We love celebrating our au pairs here at AuPairCare. Every year we hold an Ultimate Au Pair Contest that celebrates participants who embody the spirit of the au pair cultural change program. Our au pairs, however, aren’t the only ones who make this program great – we are happy to announce our winner in our Ultimate Host Family contest! Our first place winner, Leana from South Africa, submitted a great entry about her family that shared her experience with love, family and cultural exchange. Read her entry on behalf of the McCauley family from San Francisco, California.
What is it about your host family that makes them the Ultimate Host Family?
I remember the day I arrived at the airport. I was going down the escalator, looking for my new family. It took me less than 5 seconds to spot the 3 energetic boys armed with flowers and a handmade poster reading: "Welcome Leana!" My entire being was flooded with emotions because I knew my greatest adventure was about to happen.
Over the last few months I have become very close to these 3 boys. They have become my companions, team and best friends. Cheesy, I know, but it's true! Patrick, the oldest, is the funniest, friendliest kid and always has a trick up his sleeve. He is always ready for a game. Donovan is super smart and will always challenge my knowledge and way of thinking. That makes him my greatest teacher. Walker is the most laid back kid ever. His curiosity and ability to learn something new every day makes every moment an adventure. He's very observant and can even tell me which train to take where. He's 3...
Kevin and Michelle welcomed me into their lives like I was a part of the family from the very first moment. It has never been otherwise ever since. There's a quote I once read and it describes exactly who they are as a family and what they are to me: "Family isn't always blood. It's the people in your life who wants you in theirs. The ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what."
What makes them the ultimate family is the little things they do for me. It's asking me if in had a good night's rest or if I need anything from the store. It's making extra coffee for me because they know I'd never say no to coffee. Checking in how my family and friends are doing back home. They help me whenever I have a question or concern and always add some extra advice. There's of course bigger things they do like always asking me to events, new restaurants or giving me an movie gift card for no reason ( I'm very passionate about movie making.) They biggest gift however is ALWAYS giving me the opportunity to travel with them. Tahoe, Monterey Bay Aquarium and even Legoland! They're always ready to listen when something is bothering me or if things get tough. Because let's face it, being an au pair can be hard! You're away from your friends and family, away from everything that's familiar. Away from your food, culture and language. BUT having a family this genuine, thoughtful, and loving makes me want to stay here forever...
What have you learned from your host family about American culture? What traditions have they shared with you?
Arriving a few days before Christmas, I was launched right into an American favorite holiday. And I loved it! We celebrate with family and friends by throwing a Christmas party. We even played Christmas themed games. After that followed Valentine's day where we all made handmade gifts for each other. I even had 3 Valentines this year! (Hint: They're names start with a P, D and W.) We had an unforgettable Easter completed with Easter baskets and an Easter egg hunt.
We had an amazing St Patrick's day where we went to the kids' school for a traditional Irish night. We dressed in green, had Irish food, Irish music and even Irish dancing. Hands down one of the best days of my life! ( And now one of my favorite holidays!) There's also all the other American and family traditions like BBQ's, paper plane contests whenever we have people over, dinner together every night as a family and movie night on Fridays. We are also looking forward to the 4th of July and Halloween. We are already discussing Halloween costumes...
What does the au pair program mean to you?
Words fail me every time I'm asked to say what the program mean to me. How do you explain something that literally changed not just your life but your entire being? My heart is scattered all over the world, little pieces of me with every person that I've met during my time in the States. And I've met people from every corner of the world. I have come to understand the world so much better. I grew up. I have learned to be content with myself and the life I get to live. And believe me I intend to live it to the fullest now. I am truly the best version of myself now.
I have not just learned a new culture but also more languages, more backgrounds, more people. I have learned how to communicate better (especially since everyone in the program don't always understand one another) and to be more patient. I have learned how to smile more, not just to the people I know and love but also to strangers. I've had infinite encounters and conversations with people from all over, every story echoing into eternity. Each of them taught and made me understand something more. Compassion, understanding and love for this big, beautiful world we live in.Without this program I would still be stuck in the same city I grew up in, talking to the same people I went to school with and eating the same food. But now there's always someone or something new. The world is waiting for me every day. I have learned to be with all kinds of people but also to be by myself. I can now manage my time and money better than before. I'm willing to always try new foods and new things. Because in the unknown is where our greatest adventures await.