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Cultural Journey – Jamaica visit

jamaica_stream_water_221749Last month I had the amazing opportunity to visit our offices in the country of Jamaica. This was the first time that I had been to Jamaica, so I took everything in as I arrived. After a layover in Miami, I was on my way and landed on the ground in pitch black. I headed through immigration, customs and then waiting for my ride to my hotel, I confirmed with our offices our meeting for the next day. I was so excited to see the island and to meet with all of our prospective au pairs at the office in Mandeville.

The next morning, I had a driver pick me up to drive me from Montego Bay to Mandeville. The drive was beautiful and I feel as though I was able to see the real Jamaica as I rode in the passenger seat (on the left side of the car) through the windy, hilly roads which were not always paved. Jamaica is very tropical and when the big storms surge through, they raise havoc on the road, creating very large potholes. As the country is full of poverty, you often see individuals filling in the holes in the road in hopes of making some extra money for doing the hard labor. This was my first introduction into how hard working the Jamaican jamaicapeople are and how much pride they have for their country and culture. The drive was beautiful and I couldn’t help but marvel at everything I saw. So many fruit and vegetable stands on the side of the road, people walking to school with their kids, dogs and sheep running around and people just enjoying their lives. I had all of the various trees pointed out to me and also the beautiful birds. We were in a hurry to get to the meeting and it took over two hours to actually arrive to the center of the island for the meetings.

When I arrived at the offices of our partner, I was introduced to all of the staff and had a tour of the facilities. The most impressive feature being the classroom where they offer various development courses for all of the individuals. The office helps the residents, from 18 to 80, in professional development in order to assist them in finding employment. They have a partnership with the Katrinauniversity, as well as the government, to provide these options to encourage all to continue to improve themselves. Every single person I encountered was courteous and kind, even given the fact that they are not used to seeing someone like me (a tall, very American woman) walking around their town.

Our wonderful partner meets with all prospective au pair candidates one on one and advises them on their opportunities, how to improve their background to make them a better candidate and screening them thoroughly for accuracy in their application. All applicants are advised on what it means to be an au pair in the USA, how to work with a host family and also go through a complete First Aid/CPR training program before they leave. Now, after discussions with the offices, they will even be educating the drivers on driving in the USA to better prepare them for what it is like to drive in our country once matched with a family.

After seeing the offices, meeting the crew and seeing how the operations works, the next thing on the itinerary was to meet some of the applicants, both current and prospective, in the classroom in order to talk more about the program, what to expect, what American families are looking for and what our agency represents. All I can say about this is WOW! I was so impressed with each and every one of the applicants. They were kind and courteous and had wonderful questions for me about the program. I actually made some notes for girls that I thought would be fabulous applicants for my own family in a few months, if they are still available! The biggest questions seemed to be what the families were like, what types of things they could do with the kids, how they could be classthe best au pair, etc. Now, normally when I meet a group of prospective au pairs, the questions are “where does the family live”, “how much time will I get off”, in addition to the normal questions about the families, but I didn’t get these questions at all from this wonderful group of ladies! They really were most concerned with having the opportunity to come to the USA, take care of children and experience the life. The energy that they gave off with their excitement and smiles was contagious! I walked away from the meeting truly feeling positive that we decided to start offering candidates from Jamaica.

We finalized the meeting and then I was treated to a delicious lunch with the staff of the office who could break away from helping their candidates and chatted more about how we could continue to improve. The staff of the Mandeville office is really interested in continuing to build the program, support the candidates and make sure that they are well prepared to offer the best to our host families. Again, making me more sure that we made a great choice by chosing Jamaica as one of our source countries for applicants.

20131003_144703Well, lunch was finished and a quick pop-in the offices to say good-bye to the crew and I was back in the car for my long journey back to Montego Bay. Again, I cannot even express in words how magnificent this drive was for me. I love to travel and getting to see the country from the road was a real treat. I did not have the opportunity for any photos, as the driver was keeping time, so no side trips or pulling over to the side of the road! Back at the hotel and I couldn’t stop thinking about everyone I met and saw on my one-day trip to Mandeville and back. I feel so fortunate that I consistently get to visit new places and meet the wonderful participants of our program and partner offices and this was a trip that I would always remember. I spent the next day on the beautiful beach, snorkeling and really getting to know some of the locals who worked at and around the hotel. I loved learning more about the cultural and the people of Jamaica, what a determined and hardworking nation of people!

