How has your own international experience influenced your Host Parent Approach?

by cv harquail on August 10, 2010

Aupairgal asked a few weeks about how many host parents have lived abroad or were raised outside the USA. She’s wondering how our own international experiences have influenced how we approach being host parents.

So let’s take some polls:

Have you or your host parent partner traveled outside the USA?

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Were you or your host parent partner raised outside the USA?

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Did you or your host parent partner live outside the USA for more than 3 months?

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How has living abroad affected how you interact with or understand your Au Pair?


AnonHM-Europe August 10, 2010 at 10:47 am

Since I am European living in Europe I took “USA” for “homecountry” in the Votes :-)

As a matter of fact, I lived in the US as an exchange-student for a year at the age of 16/17, my husband lived some time in Australia. Even though none of our APs were US- or Australian citizens, the experience itself – so long ago – helps us understanding our girls better. We can imagine that there do exist different concepts of living, of politics, etc. And we have a first-hand experience of how to adjust to and understand a different culture. Especially when the girls tend to compare certain parts of our system with theirs, we are always ready to explain that it’s no use just to compare the parts – you have to see “the whole thing” and why or how it works. We also often point out and explain within a cultural context how we handle certain aspects or rules for our children.

In the end, I believe we are more aware of our own cultural background than the average citizen, since we had a chance to move out and come back after having adjusted to a different culture. I always hope, that the APs get at least an idea of this wonderful chance and take it. I try to convince them not to hang out with other APs only, so far with only little success. The only girl who followed this advice is now married here – the others went back or live here in their little Russian/Asian/Southamerican/whatever community. Sad.

Anna August 10, 2010 at 11:37 am

“Yes” to all three for both me and my husband! (and we were raised in different countries from each other)

Taking a Computer Lunch August 10, 2010 at 11:40 am

I agree with AnonHM-Europe that living outside my home country, in my case the U.S., made me more aware of who I am in relation to my country, but to the world. I did my Jr. Year abroad in Ireland, and found myself both defending my country while agreeing that my government was wrong. I became politicized and an avid newspaper reader (I read the International Herald Tribune that year). I returned to Ireland to study for two summers as a graduate student (my PhD is economic and social interaction in Irish history), and lived there again for a year in 1989-1990 while DH lived in the Soviet Union. We both got to witness Europe transform – and both of us became even more avid newspaper readers (I must have read 3 English and Irish newspapers most days – and sent hundreds of clippings to DH, then my boyfriend, through diplomatic pouch). What struck DH was how condescending even the liberal Western papers were about the collapse of the East. It made us much more aware that the point of view of the press is only one side of the story, and more curious about personal opinions of people we encountered. We are curious people and after we were done with our studies, we spent two months traveling around Europe, staying in youth hostels, and talking to people, visiting museums, and trying as many different foods as we could.

However, I remember acutely, the first time I went into a store in Ireland to buy a new pair of jeans, and the sizes were different. So even though I spoke the language, everything was exhaustingly new. And I try to remember that moment in time when dealing with APs. When they first arrive, I encourage them to try new things, but do my best to remember that they need down-time to deal with the shock. (I also give them a hefty phone card to call home, although I think most use Skype now.)

What always surprises me, given my own politicization, is how apolitical APs are. (And of course if they go into an American bar no one is going to talk politics the way they do in Irish bars!) So, DH and I try to point out articles about their country in the paper (and yes, we do talk politics unless the AP makes it clear that we’re not to). My son asks a lot of questions, and APs listen in as we explain the political system, social constructs, etc. I personally believe that every question deserves an answer (I have a Belgian friend who taught me to ask as many as I’d like, too). I found that APs ask more social than political questions.

We’re always curious, at the end of the time with us, what our APs found most surprising – one Brazilian AP said it was the closeness of people’s bodies when they danced, the Chinese AP said it was the expense of education and medical care. And then we quiz them about what pleased them – and for many of them it’s the freedom to explore what’s important to them, their sexuality, their religion, their intellect, without comment or condemnation (again – that freshman year metaphor comes to mind).

MTR August 10, 2010 at 12:56 pm

For me it is “yes” to all three questions. For my husband, ‘yes’ just to the first one.

Interesting poll results so far.

darthastewart August 10, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Yes to all three for me. Just the first one for dh.

