Understanding that your newly arrived au pair will most likely experience some level of culture shock is important. Almost everyone experiences culture shock when they come to a completely new environment. Everything is different: the language, the food, the plumbing, the people.
The experience of culture shock comes from not knowing what to do or how to do things in a new environment, and not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate.
One of the most difficult parts of experiencing culture shock is that we often are unaware that we’re affected. We recognize that we are sad, lonely, and generally irritated that everything is going wrong, but we don’t know that it is a normal reaction to being immersed in a new culture. The feeling of culture shock generally sets in after the first few weeks of coming to a new place.
Some telltale signs of culture shock are:
- Preoccupation with minor physical discomforts
- Anger over minor frustrations
- Disturbed sleep patterns – too much or too little
- Changes in mood or behavior such as anger, irritability, resentment, or a persistent preference to be alone
- Idealizing your home country
- Inability to solve simple problems
- Lack of confidence
- Feelings of being lost, overlooked, exploited or abused
Immunity to culture shock does not necessarily come from being open-minded or full of good will (essential characteristics for a successful au pair), though these qualities do help with a speedy recovery. Some people are affected by culture shock more than others, but most au pairs go through an attack of it and then make a full recovery.
Although one can experience discomfort from culture shock, it is also an opportunity for learning and acquiring new perspectives. Culture shock can help develop a greater understanding of self.
There are things you can do to help your au pair work through feelings of Culture Shock and Homesickness.
Talk to your au pair. It is ok to ask if they are homesick or have any of the feelings listed above.
Encourage your au pair to:
- Take a class, develop a hobby.
- Be patient, becoming accustomed to the US will take time.
- Include a regular form of physical activity in your routine. Exercise such as taking a walk, going for a swim or enrolling in a yoga or aerobics class will all help.
- Relaxation and meditation are proven to be very positive for people who are passing through periods of stress.
- Maintain contact with people from her own country. This will give your au pair a feeling of belonging, and you will reduce your feelings of loneliness and alienation.
- Seek out opportunities to interact with Americans. This will help your au pair to learn English more quickly and adjust to cultural differences more easily.
- Volunteer in community activities. This helps your au pair stress less about language and is useful at the same time.
- Spend time with au pairs from other countries. This will give a more global view of the world, find out how others are experiencing being in the U.S., and put cultural differences into perspective.
Host families should include au pairs in their holiday traditions and let their au pair know they appreciate them being part of the family. A pat on the back can also go a long way when someone is experiencing bouts of culture shock.