Au Pair Advice: Send a welcome package to your Au Pair’s orientation

by cv harquail on September 10, 2008

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ap welcome package

Almost everyone loves to get presents and almost everyone loves to get mail. Put these two things together by sending your au pair a welcome package, and you’re probably going to make her feel happy, welcomed, and maybe even special.

Once upon a time, when I thought that I was the only host mom who’d ever had this idea, I imagined that our au pair might feel a bit special relative to au pairs who didn’t receive packages or phone calls. [Note: Rayann tells us in the comments, below, that Au Pair Care specifically disallows packages for this very reason! Check out her suggestions.]

More recently, I’ve learned two things:

(1) Many host families send letters, postcards, flowers, and/or packages to help welcome their new au pair, and

(2) I don’t ever want to rely on making my au pair feel good because she is comparing herself to someone who’s without in some way or another.

Still because I personally love to get presents and love to get mail, I’ve stuck with the welcome package idea. I think a welcome package is one tangible way to help your new au pair feel welcomed and to generate some excitement for her. Putting the package together can also be a fun activity for your kids … I’ve had mine help me pick out all sorts of treats and toys, which has help them feel generous and welcoming themselves.

What might you include in a welcome package?

Above is a photo of the contents of a welcome package that I sent to one of our au pairs.  It included many of the things I’ve sent before, like:

  1. Some candy (just a few tasty treats). Send enough that she can share with some of her new au pair friends.
  2. A “town spirit” item: some kind of clothing with the name of our town or our children’s school
  3. A cute stuffed animal (in this case, a USA Beannie Baby)
  4. Something silly and fun to read in English and to get her acquainted with pop culture — here, a Glamour Magazine, and in previous years a few back issues of People
  5. Some memo pads, post-its, or small notebook to jot down information about new friends
  6. Tourist information about New York City (because au pairs often go on a New York City trip either during orientation or some time during their au pair year)
  7. Information about our town — sometimes, the arts section of our local newspaper, or one of those annual booklets that merchants put out that lists all of the restaurants, cute shops, and monthly activities that go on in town
  8. A phone card for making a few long-distance “I’m really here!” calls to home
  9. A photograph of the girls, our dog, or something else we hope she’s looking forward to
  10. A few maps of our town and our state. You’d be amazed at how much it helps au pairs at orientation to be able to locate where their new friends are going to be, relative to their own host family’s town.
  11. A handwritten note from me, and sometimes cards from my children.

How to mail the package

I found that I have to go the extra mile when I make plans to mail the package, because in previous years I’ve had some packages get lost and some packages not make it to the au pair until the last day of her orientation, when it’s almost too late to make her feel special. Please learn from my mistakes, and consider the following suggestions!

  • Mail the package directly to the orientation hotel.  You can usually get the address of the orientation hotel from your au pair agency.  If you have her e-mail address, send your au pair an e-mail to let her know to look for a package.
  • Address the package to the au pair, care of the agency, with the hotel address.  Also, write on the front of the package  “Guest (au pair name) will be arriving Sunday night (date), with (name of agency).”
  • Mail the package several days before orientation will begin, because you don’t want to spend $18 to overnight mail a package that’s filled with only $15 worth of stuff.
  • On the day that you expect the package to arrive, telephone the hotel front desk, and tell them to be on the lookout for the package.
  • Telephone your au pair at the hotel, and tell her to be on the lookout for the package.  Confirm that she got the package when you talk with her during orientation.

Other tips   gift bear

I’ve heard of only one bad idea re: the welcome package, which prompts this last tip:

Do not use this as an opportunity to get rid of one of your kids’ random, too-many stuffed animals. One of my friends did that, and it completely escaped her that the animal would come back to their house, and she’d have to explain this to her son. That was an interesting story…

Other thoughts

It’s been fun to pick up our au pairs at the airport and be able to pick them our from afar because they are wearing the ‘town spirit’  item we sent them in their welcome package!

It may also be a little too much to give her presents when she has just arrived, but remember that your au pair comes with gifts for you from her home country.

Anybody have some suggestions on things to include? Any insights or downsides? Share them, below!!

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Rayann September 17, 2008 at 10:00 pm

Some agencies (i.e., Au Pair Care), strictly forbid host families from sending ANYTHING (gifts, flowers, balloons, etc..) to the incoming au pair at orientation. So being the rule abiding host family that we are, we didn’t…but what we did do, was send something to our incoming au pair prior to her leaving her home country.

