Beware the Homesick Au Pair: Screen it out, or wait it out?

by cv harquail on October 28, 2014

Homesickness is completely predictable

Homesickness is something that every au pair should anticipate, and that every au pair should make a commitment to work through.4335831783_7bee845569_z

If you’re signing up to spend a year in another country, in another family, then you are committing to working through any homesickness that occurs between month 1 and month 11.

It irks me when au pairs present ‘homesickness’ as a reason to break their contracts and go home, especially when everything else is working just fine.  If we aim to screen out any au pair candidate who seems like s/he might be susceptible to homesickness, then we’ll be left with a pretty tiny pool of remaining candidates.

So even though MGHostMom asks for advice on screening out au pairs that could potentially experience homesickness, I’d like to ask:

Families, how have you dealt in advance with the threat of homesickness? Did you try to screen out au pairs who seemed especially vulnerable, and/or did you try some of the advice about socializing your au pair asap?

Au Pairs, what do you tell yourselves and each other about homesickness? Do you try to coach each other in dealing with it, or encourage each other to give up and go home?

Here’s MGHostMom’s email with her details– let’s reply to her and at the same time talk about the big picture of homesickness…


I’m a first time host mom. I read aupairmom in depth this summer in advance of searching for and choosing an au pair. Our au pair arrived at the beginning of September, and we hit it off. Everything was going well. We like her. She likes us. We’re very compatible. I had been prepared for all the various difficulties I’d read about on aupairmom.

But then last night, she tells us she is just too homesick and she has decided to go home. We have included her in family activities. And she has been social and made friends, but many of the au pairs she has met have also gone home! The kicker was that this past week two of her closest new au pair friends both left — one got rematched across the country and the other’s grandmother died and she decided to go home.

I have lived abroad and understand homesickness. My au pair was taken off guard by it; despite telling her it would happen, she wasn’t prepared for how emotionally terrible it feels. But she’s not willing to stick it out (in part because her parents miss her too, and have asked her to come home).

My question is simply: Is there a way to screen for those who can bear homesickness if they’ve never experienced it before? What sort of qualities do I look for? Is it a maturity thing?

See also: Homesickness and your Au Pair: How you might help

 

Image: Dreamy, by Joshua Smith on Flickr

{ 52 comments }

AussiePair October 28, 2014 at 1:48 pm

As an au pair I encourage other au pairs to stick it out, however I think for some au pairs my advice seems kind of “empty” as I never actually experienced homesickness myself. My biggest encouragement to au pairs that are experiencing homesickness is to keep busy, in my experience the less an au par has to do, the more acutely they experience homesickness..

AuPair Paris October 28, 2014 at 3:00 pm

I’ve had homesickness. I’ve had two au pair families – one was incredibly abusive (I won’t get into it, but it wasn’t a borderline case, it was fairly constant emotional abuse – with my salary constantly held over my head as something which could be taken away if they were displeased). There I had homesickness for the entire two months I stayed. At my new, lovely place I was homesick only for two days – and now I’ve been there over a year. That is to say, that while homesickness is very common, it’s definitely worth trying to get the au pair to talk about other environmental issues (I don’t mean necessarily the host family – my situation was exceptional, I’m sure!) which might be perpetuating it. I think it’s much too easy, when you’re homesick, to just tell yourself “it’s homesickness… Therefore it can’t be fixed, and I can’t be active about it – it’s just there”. It’s worth verifying if this is the case – as in the story above, if it’s a matter of friends leaving and such, well, you can fix that! Join clubs in your off hours, or frequent new places or whatever. And soon enough the homesickness will go away with the rest of the douleur.

I do think that au pairs should try to stick it out if they possibly can. Not only is it bad for the host family, but it’s doing yourself out of (any number of) wonderful opportunities if you give into homesickness. I mean, if you give into homesickness, does that mean you can *never* take a job far away from home?! That’s a big limitation on your life!

I don’t really subscribe to the idea that it’s possible to screen it out. I have had it, and most people who know me would say I was the *least* likely person to ever have it. A friend I have here has *never* been homesick, despite being incredibly close to her family (she talks to them twice a week, every week, long distance!), having lived at home all her life, etc. I’m not sure it goes along with emotional vulnerability necessarily. It seems, (just from what I’ve observed), that the tough cookies can get hit by it completely out of the blue, while some quite sensitive (even wet) people seem totally fine about it!

WestMom October 28, 2014 at 3:34 pm

As I am reading this, I am wondering… Do you think the agencies make too big of a deal of describing homesickness? Do you think that might be the reason why it becomes the ‘go to’ excuse for leaving?

Also, OPs story struck me when she said: ‘her parents miss her too, and have asked her to come home’. When I interview, I ask about how the parents feel about AP leaving for one year. Of course, I am looking for someone with a strong family unit, but ideally, the parents are completely supporting of her plan and not over-protective. Not to say that homesickness could easily be screened out, but in some cases, I am wondering if the relationship with the parents might raise a bit of a red flag…

On a slightly different note, AP5 was lovely and ended up staying her full year BUT her mom was so very attached to her, and I am certain now that if AP had been going through a rough patch, mom would have paid to fly her back home in a second. We were lucky that was not the case. What we got instead was mother visiting too many times for too long. Another lesson learned for another topic!

Mimi October 28, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Like the OP, both HD and I lived abroad and experienced homesickness. It seems like you did all the right things by getting her involved both with the family and socially. We also ask about their history of traveling when we interview and how their family feels about them being sea from him for so long. Sometimes you find son answers that trip the spidey senses, but sometimes you don’t. This is where communication plays a big role. Talking to your AP regularly about their feelings and emotions can be important, not just around typical homesickness triggers (holidays, milestones, even current events).

Sometimes I compare having an AP to ‘adopting a teenager’ and like a parent you may find yourself trying to ferret out information when you get a feeling that your AP is having trouble (of any kind). But even the most intuitive HPs and grounded APs can find themselves in this situation.

