The world of au pairing makes some pretty big promises.
Au Pairs are promised a year of hard work and adventure, the chance to live in the USofA, and the opportunity to learn first hand about American culture. Families are promised an energetic adventurous young adult who will partly assimilate into their families and partly celebrate their own unique cultures. It’s supposed to be a mash-up of people, caregiving, hosting, sharing, working, and learning.
Cultural Exchange in the Au Pair-Host Parent Relationship
But, when I think about the role of the cultural exchange in the au pair world, I wonder if we are doing enough to take advantage of our opportunities to become more culturally sensitive and more multicultural ourselves.
Host families usually know only what happens in their own families. Short of the annual host family gathering that some agencies’ reps hold for their clusters, we don’t see or talk much to other host families. So we don’t have many chances to share cultural challenges and cultural learnings.
When we do talk explicitly about what’s being exchanged that’s cultural, we tend to focus on holiday celebrations, regional foods, and — if we make an effort — some conversations about politics back home or child-rearing beliefs. And, we seem to agree that the cultural exchange element is a part of the au pair experience that is important to us, even when we can’t identify what specifically ‘cultural ‘ things we’re learning.
When is it “culture”?
When something comes up within the host family-au pair relationship, it’s often hard to know when there is a cultural issue at play and/ or when some cultural learning can take place. As I discussed in the post about sunbathing norms, and only partly in jest, it’s hard to know whether the ‘differences’ we experience are due to personality, age, our role in the family, or our culture of origin.
There is a lot of untapped opportunity for learning more about the content of our own culture(s) and our au pairs’ cultures — such as which values are most prominent, and which practices are culturally-defining.
And, there is a lot of untapped opportunity for learning about cross-cultural practice and process, including
- how to recognize the cultural element of an issue,
- how to talk across cultures, how to hold on to what you believe without suggesting that someone else’s beliefs are wrong (or weird) and
- how to become a person who is fluent in a world full of people from all sorts of value systems and cultures.
I have often wished that there were more chances for my family, my DH, my kids, and our au pairs to develop our cultural knowledge– both the content and the practices/processes of multiculturalism. At times I’ve fallen back on the frameworks, exercises, and recommendations from organizational diversity trainings (the kind that I ran, myself, as a diversity consultant so many years ago!). But, I’ve wished there were more that we could do that was au pair specific.
An Opportunity for Intercultural Learning
And, looks like my wish is coming true. There may soon be an opportunity for host families and au pairs to participate in dedicated, au-pair-world- specific intercultural learning.
A few weeks ago I connected with Shana Medah of Jamana Intercultural, a new company devoted to intercultural learning. Shana was a Peace Corps member and an au pair agency counselor a regional customer service manager for an au pair agency, and has spent many years working within other cultures and facilitating cross-cultural learning for others. Shana and her DH, Eric, are creating a business that offers cross-cultural training through webinars (and ultimately other formats), and their first set of learning programs will focus on issues important to host families and au pairs.
Shana’s company website, and their webinars, are still in the beta stage, and thus not quite ready to try. But, as soon as they get their website up, I’ll get a chance to take their introductory webinar– and give you my report on it. I am hoping to be able to recommend it to other host parents as a way to ramp up their cultural exchange experiences.
I can already tell you that I’m impressed by their company; I perceive that their company’s values and mission are quite in tune with the values that we share here in our AuPairMom conversations. From both their printed materials and their interaction with me online and over the phone, Shana and Eric feel like people I want to get to know, and people I want to learn from.
I’ve asked Shana if she would start contributing to our conversations here on AuPairMom– partly so that we can get to know her, but mostly (selfishly) so that we can ramp up the cultural element of our host family experience.
So, look forward to seeing Shana in the comments, and in a few guest posts.
Please let me know via email if there are some particular cultural issues you’d like us to talk about here, and I’ll serve them up!
Is it Cultural, Generational, or just Me?
What counts as “cultural exchange”?
A Different Perspective on Cultural Exchange
Cultural Exchange and Having an Au Pair
Images: Henna from dava marie, henna hand for amanda’s weddingfrom HennaLounge