Our au pair had shared with us through emails that her parents were very worried about her, and although they supported her decision, they were nervous about it. We sent them (and her) a coffee table book about our home state and inside it we wrote a note to them, thanking them for allowing their daughter to come be a part of our family for a year. We told them how excited we were to have her, etc…. Although they don’t read English, she translated, and said it that it touched her family deeply – and touched her, too.

It’s a bit cheesy, but I think it went a long way towards forging what is a great relationship.

cvh September 17, 2008 at 11:37 pm

Rayann– Thanks so much for letting me know that some agencies forbid the packages! (I can understand why). Your solution is great and it is so NOT cheesy! Thanks for your comments!

Lisajoy Marinello September 19, 2008 at 1:37 pm

Does Cultural Care have a rule about packages? They offer a package to buy from them but for $75 I can make a much nicer one on my own :) Our au pair is scheduled to arrive to USA on 10/6 and to us on 10/10. Thanks!

Stephanie Rueter December 5, 2008 at 6:54 pm

Hi there, Cultural Care actually welcomes families to send their own care packages if they want to. You can ship them to [Au Pair Name], c/o Cultural Care Au Pair Training School, St. John’s University, 500 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, NY.

And yes, we also have welcome baskets available on our online store if you find yourself short on time! The baskets contain lots of nice goodies and cover the cost of the New York City tour.

Rayann, I second your idea! It’s often difficult for an au pair’s family to see her go but making an effort to show them you cared about their daughter obviously made a huge difference.

Stephanie Rueter December 5, 2008 at 6:56 pm

Whoops, I forgot the zip code for the Cultural Care Training School. It’s 11769.

Ann Levine December 9, 2008 at 3:22 pm

This was so helpful – especially Stephanie providing the address for Cultural care. THANK YOU!

Edina Stone February 9, 2009 at 2:40 am

Nice idea for the au pair, however many au pairs who do NOT get packages look on with envy and disappointment when your au pair opens hers! The best way to handle this is a Welcome Basket that is waiting for her in her room! You can put in bathroom toiletries, magazines, map of your town, address and phone list of all the au pairs in your cluster, your counselor’s business card, Starbuck’s gift card and a lovely note handmade by the family. This is a more personal gift and avoids hurting the feelings of other au pairs she may be rooming with that do not receive a welcome gift.

It is also a great way to get the children involved – they can choose items to go in the au pair’s Welcome Basket, draw the picture card, and begin to learn about her country (point out on a globe where she lives; take them to the library and get a few books on her culture and country, or just google information online). You not only make a personal gift that gets your children involved, you are role modeling for them “our new au pair is special” and she should be treated that way.

Have fun with whatever you choose!

TMK February 26, 2009 at 12:10 pm

I’d like to clarify Rayann remarks, she is referring strictly to the hotel room in which they occupy for just 3 days when they attend orientation. It is hard for an overladen au pair to also transport vases of flowers, presents and packages in route to your home. I chose to use Au Pair Care and their paperwork encourages the sending of these very packages to the Au Pair’s HOME before she leaves. Rayann’s remarks do say orientation but the follow up remarks made sound as they think it’s completely discouraged. My area director for Au Pair Care even gave me personal suggestions of great items to include in my AP’s box which I mailed to her home one month before she was due to arrive, so she could pack it nicely when she traveled.

NoVA Host Mom January 28, 2010 at 4:18 pm

I discovered this blog only after we were having trouble with our first AP, so missed this post when I needed it, but here it goes:

When our first AP arrived in November 2008, I created a welcome package for her. We had received many mailings (and e-mails) from our agency and LCC about making sure our AP does not feel left out and making sure she is not the one who gets nothing. That, and we were “strongly encouraged” to pay for the night trip into NYC. Nothing like a little peer pressure to make a new family on a very tight budget feel overwhelmed.

Anyway, in the spirit of blind faith (and not knowing any better), I did what I considered to be my HM duty. I created the welcome package with the following: fuzzy socks (for walking around the hotel); scarf, hat and gloves (from TJ Maxx, as NoVA is cold then, and NYC is colder); snacks in the form of little VA peanut packs; a small photo album with a picture of our newborn daughter (2mo old at AP’s arrival) and a disposable camera; an international phone card to call home; a postcard book of our area sights (DC Metro/NoVA); a calendar from a major national park nearest our home; a photo book from the same park; and a welcome letter from HD and me.