TexasHM October 28, 2014 at 5:58 pm

I completely agree that this is extremely difficult to screen for, but with that having been said I will tell you how I try to screen for this. In my first couple rounds of open ended interview email questions I specifically ask what their parents think of the AP program (btw Interexchange asks this when they screen applicants as well and its in their file so you can cross check!). I also ask here what their boyfriend thinks of the program because its not only parents that can object from afar and create angst. :) Now, I would never screen out a candidate for having a boyfriend or protective parents but I definitely dig into their responses and bring it up several times.
AP1 had occasional bouts of homesickness but her boyfriend actually was a huge help here. He reminded her of her goals and all the reasons this was her dream and propped her up when she was feeling down. Huge supporter. Parents weren’t really a factor.
AP2 said her parents were worried and they supported her but didn’t understand why she felt the need to come here and do this. This ended up backfiring on us. She was fine for the first year and super excited to extend for year 2 but very shortly after learning that her parents were not coming to visit year 2 either (as they had promised year 1 as well) it really took the wind out of her sails. Top that off with friends leaving, a little local AP drama and her parents messing with her head and she got full blown culture shock, changed all her behavior (food, friends, schedule it was bizarre) and flamed out. She first thought rematching to a different part of the country would help it but then her dad got sick and she put in for a flight home. After she arrived she admitted that her dad didn’t speak to her for almost 3 months before she came here because they had a huge fight over her coming here. In fairness, when she flamed out she told them she was coming home and they told her she committed to another year in the program and she must just be bored and they were the ones that told her to try rematch to a different part of the US (would not have helped in our and LCs opinion). It worked itself out, but as you can see people at home can have major impact on the APs and its a moving target so very hard to anticipate or screen out. Her first year was fantastic, we nominated her for AP of the year! At 13.5 months she was on a plane home, that’s how quickly that can all change.
AP3 – horrible family situation (they were removed), she came to us as AP2 was packing up, super fast match but still screened and she was honest that her mom didn’t like the program (but honestly she was abused by the first host family so I don’t blame her!) but mom had been an AP 30 years ago herself and this AP was very mature and independent so we gave it a roll. I somehow missed that she had a boyfriend (long term) but it hasn’t mattered. Her mom came to visit and saw she was happy and ok and so did her boyfriend and now we have “family” in France. :)
Here is the one tip I will give you though – this is something that is ALWAYS in my challenge email right before we ask a candidate to match. We talk about how it is hard to be away and I point out my concerns. Our match coming in 2 weeks had a sister that had just had a baby (oldest sibling – first nephew for AP) and I reminded her she would miss a lot of firsts with him and that she might go home and find him walking and talking and feel like she missed a lot. Her response – “honestly he is an infant and he wont remember I wasn’t there when he is older and we have Skype and pictures and I don’t live in the same city now so I will only be able to see him a few times per year even if I stayed!” Solid. ALSO – I bring it up because I want to get it out there that I am expecting them to commit to 12 months and barring an emergency, that means working through homesickness and culture shock. I point out that we are trusting them and making them a member of our family and in return, we expect them to come to us with concerns so we can help or get the LC involved and work together to resolve things not get blindsided after they have made their decision to go. Everything I fear gets put in the challenge email and I expect them to “sell” me that its not going to happen or that they have a plan to prevent it from happening and we are both aware and onboard.
So sorry about this situation. I would hope your LC would take a strong stance with her (friends leaving is not a good reason, APs leave all year long you know that coming in) but it varies by agency and LC.
If it makes you feel any better, there are some amazing candidates to be found in rematch and I honestly wouldn’t want to keep an AP that had already decided this because the odds of you having a fantastic experience in this scenario I think reduce drastically and you might as well try someone that is desperate to get their chance to have the experience. In my humble opinion, the rematch APs I interviewed were fighters (not literally). They had sometimes very bad situations and decided that instead of quitting and going home (they had the option) they stuck their neck out once again for the chance that it might work for them. I thank God every day that our current AP didn’t quit and go home. There are GREAT APs out there, set the emotion aside (I feel for you, I really do) and do what is best for your family and find someone that deserves the opportunity and is excited to be here. Good luck!!

4th time lucky?! October 28, 2014 at 6:33 pm

I agree with CV that homesickness being one of the more annoying excuses for giving up. I have also traveled and lived abroad (still do) and experienced homesickness (sometimes still do and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that). It can be very painful and debilitating but I think it’s one of the great challenges (and opportunities) of growing up – in most cases, it’s something to work through with help of a local support network and a chance to learn about yourself. Running back home won’t solve anything in the long run – chances are there won’t be any jobs/ place to study close to home. At some point everyone (most people, at least) will have to move away from their parents’ house.

And wrt APs, I always hoped that the parents support the process of adaptation and don’t tell the AP how much they miss her or that she can just come home if she wants to. With our recent AP disaster (who remained adamant that it wasn’t homesickness as if that was something bad or a dirty word; we thought of it more as culture shock, which can occur without the feeling of homesickness but might still express itself in similar ways) I had counted on the parents stepping in and tell him to stick it out… fat chance. A friend of mine said a lot of parents these days were probably more likely to aggravate the problem with exactly that attitude (we miss you, etc). Today’s technology and being able to keep in continuous contact (smart phone apps, skype) with home doesn’t help either. Neither party is really forced to cut the strings…

I also agree that the OP did everything that could be done once the AP was in their home. I don’t think there is much point trying to screen for homesickness potential but for gumption, approach to problems, degree of preparedness (do they have a plan to deal with homesickness/ difficult situations?) and willingness to work through difficulties as well as relationship to parents/ family as already mentioned.

We generally stay away from APs with boyfriends/ girlfriends, ‘mom is my best friend’, ‘I do everything with my family/ friends’ (indicating they don’t do anything by themselves). We try to look for good communicators and proactive problem solvers who don’t hide away when they are sad and who can see themselves living in a different city from their parents when they go to university… that said we haven’t had any overly successful matches yet ;-)

JourneyEC Aupair October 28, 2014 at 6:42 pm

I experienced homesickness my first time aupairing and even now in my second year. My first year was the first year I had ever gone anywhere for such an extended period of time on my own. I went to college two hrs away from home so lived away but didn’t have the full understanding of moving to a completely new place, new people, new customs, new food, basically new everything. Also to top it all off you leave everything behind and it doesn’t wait there, life goes on at home too. My first week I cried a lot, actually that’s probably an understatement. I couldn’t talk about home without crying. I’d left my life, and even though I’d wanted to come, talked of nothing else for over a year. The homesickness hit me really hard. I could write an entire post on it CV if you’d like at some point.

