Tag Archives: cultural exchange

Dealing with Social Distancing

The coronavirus has caused lots of temporary changes to our daily routines. Right now, we are being asked to practice “social distancing” to reduce the spread of the virus.

What is social distancing?
Social distancing is a way to keep people from interacting as closely or frequently enough to spread the virus. Schools, sporting events and concerts are being canceled. People are being asked to stay at home more to avoid being in contact with a large number of people.

What are some ways to take care of yourself?
Some people may feel anxious, lonely or frustrated and that is totally normal. It can be very helpful to talk with friends and family about those feelings. It helps to know that others are going through these same emotions. Reach out to your community counselor if you need support during this time.

It is very important to practice good self-care. Connect with people you love via Skype and text, maintain a healthy diet, stay active, make plans for things you want to do once things get back to normal. Staying out of crowds doesn’t have to mean just staying in the home. You can go for walks and enjoy nature. Both exercise and spending time in nature are beneficial for your mental health.

Where can you get practical tips for dealing with social distancing?
We recognize that some of these changes will require patience and resourcefulness. During this time, we will be doing a series of blog posts with resources to assist you with two specific aspects of this situation:

  • Ideas for keeping the kids occupied (while they are home from school)
  • Ways to continue your cultural exchange from home

Photo: Meg Willis  

2020 Challenge: Collect Moments, Not Things

Common problem: “It’s the end of my au pair year and I have sooooo much stuff! It’s going to cost me a fortune in extra baggage fees.”

This post is about one way to prevent that problem.

I know it can be tempting. There are so many beautiful things and great sales out there. But in 2020, I challenge you to take a moment before each purchase and ask yourself:

  • Do I really need this?
  • Do I want it enough to pay extra baggage fees to get it home later?
  • What experience could I have with this money instead? For example, you might ask yourself, “Would I rather have these designer shoes or a ticket to a concert?”

Being an au pair can be an amazing time in your life where you have the opportunity to try new things and see new places. The more money you save for travel, the more of those unforgettable moments you will have to carry home with you.

Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.

Photo: Canva.com

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.

 

Celebrating the 4th of July in DC (2019)

The 4th of July celebrates the date American colonists declared independence from Great Britain in 1776. Also called Independence Day, the 4th of July is commemorated throughout the USA with fireworks, parades, concerts, family gatherings, and cookouts.

As the nation’s capital, Washington, DC, is the perfect place to celebrate this truly American holiday. Here are just a few of the many celebrations in DC:
Continue reading

Amazing Cluster Meeting at US Capitol

More than 700 Au Pair in America au pairs from 30 DC/Maryland/Virginia area clusters came together on Saturday, March 9 to tour the US Capitol. We were joined by Au Pair in America director, Ruth Ferry. We had a wonderful time and an amazing photo.

Au Pair in America au pairs from the DC/MD/VA area, their Community Counselors and APIA director, Ruth Ferry

Touring the US Capitol is a highlight of any visit to Washington, DC. The Visitor Center offers free online tickets and a limited number of same-day tickets. The tour starts off with a brief and engaging video with some history on the Capitol Building and the US in general. The tour guides are knowledgeable and will take you to some of the building’s most iconic locations.

Touring the US Capitol is a highlight for our cluster every year.

Christmas 2018

We have host families from a wide variety of backgrounds and faiths; some of our host families celebrate Christmas, some celebrate Hanukkah, some celebrate Kwanzaa, and some celebrate more than one holiday or none at all. If you’re an au pair living with a host family who celebrates Christmas and you do not, I encourage you to take part and experience it with them. This can be a great opportunity for learning and culture sharing. I also encourage host families to ask their au pairs to share their holiday traditions and customs. 

 

History

Christmas is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. For two millennia, people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature. Christians celebrate Christmas Day as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a spiritual leader whose teachings form the basis of their religion.

