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! Au pair Isabella from South Africa submitted a fantastic entry about her family that shared her experience of cultural exchange and becoming a true member of the family. Read her entry on behalf of the Kelly Family from Fitchburg, Wisconsin!
Why do you have the Ultimate Host Family?
I decided to become an au pair in hopes that I would not only be able to travel and experience a new culture but that I could be a blessing to someone else. After going into a tough rematch and seeing covid-19 spread rapidly across the globe I had almost lost all hope. I was tired, hopeless...ready to go home. But then I met this amazing host family. Suddenly everything that I had read on the websites and brochures of au pair companies had become my reality. Here I was, in a state I have never heard of, eating new foods, enveloped with the love of strangers that had become family in a matter of days.
They do everything they can to show me the American culture. From getting typical American foods like candy corn, and laughing when I make funny faces tasting them, to taking me along on family vacations. They always listen intently when I talk about South Africa. But the most important thing is that they help me to grow. And that's what makes them the ultimate host family. I'm pretty sure they don't even realize it. They don't force it on me or push me to evolve. They simply motivate me and give me the freedom to do so. In the months I've been with them I've learned not only more about America but also a ton about myself. Whenever I tell them about something new I've discovered they don't snicker or judge me, they help me to learn more about it. I've grown in patience and understanding when it comes to kids. I've learned that I actually like hummus, baked beans, and celery! I remember the first time I had to make a meal in the US. Suddenly I had forgotten everything my mom had taught me over the years. The hours I spent in the kitchen with her seemed like they had been for nothing. Now I walk into a kitchen with confidence. I look at a recipe and I make it. Never questioning if I can do it but rather if I can find all the ingredients in this country! I couldn't have done any of that without my extraordinary host family.
Whenever I struggle with something I can always count on my host parents to help me or even just listen to me figuring it out. Little did I know how much of a blessing this family would be to me. Now I hope that they will inspire more host families.
I am not the same person I was when I got onto that airplane in February. I am a person who underwent extreme growth. Growth that has only been possible when paired with the love of my host family.
What special moments have you and your host family shared?
I went into a rematch at a hard time of the year. Covid-19 had just hit America. Mainly hitting NYC with a tsunami of cases. Since I had to leave from Newark airport my risk of exposure was huge. My new host mom arranged that a package with sanitizing necessities got dropped off by my previous house. She did that all the way from Wisconsin, states away. A woman I had never met before. It was late one evening when I finally walked into my new room. A basket full of welcome goodies on my dresser and my parents faces greeting me from the photo frames on my bedroom wall. A heater already on and sheets on my bed. The little things only a mom would think to do. I remember being afraid that my two weeks in quarantine would make things awkward and strange between all of us. That it would be difficult to connect with the girls after 2 weeks of not being able to play with them or hug them. I was afraid of finding out that I wasn't cut out to be an au pair after all. When my time was up they didn't wait to get to know me before they loved me. They just simply loved me and accepted me the way I came. All my doubts went away and now I can't imagine what my life would've been like if I didn't become an Au pair. I am always asked if I want to join for walks, dinners and family activities.
I am more than an au pair in their house. I feel like one of their daughters.
How have you and your host family shared your culture with each other?
One of the most important things is that they make me feel comfortable. It's a very odd thing living in a stranger's house and yet I know every nook and cranny of it. I didn't grow up in it and I had no previous memories here, yet...I never thought I'd say this, but it has become my second home. It's no longer a "stranger's home" it's my home. Every month they ask me if I am craving anything specific from my home country. My host mom even got me biltong, a traditional food in South Africa, for my birthday and Christmas. It's quite hard to find in the US. There's Black licorice and rooibos tea always in the house for the days that I feel nostalgic and homesick. And after everything they do for me, my favorite thing is the way they support me and help me to grow. When I wanted to buy a ukulele my host mom helped me order it online. My host parents were the ones talking to bank managers and waiting on hold for hours to help me with my bank accounts. My host dad took me driving. He never yelled, never even raised an eyebrow on the road. My host mom gives me all her recipes without hesitation. Allowing me to roam free in her kitchen and try to make anything my heart desires. Every time I make something from my home country I can see how much they enjoy the new experience even if they don't love the taste.
I often speak up when I see the differences between our cultures, explaining what my home is like and how I experience America. They tell me everything they can and if they can't you bet they'll look it up. We love figuring out what the similarities of our two cultures and countries are.
I was nervous the first time I met their extended family and friends. Nervous about feeling like an outsider or being treated as "the nanny". However it took one side hug from my host dad and a loving smile from my host mom to assure me that they had my back. I'm one of their people. Now everyone knows I'm part of the package. This year has been full of uncertainty and it's been hard to be away from my parents but having a loving and caring host family just makes it so much easier. I appreciate everything they've done for me big and small. But I know that the things I'll remember will be the little ones. The way my host kids count me in at school as part of the family. A little hand reaching over the car seat towards mine when we're on a road trip. A surprise hug when I come into a room...Those are the things I'll miss the most.
The part I appreciate and love the most is that I get to see these little people grow. I get to make memories with them and share life with them, even if it's only for a short time of their lives. It's a gift many au pairs don't realize they've received. Your goal as au pair should be to grow as an individual. The rest is a bonus! My host family isn't the ultimate host family, because they give me a great schedule, buy me special foods or give me gifts. AuPairCare says on their website that: "Becoming an au pair in America is unlike any other experience you'll have. It combines your love for kids with cultural exchange, travel, learning and friendship". My host family is the ultimate host family, because that's exactly what my experience as an au pair has been like.
They have given 100% to make my year as an au pair exactly what I dreamt it would be even with the current pandemic.
Yes, it's true au pairing is unlike any other experience you'll have and it does combine all those things mentioned. What they don't mention is the possibility that your definition of family might change. It might change from: "people who are related to you by blood" to "people who are related to you by love and shared memories". You might find yourself leaving the US sad. Sad because you're leaving behind family...