I truly think that homesickness isn’t JUST an excuse. I don’t think you can truly screen for it aside from asking aupairs what they plan to do when it happens. If you and they have a plan, it really does help things along.

It helped me to write down in my agenda, counting down the weeks I had accomplished, seeing new things on the weekend, being included with the family, making new friends, and reminding myself why I had come.

I don’t think that homesickness truly goes away ever, ask the people who have fully immigrated from their home the little things they miss. Now that I’m in my second year, I have ways again to deal with being far from home. I’m going home for christmas, it cost a lot but I learned before that it was a tradition I didn’t want to miss. I stay busy with hobbies during the week. I explore on the weekends or plan weekends away.

I think that being an aupair is truly an overwhelming thing, sympathy can go a long way for these girls who have packed up themselves and left their lives, all alone in a new country where they might not even speak the language.

I personally didn’t realize that while I gain so much being abroad that I do miss many things at home. Unfortunately life doesn’t stop for you to take and adventures. You have to be courageous to know that the lessons you learn and gain while being away help to make you who you are and the choices you make change you for the better. If you don’t take a chance then you will never know.

OzHostMum October 28, 2014 at 7:19 pm

I think how homesickness is handled by the AP largely comes down to maturity. The mature ones will listen to reason (remind them how long they saved for this huge opportunity, how much effort they’ve gone to preparing, and how much they will kick themselves for going home without making the most of their time experiencing another culture). I think with more immature APs it’s too often a “get out of jail free” card, in that it’s an excuse they can use regardless of what other factors are in play (like this is harder work than I thought and not a holiday so I’m just going to say whatever it takes so that the agency/host family doesn’t make me feel guilty for breaking my contract and leaving). 2 out of 4 of our APs have handled homesickness better than others. Both times they were 3 years older than the other two, had lived independently prior to AP-ing, had successfully held down a job or 2 in their home country and had travelled extensively in the past. They weren’t perfect APs by any means, but definitely handled the homesickness better than the others who were young, living at home and this was their first foray into being an adult in a grown up world. These are things that you can screen for, but there is the chance that you may miss out on some good candidates who don’t fit the mold. HD and I are at the stage right now of interviewing for AP5 as our current one leaves next week and in our initial email are quite blunt about the potential challenges they will face being so far from home, and that whilst we are friendly and caring, we cannot drop everything to “mother” another child, that we expect them to be the 3rd adult in our home and deal appropriately with these issues. May sound harsh but honestly, we choose to have APs to help us, and not add to the amount of needy children in the house!

Taking a Computer Lunch October 29, 2014 at 10:53 pm

There is some truth to this. However, as a HM, I do try to hug my APs when I find them sobbing, and tell them the truth. The hardest day of their AP year is the first day, when they realize just what it means to step off a plane and life with a strange family for a year. And the second hardest day of their AP year, should they bond with us, will be the day we wave goodbye to them as they enter airport security to fly home. Emotions are incredibly strong both days, but in order to cry on the last day, APs and HFs have to give a little of themselves to the other. It can be a friendship that lasts a lifetime.

And the other thing I tell them was about the day, as a student in Europe, when I was told I could by jeans at a discount if I could give my size – only to go into a store and discover that American sizes were not European sizes. I went home, unsuccessfully, and cried. And a couple of days later I went back and asked for help (I had lost a lot of weight and I really needed a new pair of jeans.)

EsqHM in DC October 29, 2014 at 11:33 am

I agree about discussing these ramifications during matching. I ask the question point-blank: how committed are you to doing this for a year? Any waffling in the response concerns me. I specifically describe my fear that an AP will arrive and find things aren’t quite how they expected (which is a guarantee, btw) and start to think she should just go back home. I explain how difficult that is for a host family to have an AP bail like that. We talk it through, and I gauge the level of commitment. Seems to have been effective so far. I think this issue really is one of commitment and maturity–do they really want to have the full experience and take the tough times with the good times. You could substitute homesickness in this equation with almost any other challenge. You want an AP that’s in it for the full 12 months and willing to work her way over the bumps.

Returning HM October 29, 2014 at 10:03 pm

I do exact same thing. Especially much when there’s a boyfriend or girlfriend at home. Even more especially much when the AP has not lived away from home before. In that case, my main concern is mother’s support (and boyfriend/girlfriend). I love hearing, “my mom is the one encouraging me to do this. She wishes she had had this experience.” I love even more, “There are three girls/boys from my village who have been au pairs and they have told me what it’s like so I know I may have hard times but I also know how much it is possible to get out of this program.”

MGHostMom November 1, 2014 at 11:25 am

Thanks for the tip. I wish I had done this. It never occurred to me that an au pair would leave due to homesickness. It’s part of the package of leaving home to explore the world!

German Au-Pair October 29, 2014 at 3:50 pm

I believe that homesick is just a fancy name for something absolutely common.
I realize that there are situations -having a terrible experience with your HF for example- or some people who really have trouble with this. But I strongly believe that most are letting their feelings drag them down and then call it homesickness.f homesickness gets so bad that you need to throw the towel (again, I realize there are terrible situations that make it harder to cope) then you have LET this happen. You have let the normal feeling of being a bit blue from time to time grow into a problem.
In all the AP plattforms in which I participated everyone was tryiong to help APs overcome their homesickness and encouraged them to live up to their duties and not let the HF and themselves down by giving up. I have never heard about APs telling each other it was okay to go home just because of homesickness. The only exception to that was when the occasional AP would describe how she has tried everything to get out of this mood but failed and actually started to feel physical problems (not eating, feeling dizzy, losing sleep) because of it.

What homesickness really is is a mixture of missing your routine, your family, your friends, familiar tastes and smells and traditions. The feeling of missing out on events and the anxiety over having to step out of your comfort zone. Those are all legit feelings but they are what we sign up for. We are not dragged out of our homes and into a war zone. We decided to deal with those feelings as a prize for an amazing journey and it is our job to remind us about this.
My biggest instance of homesickness was when I was in the hospital and afterwards. You really just want your mommy and it is hard to see the silver lining when you are immobilized and only see your bedroom walls for a coupple of weeks. That’s the moment when you cry a bit, accept that this is what you are feeling now and that you have chosen to feel this and suck it up. What you do is to do things that remind yourself why you are where you are and remind yourself that it would actually be really sad if you didn’t have anything to miss about home.
Now that I am back I sometimes get really homesick about the US. It’s not like I don’t know how it feels to miss something so bad that it hurts. But since I can’t just throw the towel on my life, I can now either sit home alone and ignore friends, family and duties and wallow in my misery or I can suck it up, text my friends and HF over there, eat some good food that reminds me of my other home, look at some pictures and appreciate that I have also signed up for feeling like this for the rest of my life. And I can appreciate that this painful feeling is just a testimony of the great things I have left behind, just like during my time in the US I made myself feel great about having friends back home in Germany who I missed and who missed me.
So maybe if APs learnt not only how to deal with homesickness by induldiging into things that remind them of home (I bought German Christmas stuff every year) and appreciating the little things about their new life, but also how the very existence of homesickness is actually a very positive things as it shows that you have something great to miss somewhere else, it wouldn’t be such a big deal.

