Yearly Archives: 2023

Avoiding Homesickness in the Holiday Season

Homesickness can be a problem during the holidays, even if it hasn’t been at any other time of the year. Au pairs often miss their friends and family, familiar places, and their own traditions and customs. The holiday activities in the United States seem, and may actually be, different just at a time when an au pair would welcome something familiar.

It is common for au pairs’ emotions to be close to the surface during the holidays. Her highs are higher, her lows are lower. The enormity of what she has done–actually living in another country (which is an amazing thing when you think about it!)–hits her and throws her into a self-protective mode.

Au Pairs, there are things you can do to reduce homesickness during the holidays. It is important to balance your activities to feel connected to your family back home and your traditions but also embrace new customs and experiences here in the U.S.

Lina and her friend enjoying one of the most popular celebrations of the year in Colombia. “Every December 7, Colombian families get together with very close friends to light several candles thinking about wishes for the coming year such as health, prosperity, love and happiness. It is also very traditional to share typical food from the region, and what can never be missing is wine and cookies.”

Share your traditions with your host family and friends. Each country has its own special holiday customs. Being friends with other au pairs, you can not only learn about the U.S. but also how other countries celebrate. When you talk with your family back home, you can share some of the new holiday experiences you are having. That can help lessen the feeling of missing out on moments at home by reminding you that you are here in the U.S. for a short time and you are making memories that will last a lifetime.

Host Parents can help her through this unfamiliar territory by talking to her about what your specific family activities will be (gifts, meals, visitors, religious services, in-home traditions, or none of these, as the case may be.) In the spirit of cultural exchange, ask her if she has any favorite holiday traditions or foods that you might be able to incorporate into your family’s celebration of the season. Let her know what you will be doing when you will be doing it, and what she can expect. Talk to her about what has to be accomplished and get her involved and interested. Don’t expect her to just “know” what needs to be done. Give her some clear, agreed-upon assignments. Make her feel a part of things. And, let her know her contribution is needed and appreciated.

Photo: Lina Cabeza Paez

Clothing & Accessories to Keep You Warm in the Winter

We created a blog post in October called Preparing for Cold Weather, with some general tips on layering and the kind of things you can wear to stay warm. I encourage you to check that out and then come back here for specific suggestions for clothing items.

Even though I have lived through very cold winters my entire life, I still get cold very easily. So, I can understand how difficult it is for many of you from warmer climates to get motivated to go outside when the temperatures drop below 10°C. But winter is just beginning and staying at home too much can lead to homesickness and depression. There are a few warm pieces of clothing you can get that can make all the difference.

Thermal Underwear Sets

Thermal Underwear sets are long-sleeve shirts and pants that are meant to be worn under other clothes to add warmth. This is a simple place to start.  You can search “thermal underwear set”. Here are examples for men and women.

Under Skirts and Dresses

Do you wish to wear a dress or skirt during the winter months? The secret is fleece-lined tights. They are actually warmer than a pair of jeans or any other typical pants.

You can find these on Amazon and many other online retailers. Here are the search terms to use: “fleece lined tights” or “thermal tights”. They come in solid black and some other colors, as well as some styles that look like sheer tights or bare legs, depending on your skin tone.

Here is one example that comes in a variety of skin tones and colors. When searching be aware that not all fleece-lined tights are as thick and warm. Look for pairs with lining like these below.

Under Jeans and Pants

You can also buy less expensive pairs of nylon leggings and tights to wear under other pairs of pants (especially distressed-style jeans with rips!). They are not as warm as the fleece-lined tights but they are snug enough to fit easily under other pants and combined with jeans or pants they keep you pretty warm. The more tightly woven the fabric the warmer it will normally keep you. Cotton is not as warm as nylon and polyester fabrics.

You probably already have some of these you were wearing by themselves. Try them under a pair of jeans and see how much warmer you feel. Here is one example, but you can find these at many clothing retailers.

Under Shirts & Sweaters

Just adding a simple long-sleeved T-shirt under another shirt will add warmth. You can get long-sleeved T-shirts inexpensively at places like Walmart. But there are also warmer long-sleeve shirts that are made to provide additional warmth under shirts and sweaters. Here are the search terms to use: “Long sleeve thermal top” or “Long sleeve fleece lined top”.

Here is one example that comes in several basic colors. But, remember you’ll be covering this up with other shirts, so you can probably get away with just buying a simple black, gray, or white shirt that will go with everything.

Hats, Gloves, & Scarves 

Even if you have the rest of your body dressed warmly, if you leave your head, neck, or hands uncovered or minimally covered you will still feel cold. You can get all of these items at local stores and online. Again look for tightly woven fabrics as they keep you warmer and let in less chill from the wind. Here is a basic set on Amazon.

