If you’re new to the Au Pair program, you might be wondering where to start. Between federal regulations and finding the best match, there’s enough information out there to make your head spin.
These terms will help you understand the nuances of the Au Pair program.
What is a Host Family?
Before we can define “Host Family,” it’s important to touch on the purpose of the Au Pair program in the United States.
The Au Pair program is an exchange visitor program under the J-1 visa. The U.S. Department of State (DOS) founded the program for the purposes of foreign diplomacy, in an effort to share what life is like in an American household.
Host Families, in the simplest definition, are families who elect to host an Au Pair for a minimum of 1 year.
However, in the Au Pair program (and other cultural exchange programs), Host Families are also unofficial U.S. ambassadors. When you host an Au Pair, you become a representative of the United States of America, standing as an example of American culture, lifestyle, and values.
Don’t worry, it’s not as formal as it sounds. Most Host Families become close friends with their Au Pairs. Often, they say it’s like welcoming home a long-lost family member, as if they’ve known each other all along.
What is an Au Pair?
Au Pairs are international young adults who come to the U.S. under the Au Pair segment of the J-1 visa. They watch a family’s children for up to 45 hours per week (max 10 hours per day). In exchange, the family provides free housing, food, phone service, a weekly stipend, tuition money, and the opportunity to live in a U.S. household for up to two years. Often, Au Pairs receive other perks from their Host Families.
Most Au Pairs delight in sharing their culture with their Host Families. As much as they love learning about U.S. culture, they also love watching families adopt new traditions, learn phrases in their native language, and try new foods.
Under the requirements of the J-1 visa, Au Pairs must complete 6 credit hours at an accredited university during each year of their stay. Families are expected to enable Au Pairs to complete this coursework.
What is the Au Pair Program?
The J-1 visa is a cultural exchange visa with many different programs. The Au Pair program has specific regulations set forth by the DOS, which enable participants to experience U.S. culture, study abroad, and cultivate close, lasting bonds with their Host Families and other Americans.
The program was founded in 1946, under the Fulbright-Hayes Act as a “mutual educational and cultural exchange program.”
The purpose of the act was:
“To increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange to strengthen the ties which unite us with other nations by demonstrating the educational and cultural interests, developments, and achievements of the people of the United States and other nations, and the contributions being made toward a peaceful and more fruitful life for people throughout the world; to promote international cooperation for educational and cultural advancement; and thus to assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations between the United States and the other countries of the world.”
UNITED STATES CODE. TITLE 22: CHAPTER 33
FAQs- Host Families
Here are some common questions from prospective Host Parents.
How to be a Host Family…
The thought of hosting someone in your home can sound stressful at first. You may think you need to entertain your Au Pair and be a good host at all times.
While it’s true that families should follow our hosting best practices, it isn’t necessary to entertain your Au Pair 24/7.
Au Pairs are typically quite independent and capable of exploring on their own. They value their free time and like to hand out with friends their own age.
Just be a clear, consistent communicator, be a good host, and stay open-minded to cultural differences. If you can do this, you’ll be just fine.
Is it safe to live with an Au Pair?
Our partner agencies screen Au Pairs in their home countries. We conduct background checks, psychometric tests, and check every Au Pair’s references. Candidates are only added to our database once they pass through this process.
These failsafes help us bring the best candidates to you. But ultimately, it’s up to each family to determine what’s safe and what isn’t, and to perform additional and final screening before extending an offer to an Au Pair.
We strongly recommend following our interview guides and conducting multiple Skype interviews. This helps ensure you get the best sense of who your Au Pair is before finalizing the match.
The staff at Go Au Pair is always available to provide guidance during this process.
Why do Au Pairs want to join the program?
The most common motivations for joining the program are:
- Love of children
- Gaining experience for a career in childcare
- Perfect English speaking
- Study abroad and cultural exchange experience
- Love of travel
It’s important to ascertain each candidate’s motivations for joining the program. Most parents prefer Au Pairs who joined for reasons that support their family lifestyle & children’s needs.
Sit down and brainstorm with your spouse about your family’s needs and expectations. What is your lifestyle? Are you homebodies or social butterflies?
Writing everything down in advance can make a huge impact on how you screen candidates.
How can I make my Au Pair feel welcome?
Think about how you would feel if you moved to another country and stayed in a stranger’s home. What would you want someone to do to help you feel more at home? What would you want somoene to do for your own child if they became an Au Pair?
Here are some ideas for helping your Au Pair feel at home with you:
- Once you’ve finalized your match, stay in touch with your Au Pair in the weeks leading up to his/ her arrival.
- Send funny stories about your kids.
- Share jokes and exchange details about your culture.
- Ask your Au Pair for their favorite food, favorite color, and favorite sports team.