Seattle Mom October 29, 2014 at 10:16 pm

I think this is a great response, and it really sums up how I feel about and have experienced homesickness personally.

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa, and even though I didn’t want to go home I still experienced a mixture of “not fitting in” with the culture and homesickness. I was sad and desperate for reminders of home… even though I still remembered why I wanted to leave in the first place!

I stuck it out for 2 years, had an amazing experience but still with a lot of emotional pain, and I am so glad that I did it. Many others did not last the full 2 years. What did I have that others did not? I was very motivated to see it through. I wanted to finish my service, and be a full-fledged returned peace corps volunteer. I didn’t want to let my adopted community down, and make them feel like they failed me or I failed them.

How that translates, for me, into looking for an AP is that I look for someone who has rock solid motivations for being an AP. If travel and experiencing another culture is their #1 reason it does not feel like a good enough motivation for me, unless they can explain how this will carry them through some rough times over the course of a year. I take it as a given that every au pair will experience homesickness- the question is will they quit? Will they manage their emotions well enough to still get the job done? So far all of our au pairs have managed their homesickness well enough. We do occasionally see some red eyes from crying after talking to family.. but then when they play with the children they feel somewhat better. Because we screen for au pairs who will genuinely enjoy our children, and who want to get something out of this experience that will not be done in a couple of months- they really have to stay the year. Sometimes it’s just a gut feeling.

I don’t know if I have just been lucky in this regard so far. I have certainly made other mistakes in my au pair selections… just haven’t had one where homesickness has been a real problem yet.

ExBroAuPairinTexas October 29, 2014 at 4:08 pm

I just finished my au pair in Texas and since I got a job here I am still living here but in a different visa, I am happy to say that I have never felt homesick because I knew what I wanted and I got prepared for the year, so I think it is okay to miss family and friends but even before the match we au pairs know that this a contract and that we are gonna be away from home for a year or more so I would expect a little bit more maturity from au pairs.

NJ Mama October 29, 2014 at 6:10 pm

I had one au pair who was homesick that really turned quickly into severe depression. It got to the point where she would walk around the house and barely look at anyone. We tried to include her in family things but she was uninterested. We encouraged her to go out and make friends. I drove her to some au pair outings and I even found a family through a friend of a friend at church who was from her country who took her skiing for the weekend. Nothing worked. The odd thing is that when she asked for a rematch she did not say that she was homesick or depressed — she just said that my older daughter hurt her feelings sometimes. The area director saw right through it and tried to talk to her about it. But got nowhere. It was just so difficult all around. She ended up going into rematch — but then going home.

Outside of that, I have had a few au pairs who experienced flashes of homesickness. And two that were not homesick at all. I guess what I’m saying is, I do think it sounds like what you’re describing is a convenient excuse. But also there probably isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. And if she’s paying her way home then there’s not much the agency can do either.

Homesickness like maturity is very difficult to screen for and like TexasHM said above, the one au pair I had that you would think would be homesick — she was super young, she had a boyfriend at home — was not. In fact two of my youngest were not homesick at all.

I once read an article about kids going away to summer camp, and one of the big factors that led to homesickness was how the parents dealt with the departure. Were the parents all like, “Honey I’m going to miss you. But I know you’re going to have a great time!” Or did the parents go on and on about how much they’d miss them and worry about how they would do all on their own in the great big world and tell them that if it got too hard they’d come and get them? It was the kids of the second group that got homesick. So yes, a lot of questions about whether your parents support you in this, how do they feel about it, etc., are worthwhile. And I also talk about my experience abroad too when I interview. And how independent the au pair is (even if she hasn’t lived away from her parents, you can measure independence in other ways). But all this doesn’t mean the au pair is going to be honest — or to be fair to the au pair, she /he just may not know. And it sounds like in your situation, the parents are playing a big role in her decision. That just stinks all around.

In this case, if she wants to go, it sounds like even if you tried to convince her to stay it may not be a great experience for you. And no matter how you slice it rematch is just so stressful. But I did get two great candidates out of rematch. And if you think about it, if an au pair goes into rematch the chances are she or he really wants to stay. And if you talk to au pairs in rematch you can definitely ask them if they got homesick and how they handled it. They may be more open about it. Good luck!

Host Mom in the City October 30, 2014 at 8:19 am

Given my experiences and anecdotal knowledge, I’d say a TON of it comes down to the au pair’s parent’s and how they feel about the experience of being an au pair. Au pairs whose parents were, sure a little apprehensive and sad that they would be gone for a year, but mostly “wow, what a great experience for my young adult child!” have had significantly fewer issues. Even ones that could have happily paid for their child to fly back home. Those whose parents don’t see the point or didn’t want them to go or don’t want them to grow up or experience it as the child leaving them behind won’t support the au pair in working through hard feelings. As soon as they are sad, they will say “you can just come home – I’ll pay for your ticket” or “this is too hard – you should come back.” Those are the ones that leave.

I completely agree with many posters here that au pairs need to understand that they are going to be homesick. Everyone is if only a bit. If I’m honest, I do see it as giving up if an au pair goes home citing homesickness, but mostly I see it as a completely wasted opportunity that they will probably regret later in life. I sound like an old curmudgeon, but seriously? You’re going to give up this amazing opportunity to live in another country, to make life-long friends, to travel extensively, to learn, to grow, to gain another “family” for life just because of homesickness? And homesickness just for a year, that hopefully gets less and less as the year goes on? I don’t get it.

Sure, if you have a bad host family or if there is an emergency at home, or if you truly are suffering or deeply depressed, got it. But just not wanting to work through the initial few months of homesickness? That’s just giving up.

