Cultural exchange prepares us to face challenges and embrace opportunities. Host families, au pairs and the lucky children they look after share an ideal environment to take necessary risks and enjoy the rewards of learning from one another. Participating with an au pair program fosters a safe environment for personal development and intercultural learning. The experiences, values and skills obtained through cultural exchange support achievement in all aspects of life.
The importance of understanding other cultures cannot be underestimated. What’s different can intimidate and frighten. Fearing the unfamiliar limits our potential as individuals and nations. When we are afraid, our minds — and imaginations — are closed. We are guarded and act defensively in a posture which in turn may intimidate and frighten others. When we find a smidgeon of bravery and face our insecurities, we open up our world to opportunity and knowledge. As we learn about the unknown, we lose fear. We gain curiosity and confidence.
As children, we learn about the world through exploring our surroundings. We take risks and form opinions based on the resulting joy and pain we experience. Throughout life, we must continue to take such risks; failing to do so thwarts goals and stifles success. All too often, people look back on missed opportunities with regret.
Cultural exchange is a valuable asset to help us expand our opportunities, shape our character, and build social understanding. Embracing the process does require a bit of courage to overcome any insecurity we may have about looking or sounding foolish. Fortunately, the embarrassment is fleeting, and once the initial nerves wear off, the rewards are plentiful: superior outlook, new skills, enhanced awareness and improved ability to take similar chances in the future.
Fear is a big reason people fail in general. Opportunities are frequently masked as challenges, and sadly, we lose out when we give in to fears that we won’t be good enough; we don’t know enough; we’ll look foolish; and we’ll fail. Instead of being afraid, if we faced the challenge of these fleeting opportunities, we’d have improved; we’d have learned; and we’d look courageous — even if we didn’t ‘hit the ball out of the park’ so to speak. Overcoming fear is vital to success in any endeavor, including cultural exchange.
So, how do we overcome our initial insecurities to get started? In truth, some people are natural risk takers, and this won’t seem very daunting at all, but others are more cautious and might struggle to find the nerve. You may be lucky to get a push in the right direction from a colleague, friend or family member.
You may find courage from within yourself, or you may be motivated by the example of others. For instance, an au pair comes to the United States full of hope, curiosity and nervous jitters. The bravery of such an individual can inspire a family — even a whole community — to open up to the benefits of cultural exchange.
Each time you take a chance on yourself, you will grow. You will find it easier and easier, because you’ll learn from failures and triumphs. Even in less-than-ideal outcomes, you will have learned to tolerate change and adapt when necessary. These skills prepare you for a lifetime of successful goal setting and achievement.
Children fortunate enough to have au pairs as caregivers have the benefit of a brave example and the advantage of intercultural exchange in their home to foster lifelong learning. With the compassionate care of an au pair from another country, these lucky youth explore similarities and differences to develop their innate curiosity, instead of stifling it in fear. With bravery, communication, compassion and self-confidence, these young people are primed for leadership and success.