NewAPMama August 10, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Yes to all 3 questions for myself. I grew up on the mission field, outside of the US, when I was a child. I think that growing up/spending time in another country has really helped me as a HM. I know the feeling of being lonely (even if you have made friends), and the frustrations of a new language and culture.

HMinWI August 10, 2010 at 10:24 pm

In our household, dh is the one that lived outside the US. And, I think that experience has definitely helped him relate to our APs a little bit – not that he relates to them much, because how much does a 40 year old man really have in common with a 20 year old woman?

2boys2girls August 10, 2010 at 11:06 pm

Yes to all of the questions. I think the experience that has helped me the most, however, is having been an AP myself. Any other host moms (or dads) who have also been APs?

aria August 10, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Not a HM, but my former HM was an AP in the States!

2boys2girls August 11, 2010 at 12:25 am

Interesting! How do you think this has influenced her hosting? To be honest, from a host parents perspective, I was probably not a great AP. I loved the kids to death but wanted to have fun with them rather than practice “shared parenting.” I was not at all interested in bonding/hanging out with my host parents. They were fine people, and I respected their parenting tremendously, but as soon as my shift was over it was totally all about the boys (and my AP friends)!
On the positive side this had made me a HM with low expectations – I am happy if everyone is alive at the end of the day and has had some fun. On the negative side, many of our au pairs have been WAY more together than I was in terms of responsibility and interest in the family and sometimes I forget to recognize that.

aria August 11, 2010 at 9:21 am

Well, when I first matched with the family, she told me that she had been an AP when she was about my age, and she assured me that because of that, she knew what it was like, and what I was going through, etc. We talked about her experience once, and from everything she told me, it was a nightmare- she shared a room with the kids, had to do the entire family’s laundry, had to do exercise videos with the 4 year old little girl, and was paid very little (this was all a good 20 years ago). Originally she started as a summer AP, but she told me that she confronted the HF, asked for a raise, and when they gave it to her, she ended up staying the entire year.

My experience was NOWHERE near anything like hers was, and I’m very grateful for that. I didn’t have any of the problems that my HM did, and in that sense, I do think her experience helped make her very sensitive to certain issues- pay, personal space, etc. The only complaint I would have is that I sometimes felt that because her experience was so terrible, she wouldn’t take *my* concerns seriously, because she didn’t think they could compare to what she had been through. The one time that I stood my ground and complained to her (it was about her coming home late every night without warning) she listened, told me politely that she didn’t think she was taking advantage, and kept coming home late.

I guess it’s a little good, a little bad all around. One thing that stood out in my mind was that she didn’t seem to have fond memories of the kids she watched- I miss *mine* so much!!

HRHM August 11, 2010 at 4:04 am

HD and I both travel outside the US for business, and while I think it has made us more aware that the cultural and political differences are there, I don’t think our limited exposure to the individual countries we’ve been in has helped with understanding them much – two weeks in a hotel just doesn’t cut it. I think my exposure to my APs has helped with adapting to the places I travel though. First AP was Bosnian and just this week that has come in handy as today is the 1st day of Ramadan and I’m in a Muslim country right now. Also, I knew to anticipate the “eastern” style toilets and lack of tp – had tissues in my pocket! :)

CO Host Mom August 11, 2010 at 9:30 am

I lived/worked over in Europe for a year after law school. I definitely think it makes me a better host parent, simply because I know how it feels to pack up and leave your friends, family and country for a year. Someone above used the phrase “exhaustingly new” which is a perfect way to describe it!

Even if you aren’t overwhelmingly homesick and are enjoying your time, all the new-ness is so draining. For me, it was trying to find recipe ingredients in the grocery story – everything looked different and had different names. All those little things can really add up when you’re living in a strange country.

StephinBoston August 11, 2010 at 10:01 am

I’m French Canadian, moved to the US for a job when I was 23, met DH that first week and here we are 14 years later. i think I have a pretty good idea what it’s like to leave everyone behind and come alone to another country, although I was completely alone when I got here and had no family to help me along. I really try to help our APs get settled and love to hear all about their countries. It’s always fun to chat before they leave and get the year in perspective from them too.

FifoMom August 11, 2010 at 10:20 am

Both my husband and I were raised abroad and the experience has really helped us to understand the difference between U.S. culture vs. elsewhere. It also factored into our au pair choices as well. Our first au pair was from my country of origin and I remember giving childcare instructions in her/our native language at the beginning just to avoid any potential misunderstandings. Later on her English improved dramatically and we switched to mostly English. However, without our native language connection, it would’ve been a much more difficult transition for her… there were many concepts that exist in our native country that’s hard to translate into English.