WiAuPairMom October 30, 2014 at 9:56 am

We are on our 5th au pair in 6 years. I will disclaimer this whole post to say that we have had 4 au pairs from Germany and 1 from South Africa. So their family situations back home are different than some of the other countries and regions. We only had one au pair go home/break their contract for being homesick. She was only with us two weeks when she approached us and said that she must go home. She had some circumstances that we didn’t know about and had no real way to ferret them out during the interview process at that time. However, two of the other 4 were homesick for a while.

We have very open dialog with our au pairs at least weekly if not daily. The moment we know or can sense they are homesick we start talking with them. We have found out a lot of times it’s due to their own families. Their families are constantly emails or Skyping with them, saying they miss them. Blatantly telling them of all the “wonderful” things they are doing with out them. It’s kind of mean actually. So once we find out about that, I request to either Skype or email with the family and explain the situation. I encourage them to make sure they still talk with our au pair, but to keep conversation more about what they are experiencing, what is going on. But not to put undue pressure on the AP about being missed.

We also from the moment they arrive get them integrated with our cluster, the other au pairs and make sure to have playdates with the other au pairs and their kids. We are a very inclusive family so we try to fill that gap of family. We encourage the AP to invite other AP over on the weekend and watch movies in our rec room, have parties, go shopping. The AP is included in our gym membership and our current AP goes to yoga with me twice a week. First and foremost this is an experience for them and it is mutually beneficial for our family. Happy AP = Happy kids/family.

Mimi October 30, 2014 at 11:42 am

How have the families typically responded to this?

WiAuPairMom November 2, 2014 at 9:26 am

For the most part the families have been open to it. Deep down they know this is a great thing for their child. Many of them try to help. We request a Skype session with the parents/families during the interview process. So we have had contact with them already prior to their child coming over. We also try to screen for how severe the homesickness will be (I’m sorry but there is alway some level). Our “screening” actually involves the parent(s). We directly ask them how they will handle saying goodbye to their child. And surprisingly they are honest. We’ve noticed that the mothers who say it’s going to be so hard and the parents who throw large elaborate going-away parties, the au pairs tend to have more homesickness. Their parents tend to stay in closer communication with their child. Technology, while great for making sure the AP is in contact with their families and friends, also keeps them in constant contact…. Double edged sword. The one that went home for us was constantly on Skype or Facetime. After the first few weeks the others Skyped less and less.

German Au-Pair November 3, 2014 at 5:41 pm

I skyped with my family almost every single day (my schedule and the time difference made this easy) and I was in constant contact with my friends via whatsapp (which is probably true for everyone now) and I never had a single problem with homesickness or with making new friends and experiencing all the great things I wanted to experience.
I didn’t do that because I was homesick or because I felt the need to talk to them that much -we’re not even that close.Talking for half an hour, sharing each others’ days and telling them about my new life there simply was a great ritual and I loved letting them know what I was up to and they loved hearing about my adventures. If it had any impact at all, it actually helped me because I didn’t feel left out of things going on at home, I would receive news the same day and so on. If I was busy during our skype-time, we wouldn’t skype, no big deal.
Skyping a lot can be a good thing.

What I am wondering: how old are your candidates usually? I was 21 when I left and I would have thought it to be really weird if my potential HF requested a skypedate with my family and grilled them about things like that.

MGHostMom November 1, 2014 at 11:23 am

Yes, I think the family had a lot to do with this. She Skyped with her family every day. And it’s hard for me to judge the dynamic. I know the good friends back home all encouraged her to come home. I wish she has given me a chance. She was apparently homesick for a couple weeks before she told me about it, and by then she was adamant about going home. Before that she was all cheerful, saying everything was good. We talked with her regularly, but she hid her sadness from us and only relied on her home family for emotional support.

ILHostMom October 30, 2014 at 11:52 am

We have had 4 Au Pairs, and really got burned by homesickness with Au Pair #3, who left only after a week. I think she was so shell shocked and wouldn’t even consider going to a different family, she just wanted to go home. We were quite shocked as Au Pair #1 and #2 said they felt zero homesickness. Here is what we learned:
1) Be very wary of anyone in a serious relationship. I know that others may disagree, but when you have someone on the other side saying how much they miss them, this doesn’t help.
2) Ask to speak to their parents. The Au Pair can tell you that their parents support the program but you will get a feel for the situation in only a 5 minute conversation. This is a non-negotiable for us, as I think we would have seen huge red flags with Au Pair #3 if we would have spoken with her parents. The second she wanted to go home they totally encouraged her and said they’d pay for her ticket. The parents of our successful, non-homesick Au Pairs parents would have told them “you made this commitment and unless they are mistreating you, you should stick it out”
3) Really understand what kind of child care experience they’ve had. Was it in a day care situation where they were constantly surrounded by other adults and weren’t necessarily the main one driving the show? Or have they been the sole person in charge of the children, responsible for dinners, homework, and activities?

MGHostMom November 1, 2014 at 11:27 am

#2 sounds like a good idea. Might even make the parents feel more secure about letting their kid go. Might be difficult in some cases where there’s no mutual language though…

AlwaysHopeful HM November 2, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Do you do this even with older au pairs? My first, homesick AP was nearly 27 when she arrived, and had previously lived away from home. It would felt a little infantalizing to me to ask to speak with her parents…

Old China Hand November 2, 2014 at 3:55 pm

I wonder about this as well. It would be very difficult for me to speak with parents of our prospective APs but I think it’s a good idea. I think I may float the idea with the one we are talking with right now. It actually is feasible with us since I can speak their language.

