Foreign exchange programs are increasingly popular. After all, the demand for learning a foreign language is on the rise. Living with a foreign exchange student like an Au Pair, is a great way to help someone study abroad at an affordable price. Plus, you’ll give your family a unique cultural exchange experience in the comfort of your own home.
Many Au Pairs love speaking their home language to their Host Kids. Thus, language immersion is a common motivation for parents to host an Au Pair.
Host Families also name cultural immersion as one of the main benefits. Both the family and the Au Pair can learn more about each other’s native cultures, food, traditions, and more.
The benefits of foreign exchange programs like the Au Pair program may seem obvious on the surface…
But what is it really like to live with a foreign exchange student?
Cultural differences are a given when it comes to foreign exchange programs.
All foreign exchange programs present the opportunity to learn about another culture. However, living with another person makes misunderstandings and conflict very likely. People sometimes even clash over cultural differences they didn’t anticipate.
Anticipating cultural differences can help you prevent any misunderstandings that might arise. Do some research about your visitor’s home country. See if you can learn a little about their culture before they arrive.
Food can be a huge cultural difference. For example, exchange visitors from Ecuador and Colombia consume huge volumes of fruit and juice.
If you’re unprepared for this, it can cause stress. You may wonder if the visitor thinks you’re made of money. But the fact is, they’re used to having access to an abundance of affordable, fresh fruit. They may not realize it costs more in the United States.
One Brazilian Au Pair shared how her Host Parents were confused by her showering habits. Brazilians shower several times a day. The family didn’t understand why she was giving the kids baths so often. But they soon learned that because of humidity, Brazilians shower nearly 3-4 times more often than Americans.
You may also notice other differences, such as the expectations around punctuality and politeness, cleaning habits, laundry habits, and even modesty. Preparing for these factors is a good idea. It will help you be prepared to face cultural differences and set expectations about what works for your household.
There’s no way to anticipate 100% of the differences you’ll experience. Just expect your visitor to do things differently than you do. Be prepared to learn more about their culture and habits along the way.
Interacting with an exchange visitor broadens your worldview.
Living with a foreign exchange visitor gives you and your family amazing opportunities. You can talk about home culture, government structure, family life, society, work life, schooling, etc. All of these things give you insight into the little nuances that make up a culture.
Family means the most to her. Not just immediate or even extended family, but those she’s met along life’s path… [Her attitude] changed the way we all view each other as a family.
Many Host Families report that they’ve adopted holiday traditions from their Au Pair’s home country. It’s common for participants to gain new understandings of parenting tactics and child behavior.
Host Parents often notice that certain things are strange or completely foreign to their Au Pair. These can be things that seem like a given. For example, keeping caffeinated beverages away from children.
Hosting for foreign exchange programs can be really eye-opening. Suddenly, the things we start to assume are “normal” are new to someone else. These programs can help you and your family gain a broader perspective.
Hosting an exchange visitor is a lot like having a college housemate.
Remember your college roommates? Well, they were probably wilder than your visitor will be. But exchange visitors, particularly Au Pairs, are in the same age group as college dorm mates. Thus, many of the same factors apply.
Jill, one of our Host Moms from Ohio, says she knew from the beginning that she might be a little “territorial” about her home.
“I get territorial in the kitchen, and so when she started moving things to different spots and stuff, I thought, ‘Is it better here?’ … A lot of the times, the answer was ‘Yes, it is better here.'”
Think back on your living situation from those years. What conflicts did you have with your roommates or housemates? Why did those conflicts happen?
How did you bond with your college roommates? What was awesome about living with them?
Many of the same factors will apply with hosting for foreign exchange programs. Anything that was a conflict for you in the past has the potential to arise with hosting. Similarly, anything that was really awesome for you in the past also has the potential to occur again.
Some things will be different. For example, your exchange visitor will know the house is yours. Tell your visitor to treat the house as their own. This will help them feel more at home and less timid about using shared living spaces.
Open conversation during their stay helps cultivate a living environment everyone can enjoy.
After living with her Au Pair, Tatiana, for nearly a year, Jill says, “It’s very easy to talk to her, and she feels very comfortable talking to me. And we just stuck to an agreement from the beginning… to not be afraid of confrontation.”
You become an example of American life for your Au Pair or exchange visitor.
Foreign exchange programs present an excellent opportunity to help another person learn about life in the U.S. They get to learn firsthand what it’s like to live with an American family. And you get to learn about their culture, too.
Hosting an exchange visitor means you’re an ambassador of sorts. You help your visitor learn why the USA and its citizens are awesome. Au Pairs even say they’ve discovered that the American Dream is theirs, too.
By hosting, you’ve invested in another person’s cultural exposure. Watching your visitor try things for the first time can be really fun.
Many Host Families in the Au Pair program name this as one of the most unexpected, yet most rewarding, aspects of the program.
Language immersion is a huge opportunity in a foreign exchange program, for both you and the visitor.
Foreign exchange programs give you the opportunity to learn another language. It’s also rewarding to help another person perfect their English.
Au Pairs often help their Host Kids with language immersion classes at school. Sometimes they even help parents with language immersion in the home. Au Pairs can speak to the family’s baby in their native language. This ensures the child is raised hearing a native speaker every day.
In turn, Au Pairs often say that Host Families help them learn English. For many, this is a huge contributor to the Au Pair’s future career.
There are many methods for introducing language immersion at home. Regardless of which method you choose, exposure to a native speaker is the best strategy for raising bilingual children.
Living with an exchange visitor can help broaden your children’s cultural awareness.
Another hidden benefit of participating in foreign exchange programs is the cultural awareness you’re offering to your children. Hosting an exchange visitor helps parents set an expectation of open-mindedness toward other cultures. Many parents aspire to do this for their kids. But, it can be difficult to achieve without traveling the world.
It’s difficult to anticipate every little cultural difference you might encounter. However, it’s almost a given that these differences arise. Your children will quickly learn that not everyone does things the way their parents do.
They will also start to learn that cultural differences are something to celebrate.
Kids love learning about their Au Pair’s native traditions. Often, Host Families adopt new holiday traditions that last long after their Au Pair returns home.
Plus, your kids are likely to be exposed to a whole new palette of flavors. If your exchange visitor cooks, they can encourage picky eaters to try new flavors. (Let’s be honest. Kids are more likely to be adventurous with food if it’s given to them by someone other than their parents!)
Check out a foreign exchange program, like the Au Pair program, today!
Is hosting a foreign exchange visitor right for you? Consider whether you might want to host an Au Pair. This program is unique. Au Pairs come to the U.S. to study abroad. But they’re also able to assist with your childcare needs.
Au Pairs can watch their Host Family’s children for up to 45 hours/ week or a maximum of 10 hours/ day. The family offers free housing, food, and a stipend in exchange for childcare duties. But for many, the Au Pair program is so much more than a unique childcare experience.
“To say Ale came to ‘watch our kids,’ is nominal,” says Host Mom Jennifer. “She came to show us how much we could love each other.”
To learn more about this flexible childcare exchange program, click here.