This posting was written by Katrina Vanderhulst, Director of International Programs for Au Pair International.

API has some amazing applicants from Jamaica currently. Please take a moment to review their profiles and consider interviewing a candidate to be your next au pair so that you can also share in the learning of the Jamaican culture, teach them about American culture AND have a reason to visit Jamaica after their program year is complete! Ya mon!

Bonus: Match with an au pair from Jamaica by the end of 2013 and save an additional $100 off of your program fees!

StaceyAnnHougarth2

Stacey-Ann H.

“I am 24, have 7300 childcare hours, and love to make people smile!”

SammiJoeHarrow1

Sammijoe H.

“I have nearly 15,000 childcare hours and know First Aid!”

AvaGayeGames1

Ava-Gaye J.

“I have 3500 childcare hours and want to be a nurse!”

CharnelleWolliston2Charnelle W.

“I am a teacher with 60,000 childcare hours and First Aid certifications!”

ShanekeRicketts2Shaneke R.

“I have 6000 childcare hours and plan to become a Pastor!”

Or check out our other au pairs from Jamaica on our website.

Au Pair Advice, Host Family Questions

Performing a Balancing Act: What it Means to Live Like a Member of the Family

AupairLiving like a member of the family… that’s easy, right?  It means spending time with them, but how much time, and when?  Is there a certain amount of time that is expected?  What if the family has plans?  Should the au pair go to?  What if the au pair doesn’t want to go?  Au pair’s aren’t supposed to do heavy housework, but wouldn’t a member of the family pitch in and help clean?

Obviously there isn’t an easy definition for the cultural exchange component of the au pair program where the au pair lives with the family like a member of the family.  Each family is unique and each match is unique so there is going to be a transitional period where host families and au pairs are feeling the situation out.  Here are some hints that might help that adjustment.

Personal Time vs. Family Time: Au pairs and host families are going to want to spend time together, but also time apart.   It is important for families to still have time together without their au pair, just like it is important for the au pair to have time to relax as well as explore the U.S.  No one can say for sure what the perfect balance is, but if the au pair is spending all of her/his time in their bedroom or out with friends, then that is not meeting the intent of the program.  On the other hand, if the au pair is spending all their free time with the family, then he/she is not getting out and experiencing all the opportunities that are around.

Housework:  Au pairs are not supposed to be doing housework that isn’t child-related (they are not maids) but they are also suppose to be pitching and helping out like a member of the family.  This is a hard balance to find, but it is important.  A good way to look at it is if the family is working, the au pair should be helping, too.  So if the host parents are making dinner, then the au pair should offer to help or entertain the kids.  She/he should also offer to make dinner sometime or clean-up after dinner.  Working together is a great way to feel closer to each other and learn about each other.

Vacations: One of the wonderful aspects of the au pair program is au pairs can travel with their host families and help them out.  It can also cause some confusion because schedules are off and roles are less defined.  If a family needs their au pair to travel with them, then they still have to provide them with room and board and a schedule for their on-duty and off-duty time.  It is a good idea to discuss the different needs that the family will have ahead of time so everyone understands what the expectations are.  If the family doesn’t need the au pair to come, then they need to provide provisions for him/her while they are gone.

Dining and Activities:  A great way to spend time together is for host families to invite their au pair to the different activities they have planned, whether it be a simple dinner out to something that is more of a special occasion (say a sporting event).  If they are inviting the au pair along, then they should be prepared to pay for her/him, like he/she is a member of their family.  If the family doesn’t want to bring the au pair, that is fine, but they need to make sure she has the resources to make her own meal at home.  On the other side of the coin, host families need to be sensitive to the fact that au pairs will sometime decline an invitation.  They might have plans or just want some time alone.  Like was mentioned before, the important thing is to find the right balance for each match.

Just like most relationships in life, communication is the key!  When host families and au pairs can be open and honest with each other, then they can find the right balance.

Want to learn more about the Au Pair Program?  Contact Au Pair International or view some profiles on our website.