Writing it out is sounds like a lot, but I promise I did not spend more than $50 (I saw what the pre-packaged gift were that the agency offered, and knew I could shop better than that).

In the future, I will likely review this and see what happens. Things went so badly so quickly for us (despite my resolute efforts to beat the dead horse for a total of 4 months trying to make it work), that I admit to feeling rather burned by the experience and putting so much out there. I want them to feel welcome, but I do not want them to feel like their wish is our command either. There certainly needs to be some sort of balance so that APs understand that just because we have them it does not mean there is no financial hardship for the HF involved. I always got the impression from the first AP that she thought we must be loaded since we were in the US and thus were able to shell out more and more “entitlements” to her. Pity she never bothered to try to understand “needs” vs “wants”.

I like the idea of just having HFs write letters of welcome, maybe providing a $10 or $15 international calling card and calling it a day for that part of things. Much better than allowing the comparison to happen.

PA Au Pair Mom January 28, 2010 at 4:59 pm

You are absolutely right about the “rich Americans” mentality.

Our last AP wanted us to send her on a Hawaiian vacation with 2 other APs. We just couldn’t afford it. She threw a fit worthy of a 2 year old minus a nap for 3 consecutive days. Crying, screaming, swearing…the whole thing.

She deduced that because we live in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood and drive decent cars, that we must be loaded. NOT SO!!!

A lot of her AP friends lived in families where both host parents were doctors and the AP drove brand new BMWs, Acuras, Volvos, etc. Ours had a fairly new (2 years), loaded Honda Accord but called it the “beater”.

Anonymous January 28, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Yeah, I’ve had that, too! The car that our AP gets to use if it’s available during her free time (because she’d rather drive a sedan than a minivan!) is experiencing transmission problems and we can’t really afford to spend a lot on repairs just now. Our AP asked why we don’t just buy a new car instead. Like if we can’t afford a couple of thou’ for a transmission, we can drop $30K+ for a new one instead?! (Obviously, we could get a smaller, less expensive car for less, but since it’s not exclusively for the AP, it needs to meet our safety standards for driving the children, parents to work, etc.) I’m constantly amazed at the sense of entitlement and cluelessness as to the value of things on the APs’ part. Believe me, I’d love to have six weeks of paid vacation a year like many Europeans do!

Anonymous January 28, 2010 at 8:39 pm

RE: the vacation – Are you being SERIOUS?! :o How old was this AP?!

Soccer Mom January 30, 2010 at 12:22 am

Wow! Did the AP make it through the year? I hope she matured with time?

Anonymous January 28, 2010 at 8:24 pm

And to be fair, our current AP seems to actually get that we don’t just go buy whatever we want, and that everything we do have is there because choices were made (like yes, we are members of a country club however we are b/c of the pool and instead don’t take lots of beach weekends or other little get-aways, or even eat out frequently anymore). In fact, some of my “creative saving” when shopping (sales with coupons and the frequent buyer cards = $$$) seems to have rubbed off on her and she did quite nicely with not only her airline ticket ($250 less than her friend traveling the same time), but also her laptop and iTouch.

Not all APs are like our first, but I definately got that “HM won’t miss it b/c she can afford to replace it” vibe. Sorry, but as a 2-income family that was down to 1 for 3 weeks during maternity and AP arrival, that just was not the case. My HM-dar will be up and running next year when we need to find another AP.

NoVA Host Mom January 28, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Sorry, that last “Anonymous” was me (re: country club and old AP). I used a different PC and forgot I was no longer signed in. My bad!

Anonymous January 30, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Hi!!I loved this website even because I used to be an au pair and is good ( and funny) to know how the hostmom fells about us!
So, as I said, I was an au pair, and I didn’t recieve any stuff from my hostfamily when I arrived. ALL my friends recieved something, but not me. I felt soo sad , but the hostmom said she didn’t send me anything because she could give me something personal at home, what didn’t happen…. So, If you, hostmoms can, send something, teddy bear, post card or something, even something sot expensive as that cultural care basket, because WE FEEL WELCOME AND REALLY REALLY nice!! We are far away from home, mommy, daddy and friends and everybody like gifts! So that’s it! It’s just a advice!! Have you hostmoms, a nice year with the au pairs!!

