural events are important, “because Au Pairs learn more, share experiences and it’s a good opportunity to make new friends.”
Families & Au Pairs Donated 68 Gifts to Toys for Tots
This is one shared experience that the Au Pairs in Minnesota aren’t likely to forget. By the end of the night, the group had a collection of 68 toys for Toys for Tots, which were selected by the Au Pairs and their Host Families.
They also got to enjoy a classy holiday party with a photo booth, white elephant gift exchange, and a true “American” holiday dinner, provided by the caring staff at the Courtyard Marriott in Bloomington.
This event was an important cultural experience for the Au Pairs. Erika says it taught her that “changing gifts for Christmas is a big tradition in the USA. And it’s a good way to show people your appreciation and how much do you care about them.”
“There were lots of laughs,” says Tessa, “especially during the gift exchange game, when someone would steal a popular gift.”
Minnesota Au Pairs Featured on NBC
Even after the night was over, the fun didn’t stop there. Two days later, the Minnesota Au Pair cluster was featured on NBC KARE-11. Tessa, accompanied by Host Families and Au Pairs, brought toys to the donation center and represented the 70 families in the area who had donated toys.
“Thank you so much for coming out,” said Belinda Jensen, reporter for KARE-11. “First year, we do appreciate it!”
Many Au Pairs who attended the event said it was an educational opportunity, which taught them about the giving spirit of the holidays in the United States.
Erika says she learned that “Christmas in the US is a season for sharing and showing love to other people.”
“The girls were so excited,” Tessa said, referring to the Host Kids who came to the donation center. “They told the whole school.”
This is the first year the Minnesota cluster has donated to Toys for Tots. However, the Au Pair gift exchange is a long-standing tradition for this group.
“Usually, we have the gift exchange at my house or a Host Family’s home,” says Tessa, LAR. “But our group has gotten too big. With 70 families between my area and Kelly’s, no one can host at their home anymore.”
That’s why they chose the Marriott hotel for the event. It turned out to be a big success, in large part due to the Toys for Tots collection. 68 Host Families & Au Pairs donated toys, and 50 Au Pairs were able to attend the gift exchange.
“This was our biggest event at over 50 attendees,” Tessa says. “I would love to do this event again.”
For Fran, this event was about “thinking of other people” and “having more love” to share during the holiday season.
The Minnesota Au Pairs are looking forward to more events like this one, that illustrate the heart of the Au Pair program: sharing cultures and spreading love throughout the world.