You may have heard your Local Area Representative (LAR) speak about why Au Pairs need to attend cultural events.
The importance of these events can’t be understated. Sometimes, it may seem like an inconvenience. (And Au Pairs sometimes have other things they’d rather be doing!)
It’s important to recognize that not only are cultural events required by the Department of State (DOS), but these events are a central part of the Au Pair experience.
Au Pairs Need to Attend Cultural Events…
1. To Help Fulfill Goals in Becoming an Au Pair
You’re probably aware of some of the reasons Au Pairs join the program. Maybe they want to travel or perfect their English. In fact, Au Pairs repeatedly cite the following as their top reasons for joining the program:
- Love of children
- Improve English
- Learn about U.S. life
- Opportunity to travel
- Personal/ Professional Development
Each one of these can potentially be fulfilled by attending cultural events. Here are some examples of how cultural events help fulfill these goals:
- Wider exposure to U.S. life and history.
- English is the common language between Au Pairs and their LAR, often spoken during events.
- Many cultural events allow Au Pairs to explore the city.
- Energy and enthusiasm gained from the event carry over into childcare.
- Getting to and from events teaches independence.
These events are usually planned and managed by your LAR. Each event is designed to contribute to the Au Pairs’ cultural experiences, giving them an opportunity to bond with one another, and fulfilling the Department of State’s requirements for the program.
This is one of the big reasons Au Pairs need to attend cultural events. The goal of these events is to enhance the Au Pairs’ cultural exchange goals as much as possible.
2. To Help Fulfill DOS Initiatives for the Au Pair Program
Many people don’t realize the DOS created the Au Pair program for the purpose of foreign diplomacy. They wanted foreign visitors to live in American homes and experience our way of life. The hope is for visitors to then return home and convey their positive experience to others in their home country.
The DOS wants Au Pairs to maintain a continuing relationship with the U.S. after their time in the program ends. The more people Au Pairs are able to meet and befriend, the more likely this is to happen.
By signing up to host, families actually become a U.S. ambassador of sorts. The experience an Au Pair has during their placement can permanently affect their view of the U.S.
Now, it’d be a lot of pressure if an Au Pair’s only exposure to America was a Host Family’s household. Fortunately for Host Parents, Au Pairs generally love travel and want a life of their own outside their host’s home.
One family cannot possibly give an accurate representation of the entire United States. Our country has so much diversity, exploring it is vital to an Au Pair’s ability to fully experience American culture.
In addition to an Au Pair’s social life and travel, cultural events help facilitate a wider exposure to American life. Au Pairs need to attend cultural events to learn more about our history, values, and diversity.
3. To Bond with Other Au Pairs
Several factors are vital to an Au Pair’s emotional and mental well-being during a placement. One of the most important factors is the Au Pair’s ability to go out, explore, and meet new people. Having a social life can be vital, even for introverts. Socializing provides an Au Pair with autonomy and a sense of purpose.
Cultural events help ensure that Au Pairs in the same cluster meet one another. An Au Pair’s cluster is an important support network and, ideally, a group of instant friends.
It also provides a safe way to meet up with new people, as the LAR will introduce new Au Pairs to the group, reducing the risk of meeting up with strangers.
Au Pairs need to attend cultural events because these events are a great way to help Au Pairs “fill their cup.” Spending time with other young adults helps them relax and recharge.
Connecting the Au Pairs in a given cluster gives them a sense of solidarity and a safety net. They know they have peers to turn to. They have someone their own age who understands their experience, because they’re living it, too.
Many Au Pairs say they also gain cultural exposure from the Au Pairs in their cluster, who talk about their home culture and customs, comparing and contrasting them to the USA.
If your cup is full, you have more to give.
An Au Pair who’s fulfilled by their experience will be better equipped to carry out their childcare duties and continue bonding with their Host Family.
4. To Contribute to a Successful Placement
“Succeeding” as an Au Pair or Host Family is a complex idea. The definition of “success” can vary widely from person to person. It can be anything from securing safe, sufficient childcare for your children to making a new best friend for life.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll define “success” as getting what you hoped to get out of this experience. (And hopefully, a little more than you expected, too).