Candidates, Day to Day

Top 7 Unexpected Reasons to get an Au Pair

The typical reason for getting an au pair is “I go to work and need someone to care for my kids” and sometimes “I want my kids to learn a certain language”.  While these are great reasons that people get an au pair, there are some other benefits that people don’t always think about.

study

1. Your au pair can move with you.  One of the hardest things about moving is finding new childcare for your children, especially if you work odd hours.  We have several families who move a couple of times per year or have several houses that they split their time between.  They love that they can bring their au pair from location to location and have consistent, loving childcare.

2. Your au pair can travel with you.  If you go on lots of business trips or family vacations, you can bring your au pair with you so you don’t have to be away from your children or try to find childcare along the way.

3. Your au pair can tutor your children.  Many families get au pairs to teach their children a new language, but most of our au pairs have some college and a lot of au pairs have graduated with degrees in things like Economics, Physiotherapy, Law, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Political Science, Social Work,  Tourism Management, Environmental Science, Advertising Design, Medical Assisting, or Business Administration.  These au pairs have a lot of knowledge that they can pass on to your children.

4. Your au pair can coach your children in different skills and hobbies.  Many au pairs are experienced in different activities such as  violin, painting, tennis, dance, guitar, baking, piano, swimming, aerobics, and yoga.  Wouldn’t it be great to get a childcare provider and piano teacher in one?  Or maybe your au pair can teach you whole family about yoga or some other activity.  Most au pairs have many skills that they would love to share with your family.

swim baby

5. Your au pair can be a taxi driver.  Some families don’t need childcare as much as a taxi driver, especially if they have older children.  Whether it’s running kids to school, activities or appointments, au pairs can take over those responsibilities so you can focus on your responsibilities.

6. Your au pair can be the night nanny. Some families choose to have their au pair take the night shift so they can spend more quality time with the children during the day.

7. Your au pair can be a nurse.  Some of our au pairs are trained as nurses (Aliona, DeuRe) or speech therapists (Ju Yeon).  Others have experience with special needs children (Anna, Karen, and Thandeka).  If you have a child that has special needs, many au pairs are uniquely qualified to give your child the one-on-one attention that will help your child learn and grow.  Also, all au pairs can care for your children when they are sick so you don’t have to miss work.
What are some different reasons that you would like to have an au pair?

Au Pair Advice, Host Family Questions

HF Q’s: My new au pair is about to arrive. What should I expect?

Congratulations on getting your new au pair!  What an exciting time.  It is a good idea to have realistic expectations so your match can get started off on the right track.

Arrival – As excited as your au pair is going to be chances are she is also going to be wiped out.  The regulations state that au pairs cannot be responsible for the children during the first 3 days after arrival so that they can have time to acclimate to your home and the US.  It is a good idea to use this time to help her to get to know your home and family.  Don’t plan anything too big during the first few days and give her a chance to settle in.

Driving – Even the best of drivers can be intimidated by driving in the US.  Our roads and vehicles are bigger than they are used to and many countries don’t have the same standards of driving.  We recommend all au pairs get a US drivers license but many can drive on their country’s license.  Be prepared to ease your au pair into driving and don’t get frustrated if she doesn’t pick it up right away.

Homesickness – As you can imagine being away from friends and family isn’t easy for anyone.  Add to that being in a different country and speaking a different language and it can get quite difficult.  Encourage your au pair to get out and meet people.  Starting on her education is a good start, but there are a lot of other possibilities.  Churches, international student organizations, meet up groups, rec leagues and ethnic restaurants are good places to meet new people.  Your Area Director will have some ideas for your area.

A good piece of advice is to treat your au pair how you would want someone to treat your son or daughter if they were staying with them.  If you always keep that in mind, then you won’t go wrong.

 

*** ADVICE TO AU PAIRS***

Remember that while your host family, Area Director and agency are here to help you, ultimately your happiness is up to you.  You have an amazing opportunity to gain so many new and beneficial experiences.  Take advantage of every chance you get to learn and grow.  Remember that you are here to 1) help make your host family’s lives easier, and 2) learn about the US.   Don’t be surprised if families in the US raise their children differently than you are used to.  Find out how they want you to assist them in raising their children and then follow their lead.  Finally, although it will be an adjustment at first, if you give it your best you will have one of the greatest experiences of your life.