TexasHM November 2, 2014 at 6:12 pm

I tend to agree, I am hesitant to ask to speak to their parents because they are adults and even when their parents don’t approve that doesn’t guarantee a bad experience. We do generally write an email to their parents and ask them to forward it (I think its right before we match) just asking if they have any questions for us and letting them know if we match with their daughter they would be welcome to visit. Have found that the apple typically doesn’t fall far from the tree and the responses have been great. The APs tend to appreciate this (because we aren’t asking parents permission, just giving them a chance to ease any fears) and the parents seem to like that we offer. This has given us a chance to gauge the parents tone/response and after this conversation I think I am going to add a note about homesickness in there. Maybe something like “it can be very difficult to live in a foreign country away from all your friends and family and we have found that APs having the support of their loved ones and someone to push to remind them of their commitment and goals is critically important to their success here so Jane is lucky to have you in her corner” = more of an assumptive ask than an interview…

German Au-Pair November 3, 2014 at 5:47 pm

I like this a lot better than requesting a talk with the parents! This is nice and considerate and while I understand where people are coming from, I find the other approach a bit pushy tbh. I told my parents about my family AFTER I matched. I still lived at home and I liked when they supported and visited me but it was my decision and in the beginning my mom wasn’t on board.
I wonder how you would react to this? If a candidate told you speaking to their parents might not be the best idea because they are not that fond of the idea but she had set her mind on doing it anyways, would she be out right away?
In my experience, my mom was against it until the second I left. Then she was cheering for me and bragging with her daughter who “lives in America”.

NJ Mama November 3, 2014 at 6:27 pm

Once again – great idea by TexasHM, and one I will rip off for the next time.

I have never asked to talk to the parents in part b/c as GermanAP said below, when I went away oh so many years ago, my mom was dead-set against it. My father was all for it. And I was 20 at the time — the same age as a lot of APs (and I had a great time abroad btw). My mom came around as soon as I landed out of country and she heard how happy I was. I felt that I was old enough to make this decision for myself, as I believe APs are.

I once had an au pair — after we matched — email me to say that her mother wanted to speak with me. I thought it was odd — not because she asked, but because she asked after matching. And so I was concerned that her mom would have trouble letting ago. We skyped and it was fine. And in the end we did end up rematching with that au pair — but not because she was homesick. Turns out her mom did just about everything for her and she was just really overwhelmed being in charge. In fact, my kids and I always sort of joke about this AP, b/c after she got here she told me that for her entire life, her mother had always packed her lunch, because she was afraid if she didn’t the AP wouldn’t eat. And this girl was 20 years old! After that I had my girls — who were in first and third grades at the time — pack their own lunches. My kids even recognized at that young age that they didn’t want to be 20 and not have their moms making their lunches.

Other times parents have sometimes wandered in while we were doing skype interviews with au pairs. And I thought that was very sweet. And it was sort of nice to talk a bit. But in these cases the AP was taking the lead, and it seemed more that the parents were curious than anything.

Also like GermanAP — I also had a GermanAP who skyped with family just about every day. She was completely well adjusted and happy here, and she had a boyfriend back home. So I think it really varies and also depends on how the parents react. Are they skyping to chat and see how your day is? Or are they going on and on about how you’re missed and what you’re missing. In the end… just hard to tell.

TexasHM November 3, 2014 at 9:47 pm

To answer the question GermanAP no, we wouldn’t eliminate a candidate if her parents were opposed but we do like to have an idea what we are getting into. If there was a candidate who had a parent or parents who were obviously opposed it would likely end up in my challenge email – ex: We know your parents do not agree with your decision and it can be a very difficult program even for APs that have their parents support, how do you think this will impact your experience and do you think this will make you more sensitive to homesickness?” and then look for her to “sell” me on how she is going to manage this. If this was you GermanAP and you replied that your parents also didn’t agree with your choice of university or major but you got along just fine then bingo – objection overcome. :)

AlwaysHopeful HM November 4, 2014 at 6:51 am

To answer German AP’s question, I don’t think the AP would automatically be out, but that response without more would be a big red flag for me, so I’d ask a lot of questions behind it. I understand the need to individuate, but I would be concerned about someone who might constantly challenge my authority in the name of being treated like an adult. I would wonder if it meant that the AP was defiant or rebellious, or used avoidance rather than confrontation/ discussion as a way of resolving differences. One of the things i give high marks for in my search is an apparent strong relationship of open communicaion between the AP and his/ her parents. I would also wonder what he or she might be hiding. I know that is a lot to read into the response, but when you have so little to go on, and so much at stake, these things can make a big difference. To be fair, though, I probably wouldn’t ask to speak to the parents, so this would not likely come up for me! I do like when parents wander in and say hello, or even just smile and wave during skype sessions. It’s strange because it is a job interview, so normally, that would seem crazy, but it is so much more than that! I like TexasHM’s idea of the email…may incorporate that into my next search.

TexasHM November 4, 2014 at 9:42 am

Well put AlwaysHopeful as usual! Totally agreed. It is pretty much impossible to interview for a lifelong family member and yet, that’s what we are trying to do every round! Agreed that a clearly angst ridden relationship would give me pause but as said many times, these are all things and questions we are exploring during the process. I also ask how their boyfriend will handle the separation and we have never ruled out a candidate for having a boyfriend. In fact one had a fiancé and he ended up saving that match when she almost gave up because it was too hard so we were lucky she had him! (We also knew he was extremely supportive, he walked in and sat down during one of our Skype sessions) Another had just ended an 8 year relationship – non issue, her issue was her parents drama and current has also been in a long term relationship and it hasn’t been an issue, he’s very supportive and we actually got to meet him when he came to visit this summer so again, it’s less about the answers (yes/no) and more about the gut feel and searching for red flags that may or may not work for your family. Big red flags we probe and if its clear its an issue, we pass. Doesn’t even mean they are a bad candidate – for example a vegan would be miserable in our house and area. We interviewed a wonderful vegan that had lost a lot of weight by riding her bike everywhere everyday. Not a good fit for us even though we liked her very much. You cant ride a bike to anywhere here and this is steak/BBQ city. We told her as much. Things that get explored that become little yellow flags end up in our challenge email so they know we are aware of them/seeing them and expect them to overcome/manage them should we match. We don’t really have any hard and fast criteria other than swimmer (we have a pool), over 21 or will be by arrival and non smoker. Everything else is getting to know them and seeing if we think they might be a good fit for our family. All of our APs have been very different and yet we have good relationships with all and all were great APs with the exception of some roommate bumps with AP1. I’ve talked to several new HFs that thought they had the recipe for success in the criteria (18 yr old Germans only, avoid Brazilians, no boyfriends, college graduates only, only candidates with real full time childcare experience) and I have watched that fail over and over again. Other HFs that know about our extensive interview process are often shocked by how different our APs have been. We have to explain there could be many lids that fit our pot. ;) Blue ones, green ones, tall ones, short ones as long as the lid fits at the end of the day the rest is just details…

Taking a Computer Lunch November 3, 2014 at 10:13 pm

Rather than talking with the parents, I urge HF to talk with their LCC. If she’s good at her job, then she’s seen it all before, and can talk to the AP about finding ways to break through homesickness (including finding a “buddy” – an AP who has been in the U.S. longer who could take your AP under her wing).