Current Au Pair April 15, 2010 at 2:17 am

I don’t agree with the previous comment. I’m working as an au pair at the moment and when I arrived in NYC 8 months ago I didn’t have a package waiting for me either. I was disappointed for a moment, but I don’t think it’s a must! A little card or note would be nice and that should be more than enough. I think it’s good that some organizations don’t want a host-family to send a welcome packages!

1) It’s stupid to have that contest of who-can-make-the-best-basket. Moms and dads are busy enough, that’s why they’re inviting an au pair into their home! The fact that au pair organizations offer expensive welcome baskets sounds even more stupid!
2) A little note, card or maybe a phone call or e-mail already means a lot! You only have to acknowledge the fact that you’re new AP has arrived, it’s nice when you take a minute to think of her/him.
3) My previous HM made me a little basket with some shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc. and a nice welcome card in it and put it in my room when I arrived at my new home. This made me feel really welcome and it was useful indeed, because Target and Walmart can indeed be VERY confusing when you have to get used to all the new brands :) Just put some of your personal favorites in it. When the AP likes it, at least she knows what to look for the next time she goes to the store, haha.

BTW, even though my previous HM made this wonderful basket and made me feel at home, it didn’t work out with this family and I went in rematch 4 months later. I felt really bad about it but it was inevitable, even though they really welcomed me in their home!

Cyndi August 26, 2011 at 2:43 pm

I was an Au Pair that received a welcome basket at the training school, and I felt sorry for those that didn’t receive a basket at the school. It was a nice gesture from my host family who I know aren’t “loaded”.

I didn’t receive any kind of welcome basket in my bedroom when I arrived at the family home, and I’m glad about that, because I have sensitive skin and I’m very picky about my shampoo, soap etc, and would have felt bad that they had spent money on something I could not use.

The best thing my host mom did to welcome me was that she sent me a text message while I was at the training school saying that she knew the training school food was bad, and asking me what I wanted for dinner on my first weekend here – and then she prepared yummy meals on Friday and Saturday night of some of my favourite foods!

_ August 26, 2011 at 3:38 pm

I have to agree —I too got the welcome package in the Training School, and while I was very much glad my hostfamily thought of that package & the NewYork city tour and all that as a good present (& I loved it), it was indeed quite uncomfortable with all the other girls that didn’t get it. I don’t think host families should feel “obligated” to give a gift to their new aupairs at the training school or at home or anything, but maybe it will be considerable to let them know beforehand —“we hope you don’t feel bad you are not getting a package ((because many girls actually do feel bad and question the year ahead with their host family :( )) , we are still very excited for your arrival and can’t wait to see you!”—- or something simple of that sort ;)

Just my opinion…. :)

AFHostMom January 3, 2012 at 12:59 am

I am wording an email to our inbound au pair right now. I was thinking of trying to explain that she won’t be getting a basket (We’re going to do a card with a $20 visa card for her to get snacks and stuff at the hotel, or whatever she wants, a few pictures, and probably the NYC tour). I think, though, that I’ll save that for right before her departure from her home (next week!), or just write it in the card I send.

PeanutButter January 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm

I’m getting ready to welcome my second au pair. I did not send a package to my first AP’s hotel (didn’t really think about it), but I did have a nice basket (actually a cute pink bag) of items in her room to welcome her. I don’t think my first AP would have been able to carry anything more than she already packed!
I sent my incoming AP a small care package and told her I would not send her anything at orientation due to agency rules. This mailed package included a passport holder in her favorite color (red), two red luggage tags with her name and our address, some jelly beans, a baseball cap from DC, a DC tourist guide and some other small trinkets (a DC pen, a pin with the US and Brazil flag).

In her room I will some small snacks, a bathrobe gift set (scored a great post Christmas deal!), some toiletries to get her through a week or so, some stationary items personalized with her first initial I found in the dollar section of a craft store and an inexpensive English dictionary I found at an office supply store. With my first AP, I knew she had a favorite siamese cat and was able to find online a stuffed animal that looked just like her kittie (she loved it). Oh, I also bought a couple of international stamps so she could send letters.

But, I think the best idea I totally stole from another host mom: I asked my AP to send me some of her favorite pictures of her family, friends and pets (I told her it would help us get to know her and that my daughter loves to look at pictures, which she does). I printed these out and hung placed them in frames in her room and on a fancy bulletin board. She loved it and I think it really made her room feel like her space.
Thanks HM and HDs for all of the other great ideas! I really like the idea of calling the hotel during orientation and plan on doing that this go around.

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