Thermal Socks & Boots

You can find thermal socks that will keep your feet very warm. Here is one example. Winter boots can provide warmth and many styles are waterproof. These can be purchased online, at local stores, and at thrift stores (resell used items for a discounted cost). If you are wearing warm boots, you may only need to buy a fluffy/thick pair of socks that you can get inexpensively at lots of local retailers and online.

 Jackets, Coats, Snow Pants

It goes without saying that you will need to wear a warm jacket or coat over your clothes throughout the winter. These can be purchased online, at local stores, and at thrift stores (resell used items for a discounted cost).

If you will be outside in snow or very cold temperatures for an extended time, you can also purchase snow pants or snow bib overalls. They go over other pants and are both insulated and waterproof. Here are some examples for men and women.

Note: We are including links to help you see examples and not recommending any one retailer or brand over another and this is not a sponsored post.


Winter Sports & Sports Insurance

Trying out winter sports like ice skating, skiing, and snowboarding can be very exciting, especially if this is your first time experiencing winter weather. However, you should also know the risks and be prepared.

Is it risky to do winter sports without sports insurance?

Yes. If you have to pay your own hospital bills for a broken bone, you might be shocked at how much that would cost. I checked this website for some cost estimates.

Here are a couple examples:

  • Without medical coverage, treating a broken arm or leg (that does not require surgery) could cost up to $2,500.
  • Without medical coverage, treating a broken arm or leg (requiring surgery) could cost $16,000 or more.

You must understand how your medical coverage works for sports-related injuries. There is a list of “high-risk sports/activities” that are not covered by basic or upgrade medical insurance plans. Those activities are only covered by the Sports Insurance Package. (Snowtubing is the only snow sport that you already have coverage for without the sports insurance package.)

The Sports Insurance was available pre-departure and may also be purchased at any time during your year. It takes effect within 48 hours of your enrollment and is good for 12 months. The cost will be the same ($110 as of this posting) whether you have a month left or your whole year ahead of you. I recommend you pay for it early on if you haven’t already purchased it. You never know when an opportunity might present itself and you don’t want to miss out on an adventure. You also don’t want to risk getting injured and being responsible for the bill on your own.

Below is a partial list of sports that are only covered by the sports insurance package:
Football, Rugby, Scuba diving, Ski-doo,  Wakeboarding, Skydiving, Parachuting, Rock climbing, Zipline, Skateboarding, Rollerblading, Roller skating,  Ice Skating, SkiingSnowboardingSnowmobiles and Snowshoeing.  View the full list on your insurance brochure.

Note: Injuries sustained while partaking in these sports are ONLY covered with the purchase of Sports Insurance.

How to register for the Sports Insurance

To enroll in sports insurance, use the link found in the email sent to you with the subject “Au Pair in America Sports Insurance Upgrade Option”. Ask your community counselor if you are having trouble finding the email with the sports insurance enrollment link.

If you think you will be doing any of these sports, you should get it now.

Making Thanksgiving Memories Together

Thanksgiving is a public holiday celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November every year in the United States. It started as a harvest festival and has been celebrated nationally on and off since 1789.  The most important part of Thanksgiving for American families is to spend family time together.

Martin Cathrae


 “My favorite holiday was Thanksgiving. Firstly, it was my first holiday with the whole family in America. Secondly, the whole family came together. All aunts and uncles and their kids came to grandma’s. We played football with all of them, including grandma and grandpa. It was the first time I played it and it was so much fun for all. We had a great dinner with all the typical things you can imagine … it was deeeelicious! It was so great to be with such a big family and I really enjoyed that day. I will remember it my whole life, I hope.” – Swantje from Germany

Here are a few tips to help you have a terrific Thanksgiving experience.

Host Parents
Please plan to include your au pair in your Thanksgiving celebration, if at all possible. If you are traveling or will not be able to invite your au pair to join you for Thanksgiving, give her plenty of notice and help her make alternate plans. You don’t want to leave your au pair alone over the holiday.

Au Pairs
If you are invited to attend dinner, please let your family know within 5 days of the invitation, whether you are planning to attend, so they may make plans. If your host family is unable to include you in their Thanksgiving plans, please let me know if you have trouble making other plans, so I can assist.

Make sure to discuss time off during this holiday weekend. Many host families work the Friday after Thanksgiving so do not assume you have this day off or the entire weekend. Talk to your host family, BEFORE you make any plans.

Bonus Tip for the Kids
If you are looking for a fun recipe to make with your au pair, check out these turkey cookies. Find more fun activities and recipes on the Au Pair in America Fall Holidays pinboard.

