What begins as a simple need for childcare, in many cases becomes so much more. It can lead to a child taking their first steps toward mastering a second language, fostering an early understanding and appreciation for traditions of other cultures, and cultivating an awareness that a much larger world exists outside of a child’s front door.
It all starts with the decision to employ an au pair, a young adult who arrives from another country to provide live-in childcare, and often ends up becoming like a member of the family themselves. While the au pair’s essential task is to help with childcare in exchange for room and board, a stipend, and college credit, the cultural commingling that comes along with the program often becomes the most memorable element for all involved.
We live in such a global community now, and we’re raising children to be global citizens,” says Jenny Bernard, Charleston area director for AuPairCare, an industry leader which has matched over 70,000 au pairs with U.S. families. “With an au pair, you can really open their eyes to other cultures.”
Regulated by the U.S. State Department, programs like AuPairCare begin with families interviewing potential au pairs via Skype, sending au pairs to AuPairCare’s four-day training academy in Newark, N.J., and the family greeting their new au pair at their local airport. The family provides the au pair with meals and lodging, while the au pair provides childcare for up to 10 hours a day and 45 hours a week. The program is for twelve months, with the option to extend for six, nine, or twelve more months.
However, the benefits of cultural exchange can last much longer. Here are four ways welcoming an au pair into your family can help children get a glimpse at a wider world.
1. Learning a Second Language
While the State Department mandates that au pairs be proficient in spoken English, adding a bilingual member to the family helps children get a jump start on learning a second language — which according to Cornell University researchers can help children improve cognitive development, and build a longer attention span.
“Host families can have au pairs whose native language is the same as one of the parent’s and they would like their children to become more proficient in it, or whose native language is one that the host family wants to introduce to their children,” explains Bernard.
2. Promoting Cultural Awareness
The presence of an au pair opens a child’s eyes to the world. At an early age, they can learn not just other languages, but also the tenets of other cultures such as holidays, festivals, and food.
“Say my family has an au pair from Brazil — they're learning the Brazilian culture, they're learning Portuguese, they're learning about how their au pair spends her holidays or what her family is like,” Bernard says. “It's a really neat relationship and gift that the parents are giving the child by giving them this this global connection.”
3. Bringing the World Together
When au pairs have free time, it’s not unusual for them to spend it with other au pairs in the same city. In Charleston, AuPairCare currently has au pairs from Peru, Mexico, Columbia, Brazil, Iceland, Germany and South Africa, and there are frequent events that bring together not just au pairs, but also their host families and the children they care for — multiplying the number of potential number of languages and cultures a child can be exposed to.
Bernard tells of a German au pair who took it upon herself to create “a real community of au pairs here in Charleston,” she adds. “She did an amazing job bringing the au pairs in the community together for park and museum outings, and, that, in turn, brought the host children together.”
4. Lasting a Lifetime
Under State Department visa regulations, two years is the longest an au pair can remain with the program. That means goodbyes can be emotional, given that au pairs often become like members of the family. But, thanks to modern communication, the benefits of cultural exchange can last a lifetime.
“Thankfully we live in a day where we can be still connected,” Bernard says. “So the au pair can still FaceTime and Skype with her host children. The relationships they form are so, so wonderful and so strong. These au pairs become part of the family forever. We hear about families that then host the au pair’s wedding, then go overseas and visit the au pair and the au pair’s children. They become a part of your life forever.”
It’s all part of the cultural cross-pollination that additionally includes a childcare provider that is trained in first aid, CPR, and childhood development. Interested in broadening your child’s worldview? Contact AuPairCare at (800) 428-7247 or visit their website at AuPairCare.com.