Our current au pair is from a country that neither my husband nor I have visited, but just because of our own experiences, we understand the things that she’s going through that much better. Also, I think our international-ness makes us much more open to different types of food vs. the more common American foods.

igelwelch August 11, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I think that by traveling out of the US, you realize many of the imperfections or strange things that our people do, that most living here would not. I remember living in Germany, I could always pick out the families from America because the parents were stricter with their children than the Germans (we say “get down from the chair, you’ll hurt yourself.” they watch the child & if the child falls, the child doesn’t climb on the chair again. We are more fearful parents.) Our German au pair is about to arrive and I’ll be able to talk to her about that. I think seeing yourself from the outside is very important to being a good host parent.

Europhile August 11, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Igelwelch – that is so true. We lived in the US for a very long time (we are European by birth), and it drove us crazy how our friends tried to run their kids’ lives at all times (and always under the pretext that they could hurt themselves). LOL. The other thing that is strikingly different is how people communicate with other people’s children. In the States it seems inacceptable to reprimand other kids (one does it in a complicated way, talking to one’s own child, rather than the other child that might have done something wrong), while in Europe and in Australia (where we live now), it’s perfectly OK to reprimand when needed.

maleaupairmommy August 11, 2010 at 3:30 pm

I lived in Venezuela for a year thus 50% of my au pairs have been from there. Didn’t get one last year because they stopped accepting male au pairs. Anyhow I had been an exchange student my family wasn’t the greatest in fact I literally ran away from them for the company to finally let me switch host family it was crazy.

I feel like I understand about homesickness, the food, the language a lot better the HF who have never lived abroad and tried something different. I was an only child who grew up in a super small town so living abroad was mind blowing and life changing. I’m more aware of what is going on in the world and don’t get people who don’t. Like trying to explain all the bad things that has happened within the last six months to our former exchange daughter people don’t get how bad Chavez is.

I lived there the year Chavez was a solider who took over the government for 5 days then boom ten years later or so he gets elected president and people are shocked in what he is doing. Anyhow as you can see I’m passionate about Venezuela and it is and always will be my second home. I”m able to speak Spanish with my au pairs so it makes it easier with the communication the first month. I remember learning a new language and how I didn’t feel well because my brain was overwhelmed so I’m a little more understanding and have tylenlol and Ibuprofen ready along with some Vitamin C in there welcome basket.

It’s amazing to see how many HF has this kind of experience but at the same time not due to the fact being a former exchange student, sister, and mom I know what it was like to open up my house to a stranger and this just to seem to fit for us. In fact we thought it would take years to adopt so we had an exchange student and a newborn. Wow what a year it was but unforgettable.

Deb Schwarz August 11, 2010 at 11:58 pm

I don’t know that I would have gotten an au pair had I never lived outside the U.S. (sorry Sarah Palin!). I grew up in a small town in rural PA where there was little to no ethnic diversity (except the Amish). I began traveling after college and never looked back.

I traveled alone in Europe for 2 months which changed everything – and a month later met my Scottish husband on the boat to Alcatraz who was also traveling on his own. We lived in Australia, London and Scotland after that – which definitely gave me the appreciation of what au pairs go through. Luckily, I didn’t have a language issue thrown on top of culture shock (unless you count the thick accents that I came across in Glasgow) – but did gain an appreciation and thirst for cultural differences. I think it has made me a better LCC, host mom (and mom) as I realize that the world doesn’t revolve around the U.S., and that, in fact, there are some real pluses to living in other countries. I can also warn au pairs about the nuances of Americans – and how child rearing is different. I have found that many au pairs are particularly surprised at how Americans raise their children – it is probably the most different thing that they come across, and can cause real issues. If I didn’t understand this – then I think I wouldn’t be able to fully understand their issues, and help troubleshoot them.

On the plus side, I also understand how exciting it can be to be in a new country – a how a new adventure that can be an amazing, growing experience.

I think the best host families and LCCs embrace cultural exchange – it’s a key component of a good experience. And when I hear that a potential host mom/dad has been an exchange student, or lived abroad, I breath a sigh of relief, since I know that they “get it”.

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