How to find a great host family: Part 1

by cv harquail on April 16, 2009

Although this isn’t a blog for au pairs to get advice on being an au pair, sometimes it’s just nice to have the opportunity to share advice, especially when it comes to helping an au pair clarify her needs and expectations before she begins her host family search.

Hello! My name is Casey, I’m from Australia and am considering becoming an Au Pair in America but I’ve heard so many bad stories from friends that I only want to do this if I’m confident that I’m going to be placed with a genuinely nice family, I would love some help with how I can assure good potential families that I am would be good for them.heliopoe2.jpg

1st: I will be 18 in Feb 2010, how can I assure my potential families that I’m not like most typical young women and will not drink like a fish and go out partying all the time? I understand parents are reluctant to want someone that hasn’t been on the roads very long, how can I assure parents that I am a really safe, good driver?

2nd: I don’t speak any other languages and there isn’t a huge culture difference between Australians and Americans, do you have any ideas to how I can stand out?

3rd: I am not heavily religious but I have some Buddhist values and am Christian orientated, is this something I should be really open about or better to not talk about religious beliefs within the first stages of interviews?

Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thanks! Casey.  

Franzi:
Casey, you need to know what values you have, and what makes you special. it is this that will attract a good family to your application.

The fact that your english is already flawless is certainly a plus. do you have a hobby (sports, play instrument etc) that could find a potential match in the kids’ interests? where does your childcare experience stem from (eg tutoring)? that can also be a highlight in your application.

make sure you have a nice picture (one that also appeals to kids), submit a clean application with no typos, and have a set of questions you want to ask the families.

there is never a guarantee that you will have a perfect match. but if you ask enough questions, talk to the former AP if there is one, talk to all family members, and don’t pressure yourself to make a decision, then you should be happy with your decision.

Dawn:
Casey, honestly, the fact that you are from Australia and speak English as your first language will help you stand out to a lot of families. (As opposed to being a negative.)

In terms of the driving, is there any kind of “safe driving” course offered in your area? If you took a class like that, that’s something you could mention in your “Dear HF” letter that might help parents feel more comfortable with your driving skills.

Also, I’m not sure what kind of childcare experience you have, but if any of it includes driving children to school or activities or whatever, that could be something you emphasize in your letter (and perhaps ask your references to mention). The fact that other parents trust you to drive their children will help increase the comfort level of potential host families. In addition, there are some host families that don’t need (or even allow) their AP to drive their children places, so the driving would be a non-issue for them. I

n terms of your religious views, I don’t think you should hide OR emphasize them — basically, be honest on your application and in your responses to any questions in interviews, but if you don’t feel like your religious views are a significant part of “who you are,” you probably don’t need to mention them in your letter, for example. (If they ARE an important part of “who you are,” then you should mention them — any family who would reject your application because of your religious views is not a family you’d feel comfortable with anyway!)

Mom of 2 Girls:
Casey, I think you’re asking some very relevant questions and you sound like you’d be perfect for many families. Sometimes we’d rather have someone with perfect English who’s enthusiastic and energetic over the cultural aspect (although your country has many wonderful things to share with a US family).

You will find that adapting to driving on the opposite side of the road will come quickly, and as Dawn says, the religious aspects will either matter or not to a Host Family and you’ll discover right away if that’s a huge thing to them. As long as you’re open and receptive to a learning experience, I think you’ll have no problems. I wish you luck, and hope you have a wonderful experience in the US.

{ 4 comments }

Jenny April 24, 2009 at 6:57 am

Hey,

Well, I know I’m not a mom or anything, but having gotten the perfect family (and it wasn’t by chance, I was deciding among 4 families, so…) I think I could help Casey a little. …

Being a native English speaker is definitely something you should take advantage of, from what I’ve seen and heard from other girls the so-so English is one of the biggest problems they have during their interviews and especially after arriving in the family. I mean, how can you keep a three, four or five (not to mention older kids) year-old under control without speaking their language?

Besides that, use your language skills to ask the family (whoever you speak to) everything, really EVERYTHING, you want to know and you think that would matter for both of you during your interview. Even the slightest thing, something you think that wouldn’t be that important, just ask, ask for details, about their rules, about the kids and what they expect from you.

SHOW THEM THAT YOU CARE ABOUT THEIR KIDS! Make it clear that living in America will be good for your future, for your life as whole, but point out that you care and want the best for the kids (if it’s true, of course).

And, the most important of all, there’s NO GOOD FAMILY IF YOU DON’T TRULY LIKE CHILDREN, every single kid, it doesn’t matter how great they’re, will give you a hard time here and there, so it’s up to you to deal with them and negotiate, if you’re taking care of older kids. If you think kids are all brats just stay in your country.

And also make sure you talk to your host parents if something is bothering you, if you need anything, if they need anything from you, be open to talk to them whenever, that’s the key of a great relationship with host families (starting from your interview). And you have all that’s needed to keep up a conversation and get and give all the information you may need.

Talk about your experience with kids and tell them what you can do, tell them also what you can’t do, be true. And clarify that you’re not only coming to have your party on. And don’t try to have your party on while you here. It’s all about being TRUE. Nobody wants you to have no social life, but you have to remember that you’ll come to work and your parents will need to rely on you.

I think that’s for now… I’ll be back if I remember anything else… but from what my host mom told me what she really appreciated during my interview (besides the experience with kids and the fact that I was a little older, parents do care about it too, host moms and/or dads here won’t let me lie) was the whole bunch of questions I asked… regarding everything, from kids to schedule to daily life to any diets or allergies. I talk too much sometimes, my host mom would agree with me on that too if she knew I’m posting on this site. LOL

MK April 25, 2009 at 1:56 am

When we were choosing our au pair, unfortunately, other families we spoke to referred to cultural stereotypes and cultural values. Friends of ours (though would never admit to anyone else) told us don’t chose au pairs from the UK, Canada or Australia b/c they only come to the US to party and have a good time. If you are not a party-goer, be upfront about it. Also the fact you speak english works in your favor…a lot of issues do arise from miscommunication with non-native English speakers. Good luck!

Darthastewart April 27, 2009 at 8:00 am

I would be very upfront with the family about what you are looking for. I’d also ask hard questions about how they handle discipline, mealtimes, what the kids eat, and get a very good understanding of their expectations. (i.e. do you do kids’ laundry? Clean their rooms? Do you eat meals with the family? when will you be able to take classes? What kinds of food does the family eat? Are you invited to go with the family when they go out? )

Jillian April 29, 2009 at 2:44 am

Being a native English speaker is definitely a big plus. I would also be upfront about religion; some families may have dietary restrictions or regular service attendance that you’ll benefit from knowing about. Lead with your strengths, if you’re a great driver let families know you’ve never been in an accident. Did you excel in any subjects in school? If you’re great with math offer your ability to help with homework. Anything extra that you can bring to a family will really help you to stand out. This may sound silly but our first au pair was from a coastal area where she went to the beach a lot, during our interview she said, “I’m very responsible, I’ll always remember to put sunscreen on the kids!” My husband and I laughed but that little remark really made her stand out in our minds.

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