In my experience, homesick APs are much more willing to talk to a good LCC than their HF – it’s less threatening.

Old China Hand October 30, 2014 at 1:11 pm

I am always surprised at how little aps and hfs are prepared to talk about or address culture shock. It is s huge field of study and companies that place expats overseas hire consultants to help families navigate this issue. After over 20 years in hong kong my mom goes through this every summer coming back to the states then returning to Hong Kong. It’s not just homesickness in the way you miss your family when you go to college. This is related to being in a new culture and totally new place. Generally people go through excitement about the new place, then depression that everything is so different (the this sucks I want to go home time), then acceptance. It happens is reverse when you go home. One year living in china I was so depressed in January that I didn’t even want to think about what to eat for meals, let alone leave to buy food. The stages are easier when the culture is more similar or living situation easier and harder with more differences or a bad living situation (the year I couldn’t figure out what to eat, I was also dealing with a clinically depressed but untreated boyfriend).

When prepping to go to china for an English teaching job after college, the program told us that if you arrive in September, the very worst culture shock is usually around thanksgiving. Treat yourself to some home treats, like a good western meal. Then we could expect to be better for a month or two with a second but less severe bout in January. I imagine that the Au pairs have similar cycles of culture shock. I wish the agencies and lccs were trained to better talk with them about how normal it all is. I know it helped our ap that I recognized and talked with her about culture shock at the right times. We also made sure to take her to the Chinese grocery store to stock up on food she liked when she was hit the worst.
I’ll get off my soapbox now, but I think that we all need to educate ourselves on culture shock in order to better help our aps.

Always Hopeful HM November 1, 2014 at 3:30 pm

I would definitely welcome learning more about culture shock vs homesickness, as well as how to manage both successfully. Our first au pair was homesick the entire 2 years she was here (1st year with us, 2nd with another family). Family definitely was a huge influence there– her parents begged her to come home, she worried constantly about family members’s health, etc. she was very goal oriented and tried to brush them off by focusing on her reasons for being here. She even delayed telling them when something bad or disappointing happened until long after she resolved it, because she knew their reaction would be to tell her to come home. So, she took lots of classes, exercised, made friends, etc. and did generally have good experiences. However, she was sad the whole time she was with us, which contributed to a heaviness around our home. So, while it was good for her to not allow herself to be dissuaded from the opportunities she had here, I’m not so sure that sticking it out is always the best answer for the HF. By the time she left us, she was very withdrawn– she stopped eating dinner with us, or coming out of her room unless she was leaving to go visit her one good friend (whom she confided she wouldn’t really be friends with if she had a larger selection), and she and my son had reached a low point in their relationship. Much of this happened after she visited her family back home. They were angry and disappointed that she was going back to the US.

I do think some of her concerns wih our home were cultural. She thought my son had too many things (which is true!), and that Americans generally were lazy, spoiled and entitled. For a young person, she was very set in her ways and her beliefs, and she became more so after visiting home.

Contrast AP 2 who only applied for the AP program at the suggestion of his parents. He didn’t really have clear goals for his future, but was committed to a year in the US. His parents kept in constant contact with him, but always to encourage him to work hard and do his best. Granted, that should have given me a clue about his level of maturity, but it was really refreshing to have someone there who was willing to work hard at enjoying himself and who knew others were counting on him to fulfill his commitment. He did have periods of homesickness, but not in the same way as AP1, and he ended up having a great year (all the way until rematch :))!

4th time lucky?! November 5, 2014 at 6:48 pm

I think most of what has been described above (struggling with new routine and lack of familiarity, finding things ‘different’ and different usually = bad) is really more culture shock than homesickness (missing ‘home’, wanting your mum, being sad to depressed about not being with friends and close family). I found some good information on some of the agencies’ websites. I particularly liked this one (not US based but great general advice – I printed and will discuss this with AP on arrival):
http://aupair.org.au/programs/au-pair-germany/working-and-living-in-germany/
I also came across this one – quite old, but interesting and somewhat entertaining:
http://www.nytimes.com/1990/09/02/nyregion/life-with-an-au-pair-working-out-cultural-differences.html

AlwaysHopeful HM November 7, 2014 at 2:24 pm

Both of these articles are great! Thanks for sharing them. As an aside, I love the $200/month all-in cost (stipend plus agency fee) listed in the NY article!!

Taking a Computer Lunch October 31, 2014 at 1:05 pm

I assume that every AP will face some sort of culture shock, but how she will experience varies. We’ve had APs with boyfriends and those without, and the first 9 got through the stress of adjusting to a new culture within a few weeks (AP #10’s depression interfered with her job so much that it became one of the reasons we went into rematch at week 8). Some of the reactions have been: food aversion, crying, excessive sleeping weeks after jet lag should have ended, excessive Skyping, withdrawal from social contact, negativity about every new thing encountered. One AP’s friend literally counted down every day of her year until she could go home!

The APs who seemed to combat homesickness the best 1) organized activities for other new APs, 2) got out of the house every day – whether it was to exercise, shop, or meet a friend for coffee, and 3) opened up and talked to DH and I about what they were experiencing.

Old China Hand October 31, 2014 at 2:18 pm

It must have been horrible for you to face rematch and finding another qualified ap for the camel! Wow.

I agree that exercise and getting out and talking to people helps a lot. I worried about our ap her first year (of 1.5) when she had very few local friends. Mostly friends also from China who were all over the country. At least she audited a lot of classes so she got out, but she didn’t seem to make friends here until her last semester.

TexasHM October 31, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Totally agreed that staying busy and making an effort is almost paramount to any factor you could screen for. If they are busy and happy they don’t have time or interest in being homesick. Our AP that flamed out in this regard gradually withdrew over time to the point where by the time we added it up it was too late but I will definitely watch for it in the future. This is also a reason that we ask the AP for concrete goals before they come. “Travel”, “see US”, “I don’t know what I want to do with my life” do not hold up on days when my 3 are sick, its hour 45 on the week and we are too tired to do anything fun that weekend!