Surviving & Thriving in the Holiday Season

The fall/winter holiday season is most often a time of joy and excitement. However, it can also be a time of stress and disappointment for both host families and au pairs.

Here are some ideas and insights that will hopefully help you avoid stress and disappointment and share more of the joy and excitement!

Holiday Work Schedules

Miscommunication over the schedule is the #1 issue for host families and au pairs over the holidays. As a reminder to assist with scheduling, program guidelines state an au pair can work up to 45 hours per week and no more than 10 hours per day. Hours cannot be carried from week to week. Please take the time to discuss your schedules and expectations.

The au pair program regulations do not have requirements for au pairs to be given holidays off. However, in the spirit of the program and since most parents will be at home spending time with their children, the majority of host families give au pairs some or all of the winter holidays off Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. Please discuss this so that everyone is clear about the schedule when making holiday plans.


For au pairs with religious beliefs different from your own, you may choose to encourage her to share the associated traditions with your family. If you are not comfortable with this aspect of cultural exchange, your au pair may need your help as well as appropriate time off to participate in her own holiday traditions. Enabling her to do this is very important. Her holiday or her time to celebrate the holiday may not be the same as yours; try to take this into consideration if you can when you make her work schedule. You may find that there is no conflict in giving her time off if her traditions are different, and it can relieve a great deal of anxiety to take her preferences into consideration. If you do need your au pair to work during the holiday, please tell her way in advance so that it is not a surprise. Help her to see this as a positive aspect of the cultural exchange if she will be actively sharing in the holiday celebration.

Changes to Routine

The dynamics of established relationships and routines change during the holiday. The high emotions and energy of the children (compared to their more reasonable behavior during the rest of the year) may seem like craziness to the au pair. Assure her that this new set of behaviors is temporary and the household will be back to normal soon. In the meantime, suggest specific things she can do to help. Encourage her to roll with the punches and enjoy the craziness. Also, the number of gifts, food, decorations, etc., can be unfamiliar and overwhelming. Try to include the au pair in some quiet, meaningful time together when the true spirit of the holidays is shared.

These are important days ahead. This is perhaps the greatest opportunity of the year to respect and learn about cultural differences, which is, indeed, one of the basic elements of the Au Pair in America program. There will be fun-filled memories. This should be a time of love and understanding. Please do your part to make that happen.

Wishing you every happiness of the season!

Photo: Sean Hobson

Preparing for Cold Weather

We’re in that time of year when DC temperatures start dipping a little lower. It can be 70°F (21°C) one day and 40°F (4°C) the next. But, that doesn’t mean you need to hide indoors. There are lots of ways to stay warm and enjoy the outdoors through fall and winter.

There is a Scandinavian saying…

If you come from a warmer climate this may sound impossible to you. Over the years I have noticed that the temperature difference is much easier on those who have a gradual adjustment. It allows your body time to adjust to the lower temperatures. So, that’s the good news for all of you who are already here. Your body is already getting adjusted, give your mind a chance to stay open to enjoying the outdoors.

The next thing to do is get yourself the proper clothing and accessories. Start shopping for cold weather clothing: sweater, coat, gloves, hat, scarf, long underwear & boots. Ask your host family if they have some you can use and/or if there are items they are planning to provide for you before you start to make purchases. Then start looking out for sales and checking thrift shops. Take a look at what you already have and think of ways to layer it. A long sleeve t-shirt under a sweatshirt may be as warm as a jacket. A pair of leggings or tights under a pair of jeans adds a lot of warmth. Search on YouTube and TikTok for videos giving more layering suggestions.

It may also help to remind yourself that people in other parts of the U.S. and other countries experience much colder temperatures than we do and are still able to enjoy the outdoors.

Pick your activities carefully. If you are sitting next to a fire pit or doing physical activity you will feel warmer. When you take the kids to the playground or out in the snow, don’t sit on the bench and watch. You will feel warmer and have more fun if you are actively involved and have fun with them.

If you have tips on enjoying the cold weather, please share them!

Camp Au Pair – Nature Exploration

This week’s Camp Au Pair theme is Nature Exploration.

Crafts, recipes, activities, and games can all be found here on the Camp Au Pair – Nature Exploration pinboard.

Field Trips can be a great way for kids to learn and have new experiences. You can start observing nature at any local park or in your own backyard. If you want to take it a step further,  Below is a list of other local places to go explore nature. Get permission from your host parents before any outings and check websites before you go for hours and information.

Safety note: When coming inside after you have been outside exploring nature, it’s always a good idea to check the children and yourself for ticks. For more information, take a look at this post.

