How to Help Your Au Pair Adjust to Living in a New Country

Hosting an au pair is an experience that many American families treasure, and many form bonds with their au pair and make memories that will never be forgotten. While au pairs do perform some childcare duties during their stay, it’s important for potential host families to understand that the program is, first and foremost, one that fosters cultural exchange and allows the au pair to experience American life and studies abroad. Unlike nannies, who are hired specifically to provide childcare for their employing family, au pairs are foreign nationals that enter the United States on J-1 visas through the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs Exchange Visitor Program. Working with a reputable designated sponsor agency will allow you to host a young person from another country for a specified length of time. During that time, it’s important to remember that your au pair will need your help in adjusting to life in an utterly unfamiliar setting.

Be Prepared to Help Her Deal with Homesickness

When your au pair first arrives, she’s likely to be so overwhelmed with the novelty and excitement of living abroad that the very normal and natural feelings of homesickness take a bit of time to set in. Being prepared to help her manage those feelings in the most productive and constructive ways possible before an au pair even lands on American soil can keep the situation from taking you both by surprise and leading to difficulties or disputes borne of mutual frustration. 

Treat Her Like a Friend, Not an Employee

Though she will be expected to provide a reasonable amount of childcare, your au pair is meant to be treated like a treasured friend or member of the extended family, not a mere employee. In fact, the spending money that you give her each week is not considered a salary according to the widely accepted au pair model. Being treated with the same respect that you would show to friends or family members will go a long way toward making her feel welcome and helping her to become acclimated more easily. 

Make an Effort to Include Her

Including your au pair in the activities that you engage in as a family will not only help her feel more welcome, but will also provide her with an opportunity to practice her conversational English language skills and immerse herself in American culture. Excluding your au pair will only make her feel even more isolated from the friends and family that she’s left behind in her home country, delaying the period of adjustment and prolonging her cultural confusion. For those enrolled in an au pair program, including the au pair in family activities whenever possible is required.

Encourage Her to Approach You with Questions

Living in a foreign country with an official language different from her own and an unfamiliar culture will naturally leave your au pair with many questions. Encouraging her to approach you with those questions will not only allow her to get explanations of the things that puzzle her, but also for both of you to begin the process of forming a bond.

Make Sure She Has Her Own Space

Though immersion in American language and culture is the ultimate goal for most au pairs, yours will still need a private retreat where she can quietly reflect on the things that she’s experienced and escape from the pressure of navigating completely unfamiliar territory. Make her quarters comfortable in preparation for her arrival, but also leave room for her to customize the space so that she’s surrounded by some familiar things.

Allow Her Plenty of Free Time

There are several au pair programs sponsored by the United States government for incoming young people, including the Standard Au Pair Program, the Educare Program and the Extension program. Depending on which you and your au pair are using, the number of hours she’s allowed to work each day will vary. In order to ensure that you’re not abusing your au pair’s time or preventing her from experiencing life in the United States, it’s important that you give her plenty of free time to explore and have new experiences. Immersion in the local culture is the primary purpose of au pair programs, which does require ample time away from childcare duties.

Make Yourself Available to Her

Knowing that she can approach you with any questions, concerns or fears that she has will help your au pair not only adjust to your household in particular, but also to the United States as a whole. Knowing that she has the built-in support of her host family can help to stave off the worst of her homesickness and limit the level of culture shock she experiences.

Help Her Find a Support System

While au pair agencies will typically have a support system in place for their au pairs, whether she uses that system or finds another one, it is important that your au pair have a network of other visiting students who are having similar experiences to offer her guidance and support. Being able to share stories, lessons and discoveries with other au pairs can help her to understand more about American and au pair culture and can limit her sense of displacement and isolation while away from home.

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