Image: Alan Cleaver (Flickr)

Image: Alan Cleaver (Flickr)

In the United States, popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. December 25–Christmas Day–has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870. (Source: History.com)

Christmas Traditions in the US

Infographic: History.com

Infographic: History.com

In the US, Americans celebrate Christmas with traditions that have been introduced from different cultures as well as some uniquely American celebrations.

  • The period of time in the US from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day is called “the holidays.”
  • Decorated Christmas trees begin lighting up windows in homes, and shops and outdoor plazas shortly after Thanksgiving.
  • Christmas tree ornaments can be found in almost every store, but many families have boxes of treasured ornaments made by children out of paper and other crafts which are lovingly hung year after year.
  • Christmas lights decorate trees indoors as well as the front lawns and porches of houses. Many parks have special holiday light displays.
  • Children write letters to Santa Claus requesting gifts. Shopping malls, parties, churches, and some schools host events where children can have their photo taken with Santa Claus and ask him for gifts in-person.
  • Christians remember the birth of Christ with nativity scenes displayed on church lawns, Christmas pageants performed by children in churches and some schools, and delicate, often handcrafted manger scenes set out among the Christmas decor at home.
  • On December 24, Christmas Eve, many families have special traditions and often attend Christmas Eve church services. Children hang Christmas stockings, leave cookies and milk for Santa Claus, and try their best to fall asleep so Santa can deliver their presents.
  • On December 25, Christmas Day, children wake up early to see the gifts Santa Claus left them. Families exchange gifts, which have been wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree.
  • Americans mail Christmas and holiday cards (often with photos of the family) throughout the holiday season. In 2010, Americans mailed 1.5 billion holiday cards.
  • Source: Moo.com

    Source: Moo.com

    Many Americans view the same beloved Christmas movies year after year. Some classic favorites include, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Christmas Story,” “Home Alone,” “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” “Elf” and “A Miracle on 34th Street.”


The 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree (Forest Service photo by Cecilio Ricardo)

Celebrating Christmas in Washington, DC

A very Merry Christmas to all!

Hanukkah 2018

You can visit the world's largest menorah on the Ellipse in Washington, DC. Photo: Ted Eytan (Flickr)

You can visit the world’s largest menorah on the Ellipse in Washington, DC. Photo: Ted Eytan (Flickr)

We have host families from a wide variety of backgrounds and faiths; some host families celebrate Hanukkah, some celebrate Christmas, some celebrate Kwanzaa, and some celebrate more than one holiday or none at all. If you’re an au pair living with a host family who celebrates Hanukkah and you do not, I encourage you to take part and experience it with them. This can be a great opportunity for learning and culture sharing. I also encourage host families to ask their au pairs to share their holiday traditions and customs. 

Hanukkah is the Jewish Feast of Lights or Feast of Dedication. The Hebrew word Hanukkah means dedication. The holiday begins on the eve of the 25th day of the Hebrew Month of Kislev and lasts eight days. Hanukkah usually falls in the month of December, but occasionally can start in November. This year Hanukkah begins at sundown on Sunday, December 2, 2018, and ends the evening of Monday, December 10, 2018

How Do You Spell Hanukkah?

According to Judaism 101, the process of writing Hebrew words in the Roman (English) alphabet is known as transliteration. Transliteration is more an art than a science, and opinions on the correct way to transliterate words vary widely. This is why the Jewish festival of lights (in Hebrew, Cheit-Nun-Kaf-Hei) is spelled Chanukah, Chanukkah, Hanuka, and many other interesting ways. Each spelling has a legitimate phonetic and orthographic basis; none is right or wrong.