German Au-Pair October 31, 2014 at 5:23 pm

Actually, the travelling part is a GREAT way to make it through a rough time. Granted I wasn’t that overworked but from time to time everyone is a bit down and having a date x to look forward to, when you would go and travel somewhere new and exciting was actually a big help. Sometimes I had so many little events planned out that I was worrying about time flying too fast because of all the little steps -especially in my last 6 months.

Old China Hand October 31, 2014 at 9:31 pm

What type of goals do you look for? I am currently searching for ap2, and this is a great idea.

TexasHM October 31, 2014 at 10:42 pm

Anything that I feel is fairly tangible. So far it’s primarily been tied to learning English so I now strongly encourage them to set more defined goals. For current AP that was pushing her to take the TOEFL (will help her career big time) and for her birthday we bought the study guide and CD, printed off the testing centers/dates a few months before her finish, etc. She is an ER nurse and was concerned about her skills staying fresh so I printed off the ACLS and CPR continuing Ed classes and she loved that. So I think anything that’s S.M.A.R.T if you know that concept. I’ve also done it around travel – push them to make bucket lists and help them work those trips in, anything they can put on a resume or look back at and see progress and accomplishment vs babysitting for a year. :)

TexasHM October 31, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Sidenote on English – I like when it’s career driven. Current AP needs to be fluent to join international aid organization – great reason. Previous AP wanted to be an international flight attendant – strong English a must. Incoming AP got degree in English studies but is Polish so no native English exposure. Wants to return home and get PhD to teach same subject, I could write a goal list a mile long! Language, history, culture, she might have to extend by the time I’m done. ;)

Old China Hand November 1, 2014 at 9:34 am

Thank you. That is really great and I will ask our interviewee about concrete goals. Normally the girls I have talked to or read apps for are just interested in improving English. Our last ap always said she wanted to take the toefl but kept putting off her test date. I ended up waiting at a nearby Starbucks with a 6 day old when she finally took it 2 weeks before she left. She bombed it, probably because she didn’t know how to study well for it. I can see how concrete goals would have helped her.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 1, 2014 at 8:56 am

We lucked out – there were many more great candidates than in April (I guess less competition, too). We matched with an out-of-country AP almost immediately. It felt more rushed, but we did interview 2 candidates and had to choose between them.

Goals vary, but curiosity is a great thing. I’ve hosted several APs who had no intention of going to university (most did afterwards), using their English again (one ended up doing a BA and an MA in English at an international university in Austria), and those who intended to stay and worked hard to master English.

Because of The Camel, I look for APs who have practical experience working with children in a variety of settings. Babysitting isn’t enough. They have some sense of what it means to work and to be counted upon (and thus to be reliable). I understand that for people with typically developing children that may differ, but I hosted one AP who didn’t really know what it meant to work and that was a steep learning curve!

MGHostMom November 1, 2014 at 6:21 pm

Thank you all for your experiences, tips, and ideas.

For those who hinted at it, no the homesickness really isn’t a cover for being dissatisfied in other ways. I really think that she is just young and inexperienced in life. My guess is that feeling homesick is the first time she’s felt really crappy in her life, and the only way she sees out of it is going home.

In retrospect, I think there were hints, like starting to eat dinner with us less frequently. And she talked with her family every day. (Is this normal? Back when I lived overseas we didn’t have all this technology…) But for the most part she seemed to do everything right — got exercise, didn’t oversleep, made friends and got out with them often. She even took a long weekend trip to another city with local au pair friends in the short 2 months she was here.

I’m keeping all your notes in mind when talking to new au pairs now. Thanks again.

TexasHM November 3, 2014 at 9:55 pm

This is one of many next to impossible traits we try to screen for (resilience). You can try to ferret it out but there is still always the chance that it goes left as it sounds like it did here. Also sounds like you did everything you could, sought outside perspective and advice and took points for the next round which is all you can and do then some. (One more point – try not to knee jerk and only screen for resilience/independence overlooking other just as important traits on the next AP, that’s something most of us on here couldn’t help but do!) Best of luck to you and props to you for trying again (many don’t and you should, when it works its better than any other childcare scenario hands down).

German Au-Pair November 5, 2014 at 2:18 pm

I’d saying talking to your family every day is normal when you happen to have the time but not when you feel like you HAVE to. Like I said, I did talk to my parents every day because it fit into my schedule perfectly but when I had plans I didn’t try to accomodate my skype-schedule like others who skyped with their parents once a week would.

4th time lucky?! November 5, 2014 at 6:36 pm

I’m with you, MGHM (Back when I lived overseas we didn’t have all this technology…). Have been talking about this a lot lately since latest AP bailed out and had apparently discussed issues in depth and for a long time with family back home but not us…
When I first went overseas to travel and live there was no skype, barely any cellphones, no messaging apps, no internet cafes and email had only just arrived. There expensive phone boxes and landlines and when there was a problem I had to go sort it out myself and / or with the help of people and friends I had met along the way.

I think the option of constant contact is a big problem these days. It makes it a lot harder (and less necessary) to let go of home and the apron strings (goes for both sides, parents also aren’t forced to let go). As German AP said you can easily chat every day to keep in touch with everyone and everything, you don’t lose contact: great! But for some people this also means they never really immerse themselves in the new culture. They don’t need to ‘arrive’, adapt and adopt anything as their new way of life. They come with the attitude that it’s temporary, and it shows.

Sure, the APs know from the start it’s only going to be for a limited period of their lives (1 or 2 years) and they don’t want to leave their life behind (or rather for their life to leave them behind – much more likely scenario) but I still think it helps with doing a good job and having a good experience if APs are prepared to fully immerse themselves and take the challenge on as “this is my life now and I will make the best out of it” (not: this is my life for now and I can always go back to the other one if I don’t like it).

Taking a Computer Lunch November 5, 2014 at 10:00 pm

When I lived abroad I had one option: write letters. The second time I lived abroad, I could make a phone call but it cost me between $20 and $100, so it was a luxury. I still wrote letters. Now there’s Skype, What’s App?, Email, Facebook, Instagram… But in the end, nothing beats putting down the electronics and going out and meeting people!

Old China Hand November 6, 2014 at 2:14 pm

I completely agree! Of course, with my parents in Hong Kong and us having little kids, I really appreciate the easy contact, but that is very different from when I was homesick and living in northern china at age 22.

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