  • Aviary
  • Farm
  • Natural History Museum
  • Nature Preserve
  • Park
  • Wildlife Rescue Center
  • Consider joining the Free Forest School to find outings near you.

Virtual Field Trips:

Webcams – You can do a Google search for websites with webcams that allow you to observe nature.

Videos – Look for fun videos on YouTube about nature.

Books – Check your bookshelves and/or stop by your local library and look for books on nature.  You can also find many read aloud book videos on YouTube. Here are a few to get you started.


Camp Au Pair – Outer Space

Next week’s Camp Au Pair theme is Outer Space.

Crafts, recipes, activities, and games related to outer space can all be found here on the Camp Au Pair – Outer Space pinboard. Here is a fun one that combines a science lesson, art, and snack time.

Field Trips can be a great way for kids to learn and have new experiences. Get permission from your host parents before any outings and be sure to check hours and admission information on the websites before you go. Here are a few places to go, that fit this theme:

  • Science Center
  • Planetarium
  • Space Museum
  • Play Place with a space-themed area

Webcams – You can do a Google search for websites with webcams that allow you to observe space. Here is one from the International Space Station to get you started.

Online Games – NASA has a gallery of free space games for kids.

Videos – Look for fun videos on YouTube about outer space. Here are a few to get you started.

The Magic School Bus is a television series that follows Ms. Frizzle and her class as they set off on field trips. Most episodes can be found on YouTube. Here are some episodes that fit this week’s theme.

Movies – Here are some movies that fit the space theme.

  • WALL-E
  • Zathura
  • Monsters vs. Aliens
  • Star Wars  

Here are some movies that are PG-13 and may be appropriate for older kids.

  • Hidden Figures
  • The Martian

Books – Stop by your local library and look for books on outer space. You can also find books being read aloud on Youtube.  Me & My Place in SpaceThere Was an Old Astronaut Who Swallowed the Moon, and Mae Among the Stars are a few fun ones to get you started.

Story Time from Space is a YouTube channel with real astronauts reading children’s books aloud.



Going Home & New Beginnings

Most au pairs have mixed feeling about returning home. As the program end nears, there is both excitement and nerves about adjusting to life at home.

Consider joining the Au Pair in America webinar for au pairs on July 31: Going Home? Tips for Leaving the U.S. and Settling in at Home. Check your email for registration information. 

Adapting to life back home will include some of the same emotions experienced with adjusting to life in the United States, such as:

  • Homesickness (this time for your American family and friends)
  • Rejecting things that are cultural norms in your home country
  • Adapting to a new environment and routine
  • Accepting your new situation

How do you prepare for going home? While you have been away, things at home may have changed. You have certainly changed, and after adapting to the American culture, you must adapt again to your own culture.

Here are some tips to consider as you prepare for the journey home:

  • Be flexible as you think about life back home, give yourself time to adjust, and don’t expect it to be easy every day.
  • Let yourself be sad and feel the loss of friends and family.
  • Reflect on your experience and acknowledge what you have gained and learned during your au pair year.
  • Focus on positive ways you have grown.
  • Make a list of the skills you have acquired or strengthened as an au pair.
  • Make your new resume!
  • You made it! Celebrate and be proud of your au pair achievements.
  • Going home is not the end of something….it’s the beginning of something new.

Image: torbakhopper (Flickr)

Camp Au Pair – Dinosaurs

Next week’s Camp Au Pair theme is Dinosaurs.

Crafts, recipes, activities, and games related to dinosaurs can all be found here on the Camp Au Pair – Dinosaurs pinboard.

Field Trips can be a great way for kids to learn and have new experiences. Get permission from your host parents before any outings and be sure to take all social distancing precautions.

Field Trip Ideas:

  • Children’s museum
  • Natural history museum
  • Parks with fossil hunting programs
  • Play spaces with dinosaur areas
  • Science centers

Virtual Field Trips:

Toys – Many kids have dinosaur toys already. See what your kids have and think of fun, new ways you can play with these toys with them. Imagine taking a plastic dinosaur and making footprints in play dough to form your own fossils.

Webcam – The Calvert Marine Museum in Maryland offers a webcam where you can watch paleontologists remove rock from around fossils.

Videos – Look for fun videos on YouTube about dinosaurs and fossils. Here are a few to get you started.

Movies – Here are some movies that fit the dinosaur theme.

  • Dinosaur
  • Dinosaur Island
  • Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
  • Land Before Time
  • Lego Jurassic World
  • The Good Dinosaur
  • Walking with Dinosaurs
  • We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story

For older kids:

  • Journey to the Center of the Earth
  • Jurassic Park (which is rated PG-13)

Books – Check your kids’ bookshelf for books on dinosaurs. You can also find many read aloud book videos on YouTube.