As mentioned above, most Au Pairs join the program with the expectation of traveling, exploring, meeting people, learning about the U.S., and becoming more independent. Thus, it’s also true that Au Pairs need to attend cultural events to help fulfill the Au Pair’s expectations.
Having both parties’ expectations met is one of the most important factors in a successful placement.
When Au Pairs (or anyone, really) feel their expectations and needs have been met, they have more energy and dedication toward their work. This will overflow into their relationship with the children, as well as their relationship with the Host Parents.
Thus, Au Pairs need to attend cultural events because they can be a big contributor to a successful year.
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5. To Bond with LAR
Au Pairs not only bond with one another during cultural events, but they bond with their LAR, too. It’s important for Au Pairs to see their LAR as someone they can trust, so the LAR can provide valuable support during the placement.
Cultural events provide an opportunity for one-on-one interaction between Au Pairs and their LAR. Many LARs use this as an opportunity to discern how the placement is going, and Au Pairs tend to feel more comfortable airing their concerns without worrying about how to say it in front of their Host Family.
In this setting, LARs can provide advice and reassurance, giving Au Pairs the confidence to approach their Host Parents about things they may be afraid to bring up.
They can also study the Au Pairs’ body language and identify any warning signs of homesickness or complacency in the placement. This, in turn, gives them the opportunity to work with the Au Pair and Host Family to bridge any gaps in expectations that may have occurred.
Cultural events are also a great opportunity for Host Parents to have a night alone together with the kids. As you can see, Au Pairs need to attend cultural events because spending time out of the Host Family’s home can facilitate a much-needed recharge for all parties involved.
How Much Do Cultural Events Really Contribute to Cultural Exchange?
If your LAR has hosted events like meetups at coffee shops and ice cream parlors, it may not seem like Au Pairs need to attend cultural events. You may even wonder if the events impact an Au Pair’s cultural exchange experience.
However, even the simplest events are important. Americans meet up at coffee shops all the time! Sometimes, Au Pairs want to just sit down and chat about their experience, and allowing them some downtime can be really valuable, too.
Liz, one of our Oregon LARs, hosted a cultural event that involved hiking and exploring a local museum. At a glance, hiking in itself may not seem very “cultural,” but it ended up being an experience her Au Pairs will never forget.
(Liz is also a photographer, and decided to help her Au Pairs memorialize this event with some amazing photos!)
Au Pairs Say Cultural Events Are “Meaningful and Memorable”
“It was so fun and I think the meeting contributed so much because I can meet a lot of people from different countries, and I love it.” -Karen Rodriguez
“I could talk with another au pairs who are from other countries, that made me feel happy cause I could learn about other cultures. That event was awesome. I liked the idea of hiking and taking pictures because in that way we can visit new places and save those moments in beautiful pictures.” -Nicole Santin
“Every meeting is important because we can share time with others Au Pairs and Liz. The last meeting was so fun for us because we [got to see] a new place and [hang] out in that awesome natural place. I learned many things about the other countries and every day I’m learning about USA with my host family and my friends. I’m so thankful for this experience.” – Camila Barrera Bustos
“It was meaningful and memorable for more than one reason such as, getting a chance to experience the more natural side of Portland in all its glory and it was a nice getaway from the urban lifestyle. I think it was a great opportunity for the group of au pairs to bond and experience the beautiful sites Portland has to offer. We made an everlasting memory that none of us will forget… Helped my cultural experience a lot because I got to know my fellow Au Pairs better and it makes me feel comfortable to know I have friends to continue making memories with.” -Reezah, South Africa
Cultural Events Are a Necessary Contributor to a Successful Year
These examples give a clear picture of not only why Au Pairs need to attend cultural events, but why the Au Pairs themselves value these events.
If you’re a Host Family, encourage your Au Pair to attend the next cultural event in your cluster. Do your best to enable them to have free time and transportation.
If you’re an Au Pair, try to set aside time to attend cultural events in your area. You’ll likely find yourself making lasting friendships and new memories (plus, you need to attend at least 4 events to get your Achievement Package and extend for a second year!)