History

The books of the Maccabees tell the story of Hanukkah which occurred in 165 B.C. After three years of struggle, the Jews in Judea defeated the Syrian tyrant Antiochus. The Jewish people held festivities in the Temple of Jerusalem and rededicated it to God. After removing all Syrian idols from the Temple, the Jews found only one small pot of oil to light their holy lamps. Miraculously, the small pot provided oil for eight days. Judas Maccabaeus, the Jewish leader, then proclaimed a festival to be observed by Jewish people. (Source: www.apples4theteacher.com)

Hanukkah Traditions (Source: www.bhg.com)

  • The Menorah

The centerpiece of the Hanukkah celebration is the Hanukkah or menorah, a candelabra that holds nine candles. Eight candles symbolize the number of days that the Temple lantern blazed; the ninth, the shamash, is a helper candle used to light the others. Families light one candle on the first day, two on the second (and so on) after sundown during the eight days of Hanukkah while reciting prayers and singing songs. The menorah — either store-bought or homemade and crafted of metal, wood, papier-mache, or clay — is filled from right to left, but lit left to right so each new candle is lit first. (Source: www.bhg.com)

  • Singing Songs

Hanukkah — one of the most family-oriented of Jewish holidays — comes with its own set of carols sung around the glowing menorah. These celebrate everything from the glory of God and the ancient Temple of the Jews (“Maoz Tzur”) to the simplicity of a dreidel (see below), as in “Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel/I made it out of clay/And when it’s dry and ready/Dreidel I shall play.”

  • Yummy Treats
Photo of Sufganiyot (Donuts): Avital Pinnick (Flickr)

Photo of Sufganiyot (Donuts): Avital Pinnick (Flickr)

There’s nothing low-fat about Hanukkah – many of the traditional foods of the holiday are deep-fried. In honor of the oil-y miracle people celebrating Hannukah like to eat foods that are fried in oil like latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts) and different fried breads.  Want to have a go at making something?  There are lots of recipes for yummy treats here.

  • Spinning Tops 

    Photo: Marina Shemesh (Flickr)

    Photo: Marina Shemesh (Flickr)

It’s customary to play with dreidels (spinning tops) during the holiday, even wage gambling games in which players guess which side of the top will fall face up. Legend has it that during the Greek-Syrian dictatorship in Israel of yore, Jews got around the ban on reading the Torah by bringing spinning tops to study sessions so their oppressors would think they were just playing around. The Hebrew characters carved into the four sides of today’s dreidels are the first letters of “Ness Gadol Haya Po/Sham,” which roughly translates to “Great Miracle Happened Here/There” (depending on whether you’re in Israel or not).

Directions to play the Dreidel game

More fun and educational Hanukkah activities for children


Celebrating Hanukkah in Washington, DC

 

The lighting of this menorah – the world’s largest – is attended by thousands every year and seen via media by tens of millions across the nation and around the world. Along with the lighting, there will be live entertainment and menorah kits and dreidels to take home. Tickets are free but must be ordered in advance.

A very Happy Hanukkah to all!

Celebrating the 4th of July in DC (2018)

The 4th of July celebrates the date American colonists declared independence from Great Britain in 1776. Also called Independence Day, the 4th of July is commemorated throughout the USA with fireworks, parades, concerts, family gatherings, and cookouts.

As the nation’s capital, Washington, DC, is the perfect place to celebrate this truly American holiday. Here are just a few of the many celebrations in DC: Continue reading

Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The Folklife Festival will take place June 27-July 1 and July 4-8. 

The annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival is an international exhibition of living cultural heritage. Attracting more than one million visitors yearly, the two-week long celebration is the largest annual cultural event in the United States.

The Festival is held outdoors on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., between the Smithsonian museums. There is no admission charge. Visitors should dress for hot and humid weather. Parking around the Mall is extremely limited, so visitors are advised to use public transportation. L’Enfant Plaza is the closest Metro station to the Festival site. National Archives, Smithsonian, and Federal Center stations are within a half-mile. For assistance planning how to get around, visit www.goDCgo.com. For general Smithsonian visitor information, http://www.si.edu/Visit or call 202.633.1000 (voice).

Festival hours are 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., with special events taking place most evenings beginning at 6:30 p.m. View the schedule here.

I highly recommend that you visit their website to plan your visit http://www.festival.si.edu/

Avoiding Homesickness this 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.

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: Sheila Sund (Flickr)