Sunday, December 3rd was the annual Stony Brook Village Holiday Festival. This year APIA was one of the sponsors of the festival. Host families and au pairs came together to decorate the APIA International Peace Tree. Decorations were made by au pairs and host children.
The new 14 foot tall Legends and Spies parade came next. The parade celebrated the Culper Spy Ring of Setauket that helped win the Revolutionary War for America’s independence. Also featured was Ward Melville, the Stony Brook businessman, conservationist and philanthropist. He supported the restoration and preservation of historic buildings in the area to encourage his vision of a New England village in Stony Brook. The event was run by the Ward Melville Heritage Organization.
Their are 70 trees on the Promenade of Trees that will be on view until the New Year! The day included a petting zoo, music, and a model train exhibit.
The day concluded with Santa and friends lighting the big tree on the Village Green!
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)
Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November each year. Even though a few other countries also celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s still considered a uniquely American holiday, one that the au pairs look forward to experiencing. You can learn more about it here.
“I really enjoyed Thanksgiving with my host family. It was as I imagined! So much food to try. Everyone got dressed up and shared what they were thankful for. It was so warm and special. The next day we began to prepare for Christmas. It was magical.” Selina from Germany
Below you will find some tips to help you have a terrific Thanksgiving experience.
1. Please plan to include your au pair in your Thanksgiving celebration, if at all possible. Thanksgiving with an au pair offers an opportunity to consider the relevance of the history and meaning of Thanksgiving as you compare the hospitality offered by the Native Americans to the recently arrived Pilgrims and the hospitality you offer your au pair.
2. 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.
3. If you are invited to attend dinner, please let your family know within 5 days of the invitation, whether you are planning to attend. It is considered rude in America to accept the invitation for dinner and then change your mind later in the month. Please be thoughtful.
4. 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.
5. If your host family is unable to include you in their Thanksgiving plans, please let me know if you have trouble making other plans. You may be able to join a friend and their host family for the holiday dinner.
Bonus Tip for the Kids
Photo: Tim Sackton (Flickr)
Stony Brook Village has a great safe Halloween celebration for children every year. All October there are scarecrows decorating the village for the annual Scarecrow contest. Visitors to the shops throughout the month can vote for their favorite scarecrow.
The Suffolk County Cluster of Au Pair in America has been entering the contest for several years. This year, Community Counselor Cindy Garruba, accepted the 2nd prize for the cluster’s entry “Au Pair Annie and her Host Kids.” The prize will be spent on a party for the au pairs in her cluster!
Stony Brook Village Annual Scarecrow competition has begun. Au Pair in America put up a scarecrow near the Post Office, in front of Chicos.
Our Scarecrow is named Au Pair Annie and if taking care of her three host scarecrow kids!
Go down and visit her and the other scarecrows. They will be set up through Halloween. You can vote for our scarecrow, too!
September is an important time of year for Long Island families. The kids go back to school and routines change. Au Pair in America Suffolk County Au Pairs gathered at Community Counselor, Cindy Garruba’s house to get some important tips.
The meeting began with making ornaments for the International Holiday tree au pairs and host families will decorate for the Stony Brook Village Promenade of Trees in December. Everyone painted a heart ornament to represent their country or their experience in the USA. The au pairs are so creative. They spend a lot of time doing arts and crafts with their host kids!
The agenda included Minimizing Morning Madness, School Bus Stop Safety, Safe Driving including no cell phones and distractions from kids in the car. We discussed the use of the child’s backpack as the communication tool between school and home, keeping on top of homework and school notices. We also talked about baby safety because September is Baby Safety month!
Cluster meetings are an important part of the au pair experience. Not only do they learn important tips for a successful year as an au pair, but they also have an opportunity to make friends with other au pairs!
Flora Solorzano Zamora from Costa Rica has spent the past year with a host family in Setauket. Au Pair in America has been a great experience for her. She is looking forward to her travel month and exploring more of the USA before she returns home in October to continue her studies in Costa Rica to become a pharmacist.
Flora volunteered during some of her free time in a study of turtles in the ponds near her host family’s town. Flora said, ” I really enjoyed doing the turtles this year! I am happy I had this experience.
This project was about looking for turtles around the beach, weight and measure them to find out if they lay or not. We followed them until they lay their eggs and then we protected the nests from predators. After days we get to see the baby turtles hatching and we also release the ones we rescued.
It is awesome to have the opportunity of follow all the process!”
For more information on this project, please check out the Friends of Flax Pond.
Almost everyone experiences homesickness and culture shock to some degree, when they come to live in a completely new environment. So much is different and it takes time to adjust.
It is normal to miss your own family, at home. Try to remember that they support you and want you to make the most of this experience. They will enjoy learning more about the U.S., through your eyes, as you share your adventures with them.
Top 5 Tips for Dealing with Homesickness
1. Make Friends – Don’t wait for other au pairs to reach out to you, reach out to them. There are other lots of new au pairs who are feeling the same way you are right now. Set a goal to reach out to a few of them each day. Some will respond and some will not. Don’t let that discourage you. No one will ever be mad at you for sending them a message to say hello or ask if they want to do something together. Make friends from various countries and you will also get a chance to practice your English skills together.
2. Stay in touch with your home country, but not too much. Skyping or talking on the phone every day with your family and/or friends back home normally makes homesickness worse. Try emailing instead and reduce the Skype and phone calls to once a week, until you feel stronger. It’s much harder seeing the faces and hearing the voices of those you miss.
3. Get out of the house (or your room specifically) – Go to cluster meetings, have coffee or movies with other au pairs, join a gym, go to the library, go for a walk, visit the mall, get a manicure, visit a museum. If someone invites you out, say “yes.” Also, don’t be afraid to do the inviting. If your host family invites you to do things with them, say “yes.” This will help you get to know each other and contribute to your overall happiness.
4. Realize that it definitely gets better – All au pairs experience homesickness and the vast majority of them get through it, stay and have a successful year (some even extend for a second year!) So, it must get better, right? Once you get past the initial homesickness, most au pairs report how quickly the year goes by.
5. Make Plans – Create your own Au Pair Bucket List (places you want to go, new foods to try, new things to experience during your year in the U.S.) and start doing them now. Post on our cluster Facebook group to find others who may want to join you on your adventures.
Photo by: Shimelle Laine (Flickr)