Encouraging Cultural Exchange

ENCOURAGING CULTURAL EXCHANGE

Cultural differencesEncouraging cultural exchangeCultural activitiesCulture shock and adjustment cycleWorking through culture shock
By choosing the au pair program to fulfill your childcare needs, you have chosen to add a new member to your family. If you were welcoming a parent, aunt, cousin or niece into your household, the configuration and dynamics of your family would change substantially.

In hosting an au pair, you go one step further by adding a new family member who comes from an entirely different background, with different cultural beliefs, standards and practices. Combining 2 cultures within one family can be an exciting challenge with multiple rewards. However, it requires understanding, sensitivity and support of both differences and similarities.

CULTURAL DIFFERENCES

Breaking down stereotypes is critical to any cultural exchange program. Something that may seem silly or strange to you might be customary in your au pair’s home country. It is important to remember cultural differences are natural and should be respected. Remember: “It is not right and it is not wrong, it is just different.”

Please read this page carefully as it will provide you with background information that will allow you to find areas of common interest.

You might also want to pick up a book in the library, bookstore or do some research online about your au pair’s country. Once your au pair arrives, we suggest you all sit down and have an open discussion about your impressions of one another and each other’s countries. Use this as an opportunity to get to know each other. Seeing the humor and delight in our differences makes us seem all the more similar.

Your au pair has a genuine desire to learn about the customs and traditions of the U.S. and understand the cultural differences s/he will face during the year. It is important to make your au pair feel welcome in your home. Although you are not responsible for entertaining your au pair, make an effort to include her/him in family activities and community events. Remember to keep lines of communication open at all times-good communication is the key to a good relationship!

ENCOURAGING CULTURAL EXCHANGE

Your au pair has chosen to spend a year of her/his life living far from friends and family. There are many motivating reasons for this decision, not the least of which is to learn more about life in the U.S. You have chosen Cultural Care Au Pair as a childcare solution. The cultural exchange component of the program can be educational, enriching and rewarding for your family.

Here are some ideas for maximizing the benefits of cultural exchange:

When your au pair arrives, she/he has probably brought pictures from home. Ask to see the pictures, and ask your au pair about her/his family, hometown, country, etc.
Share information about your family, your occupation and your community.
Ask the au pair what she/he likes to eat. If her/his preferred foods are available locally, buy them and taste them. If your au pair likes to cook, invite her/him to cook dishes from home to share with the family. Start a cookbook with international favorites. Offer some American recipes to take home.
Show the au pair your children’s favorite storybooks and teach her/him nursery rhymes and songs that might be part of the everyday routine.
Encourage your au pair to teach the children songs, games and phrases from her/his country.
Have local maps and tourist information available to your au pair. Help her/him to plan a vacation to see other parts of the U.S.
Ask the au pair to show you and the children where she/he lives on a map or on a globe.
Encourage your au pair to visit the children’s school to share information about her/his country. Most teachers would embrace this opportunity.
In the U.S. we celebrate holidays that are either unique to this country, or are unique in how they are celebrated. Share your celebrations and give the au pair the opportunity to experience our holidays.
Your au pair may be of a different religion than you, but even if she/he isn’t, holiday customs may be different. Find out what they are, enable her/him to share them with you, and accommodate her/him whenever you can in her/his own celebration.
Explain customs and habits to your au pair that may seem routine to you but might be different for her/him. Don’t assume that she/he will know how we do things or understand what we do.
Encourage the au pair to tell you what seems strange about our country. Encourage her/him to ask you questions about how we do things in the U.S.
Include your au pair as part of the family’s activities but accept when she/he wants to go out on her/his own.
Investing time and energy in cultural exchange may someday culminate in a memorable trip to visit the au pair in her/his own country.
CULTURAL ACTIVITIES

Looking for ways to integrate culture into your child’s life? You will find many craft activities on the Forms and documents page. This section is dedicated to sharing fun activities designed to broaden your children’s perspective on the world, including:

Flag coloring sheets
Interested in showing your child the flags of the world? Download the flag coloring sheets and encourage them to color them in themselves.

Cultural memory game
This special game not only strengthens childrens’ memory, it shares facts about the countries from which we recruit our au pairs. Print 2 of each of them and start playing!

Calendar of international holidays
Ever wonder what the important holidays are in Brazil? When Austrians celebrate Easter? Or what the most unusual holiday in Russia is? Download and print our calendar of international holidays to learn more about celebrations around the world.

International craft sheets
Learn how to make handicrafts indigenous to many countries from which our au pairs are recruited with this handy resource. Your children and au pair will keep busy for hours!

CULTURE SHOCK AND ADJUSTMENT CYCLE

Although many of our au pairs have traveled outside their home country before, they will undoubtedly encounter some degree of culture shock during their year in the U.S. Culture shock is not continuous-it typically comes and goes in waves. People experience culture shock in varying degrees. Some people do not notice it at all, while others seem to be affected very much.

Some go through culture shock their first month, and others notice it much later. However, most people follow the same version of the following adjustment cycle:

Honeymoon Stage
Everything seems exciting and new.

Culture Fatigue
Au pair starts to see cultural differences, begins to feel uncomfortable, and is tired, both physically and mentally.

Surface Adjustment
Au pair begins to understand the people and their ways, and feels more comfortable.

Hidden Problems
Although outwardly she/he seems to be fitting in, s/he begins to question certain aspects of the culture. S/he is homesick and possibly has conflicts with family and friends. S/he might feel dissatisfied and thinks things would be better “if only . . .”

Fitting in
Au pair accepts the host culture and feels comfortable with the way of living. She/he might feel like a native of the host country.

Going home
Au pair begins to have mixed feelings about going home.

WORKING THROUGH CULTURE SHOCK

Your encouragement, support and understanding can help your au pair through these difficult times. The following suggestions are likely to ease any culture shock your au pair might encounter during the program year:

Encourage your au pair to meet with other au pairs in your area.
Your LCC will host monthly meetings for all the au pairs and whenever possible will arrange for a “buddy.”Keep the lines of communication open.
If problems arise, discuss them. Postponing them will only make things worse.Allow for “downtime” or recharging throughout the year.
This is important for your au pair, as well as your family.
Show genuine interest in your au pair’s culture.
Ask questions about her/his home country, family and culture and create a dialogue. Encourage her/him to prepare a favorite native meal for your family.

Help your au pair find ways of preserving her/his cultural identity.
If you feel she/he is going through a period of culture shock, do not give ultimatums, such as, “No more phone calls.” Doing so can create a “no-exit” feeling, since the calls might be considered a vital lifeline.

Monday, 4 January 2016 2:44 PM

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