A Different Perspective on Cultural Exchange

by cv harquail on August 4, 2010

For each of us the ‘cultural exchange’ part of the au pair program has a different meaning and importance. Are there many cases where the cultural exchange part feels irrelevant?

Or, to put it bluntly,

If the same sort of service existed to match American au pairs with other American families for the same overall cost of childcare, would host families still want the international aspect of the program? Let’s take a poll.

Without the element of Cultural Exchange, would you still choose Au Pairs for childcare?

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Dahlias by Eric in SF

{ 11 comments }

Taking a Computer Lunch August 4, 2010 at 1:30 pm

How can you not have at least a small element of cultural exchange – even if it’s one-way toward the AP?

BLJ Host Mom August 5, 2010 at 10:18 am

This is a good question, and I thought about it quite a bit. Honestly, I don’t think I would want an American girl 18-26 living with us. I’ve had some great nannies in that age range prior to APing, but one of the things I like about the AP program and what’s been so successful for us, is that our AuPair appreciates us so much for the experience we have given her. I think an American girl might just complain that the pay is too low and the work is too much. She might also resent our rules and not take them for the concern and safety they are meant because she “already knows it all”. That’s generalizing OF COURSE. But while the cultural portion adds work for a good host parent, it also adds mutual respect and appreciation when both parties do it right. And that’s all outside of what we both LEARN, which is also priceless.

Deb Schwarz August 5, 2010 at 10:42 am

When I first got au pairs 10 years ago (time flies), a friend of ours got nannies/au pairs from a Mormon agency in Utah, and another got hers from “Nannies of Nebraska” (good farm girls, I suppose). I might have considered these – but in general, I found that American girls (big generalization here) were more entitled than other cultures. I think that has now spread across the world, as I am finding (and other LCCs concur) that this generation tends to be more self-focused than those even 10 years ago – so it’s even more important to screen for the au pair’s values and outlook on life. (e.g. I find it important to find au pairs whom have had jobs that require some hard work, independence, or have some religion in their background, or have good family values that have taught them that the world doesn’t revolve around them). In fact, given this trend, I worry about my own kids adopting this self-focus (might be a new topic idea – how au pairs have changed over the years? Hmmmmm….

calif mom August 5, 2010 at 1:35 pm

complete agreement

Mom23 August 5, 2010 at 11:58 am

After a really terrible au pair experience left us reeling, we went the U.S. nanny live-in route. We did hire a young woman who had spent time abroad. But, there were many aspects of the au pair program that I missed. It is nice having someone immersed in our lives and who introduces us to new things and it is also fun to introduce our au pair to our culture. Now, as that situation is coming to a close, one of my children is asking that we have au pairs again.

Anonnymommy August 5, 2010 at 1:38 pm

I voted ‘other’ because I don’t know. We are on the fence about having another AP after this, our first year, with one rematch. It is a lot of energy, and a lot of drama, and I am not sure if I’m up for another emotional investment. But it’s also fun and helpful.

I would likely not have an American young person stay with us under the same terms, because like a previous poster said, I don’t know why that person would want to do that (considering the meager economic incentive). The enthusiasm of the AP comes in part from being in a foreign land, and the enthusiasm is what makes APs better than professional nannies, in my view. My husband and I both have spent time living–not just visiting–in different countries, and we value that experience and would like our kids to have international awareness and sensitivity.

For us the chance to strengthen our kids’ half-baked skills in a particular foreign language was what tipped the balance to getting an AP from that part of the world instead of a local nanny. Tutoring plus a nanny would be insanely expensive, so we just have the AP speak her language to our kids, who already have some skill with that language.

Amy August 5, 2010 at 3:46 pm

I don’t think I’d be as willing to have an American live-in under the same deal. An au pair does not get paid much, but she gets an all-expense paid year abroad–which is appealing to a certain kind of adventurous young person. (I wish I’d done the same when I was younger.) Living in someone’s house and following their rules is more appealing when the au pair gets a family-away-from-home in the exchange, someone to show her around and help her navigate life in a foreign country. But I can’t imagine why this job would be appealing without the year-abroad aspect.

Dorsi August 5, 2010 at 6:53 pm

To say it more bluntly, I want an Au Pair that is (in some important aspects) like me and will model my values to my children. It is easy to see myself in the prototypical foreign AP — adventurous, practical (improving English is an important skill), higher-education bound, etc. It would be hard to find an American who fit that description — and wanted to spend a year living with my family, taking care of my child for quite low pay (compared to what they could make living at home and working).

Having said that, I have thought that there would be a good market for an AP-like program for girls from small towns transplanted to the big city — it does avoid many of the pitfalls of the program. Small Town America girl would show up knowing how to drive, without any hours restrictions, with good English, no education requirement and familiarity with my appliances. Hmm….my next business venture.

massaupairmom August 5, 2010 at 9:35 pm

I would have answered “yes” to this question – until now. We are between au pairs with a summer nanny. I thought that was the way to go because we have three young ones, including a now four month old, and I was more comfortable with someone I could meet face to face before hiring. She has great qualifications, but I feel she is lacking the enthusiasm others have mentioned. We have limited experience since we’ve only had one au pair and one nanny, so I don’t want to over-generalize, but it does seem that our au pair was more invested in having a meaningful experience with our family.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 5, 2010 at 10:25 pm

I have hired Americans to take care of my kids while my AP was on vacation. To be quite honest, I had to pay the going rate for special needs kids – which is $15 an hour for someone with little experience and starts at $20 and hour for someone with a lot. The young woman was fantastic, energetic, and really bonded with my son. But the week cost me a small fortune – something I could have afforded for long. She didn’t sleep in our house or take her meals with us.

Having tried to sponsor an AP as an employer, which required me to post a want-ad for a week and document the lack of response, it’s not just the pay that cuts out people – it’s actually the driving! (Although if the economy doesn’t improve, putting out an ad at your current rate of pay – which is minimum wage minus room & board – and offering to pay part of the college tuition – you might be surprised!)

Busy Mom August 7, 2010 at 8:20 pm

We had live-in nannies before APs and 5 of them were American and in the same age range as our au pairs (21-25). All 5 were hard working young women. Although 3 had college degrees and 2 had associate’s degrees, none displayed any attitude of “entitlement.” They were enthusiastic and our kids and the job. Note that we have not had any issues with our au pairs, but I would trade back in an instant if it were not cost prohibitive. There was much less start up effort (they knew the appliances, they knew how to drive, etc), they were all better at disciplining our kids, they were better at following our meal guidelines, they were effective at running random errands (white gloves for a dance recital, picking up prescriptions, gift for birthday party), they did the grocery shopping, and they all did the full family laundry. While there was no expectation that they would be part of our family, four of them are still part of our lives and we see three of them (closer geographically) regularly.

However, it’s a matter of economics. I calculate that an au pair is at least $10K less expensive than my last nanny. To afford a nanny, I would have to work more than I do (I work part-time, part of the year) and I don’t want to do that.

Dorsi – 3 of them were from small towns in the midwest :-)

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