Host Family Questions

HF Q’s – I know I’m supposed to provide room and board for my au pair, but what’s included in the board portion?

Your au pair is supposed to live with you like a member of the family, so if you are treating your au pair like a brother or sister who is coming for an extended stay, then you are following the intent of the program.  Au pairs should have at least 3 healthy and balanced meals per day.  Some families tell their au pairs that they can eat whatever they want; others feel more comfortable having a certain shelf in the pantry or fridge with food that is reserved for special occasions; and others label food if it needs to be saved.  Almost all host families have a grocery list and the expectation that if something is low or gone, it needs to be added to the list.

It is also a good idea to talk with your au pair about his normal diet.  You are not required to provide special food for your au pair, but most families will ask their au pair if they would like to add certain foods to the shopping list.  Remember, au pairs’ bodies are often still developing, so their appetite might be bigger than you expect.  Also, many au pairs are not used to the variety of foods that are available in the US.  It is ok to discuss with your au pair the amount of food that should be consumed per day (i.e. please don’t eat more than 3 pieces of fresh fruit per day so it can last until I go shopping again.)

If you invite your au pair out to dinner with your family, you should plan on paying for your au pair.  It’s also OK not to invite your au pair out, but you should make sure that your au pair can make a meal for themselves at home.  Lastly, if you go on vacation and leave your au pair at home you need to stock up on groceries for your au pair before you leave.

 

*** Advice to au pairs:  Remember that even though you are to live with your host family like a member of the family, you are still a guest in their home.  Try to match your eating style to that of your host family’s.  If you like to eat food that the family doesn’t  feel free to purchase it yourself.  If you are still hungry after a typical meal, ask your family what foods they are OK you eating afterwards.  In my home my four growing boys know that they are welcome to as many vegetables they want after dinner.  Many families in the US consider treats like ice cream, cookies and such to be occasional food that shouldn’t be eaten every day.  If you don’t know what is acceptable, please ask.  You might feel a little uncomfortable at first, but it will be better for everyone in the long run if everyone is on the same page. Finally, remember that all personal items are your responsibility to purchase.

Host Family Questions

HF Q’s – Do all au pairs expect to have a car?

Not many families have a car that is just for the au pair’s use and no au pair should expect to have free reign of a car.  Even if an au pair does have their own car, the au pair should always ask before using it and let the family know when they will have the car back.  Host families need to feel comfortable with their au pair’s driving skills, so they might require that the au pair get a US driver’s license first.  Host families also can limit the distance their car is driven and how long their au pair has their car out.  Au pairs need to remember that access to a car is a privilege, not a right.

Many au pairs cannot drive, or do not want to drive in the US.  Our cars are much bigger than they are used to, the roads are faster and have more people on them, and their English might not be great.  While most au pairs who don’t drive use public transportation, get rides from friends, bike or walk; it’s still a good idea for host families to offer them rides, especially to school or on the weekends.  No au pair should be stuck at home all the time because he or she doesn’t have a way to get out.

Talk with potential au pairs about their driving experience and what expectations you have for driving.  Don’t expect your au pair to be comfortable with driving in the US right away and plan on helping them get used to driving in the US.

Fun Stuff

Au Pair Adventures – Caren’s cute kids!

Caren, an au pair in New York, takes care of 5 year old twins: C and S.  This is Caren’s story:

“My host family has two boys.  They are twin 5 year olds. C is 1 minute older than S. The boys need to go to the potty before going to school in the morning or going out with their parents. C takes a very long time to make a poop poop, and he always refuses to sit on the potty after a few minutes. He comes out and said in a very sad voice, “I can’t make a poop poop, Caren.  I don’t want to make a poop poop.”  At that time, S will go the toilet and check the poop poop and speak like an adult. “C, that’s not enough. Try again. You need to believe in yourself and then you can make a big big poop poop.”  They make us all burst into laughter.”

Caren has another story that shows why she loves being an au pair.

“S once said to his grandmother, “Grandma, I fall in love with someone.”  His grandma was so surprised and asked,”Who?”  He said “Caren.”  And grandma asked him how much he loves Caren, he said, “I love Caren from the earth to the moon and come back to the earth – that much.”