- When your Au Pair arrives, have their bedroom ready to go.
- Greet them at the airport with their home country flag or some balloons.
- Give them a gift basket full of toiletries, American treats or treats from their home country, warm socks or gloves if you live in a cold state.
- Invite them to participate in any upcoming holiday celebrations.
- Be clear that your home is their home, too. Share your schedule and invite them to hang out in the living room or browse the kitchen to their heart’s content.
- Invite them to join you on a family outing.
- Remind your Au Pair to ask as many questions as they want.
All in all, treat your Au Pair like you would a visiting family member, and chances are, they’ll feel right at home.
FAQs – APs
The idea of living with an American Host Family can be both exciting and a little scary. Here are some common questions we hear from Au Pairs.
How to find a Host Family…
Your best tool for finding a Host Family is your Au Pair application. Work with your home agency to determine whether your application speaks to your personality and skills.
Include an introductory video with your application. This helps families see your personality and confidence. You can include video of you driving (have a friend record you from the passenger seat). Also include video footage of you interacting with children to show off your childcare skills.
Once your application has been processed, Go Au Pair’s staff spends a lot of time and attention recommending you to families who would be a good fit for you (and you for them).
Go Au Pair does not have the final say in which family decides to host you. However, our staff recommendations have a significant impact on a family’s decision. Almost half of our recommendations lead to a match.
You can also impact your chances by writing a great introductory letter.
Are Host Families safe to live with?
Host Families must undergo screening by Go Au Pair and in-home site visit from a Local Area Representative. Our staff works hard to ensure families come into the program with the right expectations and motivations.
Families must submit references that Go Au Pair checks ourselves, and no Host Family can interview Au Pairs until their references check out.
Additionally, each family must fill out a detailed description of their family, lifestyle, needs, and expectations. This enables Au Pairs to determine which family is the best fit for them.
What are the most common Host Family expectations?
One of the most common skills Host Families look for is driving. If you have significant practice driving, show off your skills on your application. This will help you match more quickly.
If you don’t have driving experience, don’t worry. Plenty of families hire Au Pairs who cannot drive. Just know that it might take a little more time to find the right family.
Some other common traits Host Families look for in an Au Pair:
- Infant Qualified/ Experience with kids under the age of 2
- Experience with caring for children with special needs
- Experience caring for multiples (twins, triplets)
- Okay being with pets
- Speaker of a particular language (language immersion)
- Past work experience in a daycare or preschool
- Has younger siblings or has lived away from home before
- Particular personality type that aligns with the family’s
- English speaking ability
You do not need all of the above traits to find a great match. However, knowing which traits families are looking for can help you refine your application. Practicing and improving some of these skills can also increase your chances of matching quickly.
When you get an interview, ask your Host Family what they need most in their Au Pair. Be sure to highlight your experience with any of the above traits (if it’s relevant to the family).
In your second or third interview, it’s wise to get clarification on expectations such as:
- Spending your free time with the family (how often– just dinner? Family trips? Weekends?)
- House rules
- Access to public transportation
- Use of the family car (if you plan to drive)
- Disciplinary style, needs, what would be expected of you
- Use of common areas in home (kitchen, living room, etc.)
Think of other aspects of your lifestyle that are important to you. Do you need a clean home to feel comfortable? Do barking dogs bother you?
Identifying these things ahead of time will help you find the best arrangement for a comfortable year.
What should I do/say when meeting my Host Family for the first time?
If you’re wondering “What should I say to my Host Family?” you’re not alone. Between jet-lag and still learning English, many Au Pairs are self-conscious about making a great impression.
You will be tired from travel, and you may feel self-conscious about your English. Try not to worry about it too much. Chances are, your English is much better than you think it is. (Take it from someone who studied abroad in college and knows how it feels).
Greet your Host Family with a hug if they’re comfortable with it. If they pick you up at the airport, say thank you. Tell them how happy you are to meet them, how excited you are to see the house.
Be gracious with everything, and don’t be afraid to speak up if you have questions. Americans are blunt conversationalists; we speak our minds, and without realizing it, we often expect others to do the same.
If you don’t express yourself, your Host Family might think you don’t want to talk to them. Similarly, if you don’t tell your Host Family how you feel when you get sad, homesick, or frustrated, they’ll assume everything is fine.
Does This Sound Like the Right Program for You?
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“After years of stress and frustration, and many different nannies, we decided to look for an au pair. When Veronika arrived on January 2, 2016 our lives were forever changed. We had no idea that a real life Mary Poppins had just arrived!”
“I can honestly say that bringing her to live with us as our au pair has been the best decision we could possibly have made. She has afforded us so many priceless “intangibles” during her time here that I can’t begin to quantify her contributions to our family.”