For our May cluster meeting we did a tour inside of the Washington Monument. This was our first Washington Monument tour since before the pandemic! We were very happy to have a great turnout and gorgeous weather.
We had a beautiful day for our April cluster meeting at the U.S. Botanic Garden.
Established by Congress in 1820, the U.S. Botanic Garden is the oldest continuously operating botanic garden in the United States. Admission is free and it is located in view of the U.S. Capitol. For more information visit their website here: https://www.usbg.gov.
Program rules dictate several situations when the host parents are required to cover an au pair’s transportation costs. Aside from those specific requirements there are some things to consider when deciding how to handle an au pair’s personal transportation.
Situations when host parents are responsible for the au pair’s transportation costs:
- To/from cluster meetings
- To/from classes (for the education requirement)
- When they are transporting the host children
What are some ways host parents can pay for those required transportation costs?
- By providing car use and paying for the cost of gas in those situations
- By giving an allowance for Metro or bus fare
- By giving an allowance toward Uber/Lyft
Who is responsible for an au pair’s transportation in her free time?
- If an au pair has car use, it would be reasonable for the host parents to ask her to pay for the gas used for personal car use.
- If no car use is provided and an au pair must rely solely on public transportation, many host parents will give a transportation allowance to help with those costs.
What factors should you consider when deciding how to handle personal transportation costs?
- Where do you live?
- If you live in the city, you may be within easy walking and/or bike-riding distance to shopping and activities.
- If you live in the farther out suburbs, there isn’t normally much an au pair can walk or bike to.
- Is car use provided?
- When host parents provide car use, that includes them covering the cost of car insurance and maintenance. So, it is fair to ask the au pair to pay for her own gas for personal use.
- If host parents are not providing car use, many will figure out how much they are saving by not paying for insurance and maintenance costs and offer that to their au pair as an allowance for public transportation (metro, bus, Uber/Lyft).
Other Things to Consider
- Au pairs are happiest when they are able to explore the area and make friends. This goes a long way to reduce homesickness and ensure a great cultural exchange experience. The more host parents can do to support this, the more successful their match will typically be.
- When car use is provided, be clear about any limitations. Is it okay to transport friends, take the car overnight, go on a road trip, drive to Baltimore or Ocean City? In what situations does she have automatic permission and when does she need to ask in advance?
- Every match is different. Transportation is only one aspect. Whatever works well for a host family and their au pair is what’s best (as long as the minimum program requirements are being met). Things like whether a host family is paying a higher stipend (over the regulation minimum), offering other benefits and driving the au pair to some places all may factor into how personal transportation costs are handled.
- Please discuss transportation plans for cluster meetings in advance. Participation in cluster meetings is important for an au pair’s overall cultural experience, making friends and getting to know her counselor. Transportation to meetings should not be an impediment to those experiences. Add cluster meetings to your calendar as a reminder to reimburse your au pair if she is attending the meeting.
If you have questions or concerns about how to handle transportation, reach out to your counselor to discuss.
Photo: Andrea Piacquadio
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 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.
“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.
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.
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.
Contest for au pairs: The first au pair to let Lisa or Christine know which traditional Thanksgiving food you are most looking forward to trying, will receive a prize!
Eighteen years ago I started as a community counselor with Au Pair in America! I have met so many amazing au pairs, host families and colleagues in that time and had the opportunity to learn about the world and other cultures. About 7 years ago, Lisa Maxwell made the decision to join me in the au pair world and we make a dynamic duo!
This last year has been a challenging time for cultural exchange. Hopefully things will continue to improve and we will be able to keep on Bringing the World Together.
With the COVID vaccine production steadily increasing, we are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel with the pandemic. That is wonderful news and reason to be optimistic! However, Au Pair in America is still strongly discouraging travel at the moment for two reasons: CDC recommendations against travel and the constantly changing rules and restrictions for international and even interstate travel.
When travel is resumed for you, it will also depend on your specific host family circumstances. It is very important that you and your host family have very clear, honest communication about your plans and that you are both comfortable with the plans.
What can you do right now? Research and figure out where you want to go and what things you want to see and do there. Being a spontaneous traveler can be fun, but without planning you will often waste some of your precious vacation or weekend time figuring out things you could have looked into before you started your trip.
These ideas are to help you make general plans. You shouldn’t book any tickets or make any financial commitments until you know when travel will safely resume.
Planning can help you:
- Save money
- Make the best use of your time
- Fit in more adventures
- Visit places you might not have heard of before
It also extends the joy of the travel time. Planning all the thing you will do, gives you something to look forward to. We can all use things to look forward to right now.
If you are looking for travel inspiration and ideas or a place to keep your travel ideas organized, Pinterest is a great place to start. You can browse other people’s travel and bucket list pinboards. You can create your own pinboards for places you want to go and ones you have already visited.
These three apps are all trip planners and offer the ability to research places and create your own itinerary. Each one has its own look and feel and slightly different features. Download them and see which one is the best fit for you.
- Trip Advisor (One of the best features is the reviews and tips from real people.)
- Visit a City
- Sygic Travel
Road trips can be the ultimate adventure. You set your own pace and stop to see what you want. The journey can be as much fun as your destination.
- Road Trippers is an app that helps you plan the ultimate road trip. It helps you determine your route and find interesting stops along the way.
We won’t be stuck inside forever. Once travel resumes, be ready with your plans!
Photo: Natacha R. from France
The 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. The pandemic will add it’s own complexities to the holiday season this year.
Here are some ideas and insights that will hopefully help you avoid the 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 all every happiness of the season!
Photo: Sean Hobson
The pandemic has changed lots of things this year, but one tradition that experts seem to agree poses a low to moderate risk is visiting a pumpkin patch. Social distancing, mask-wearing and general hand sanitizing precautions should be taken to reduce the risk. We cannot go to the pumpkin patch as a cluster meeting, but it is still a great fall tradition you could experience with your host family or a friend.
From the CDC website:
Below is a list of some local pumpkin patches. Visit their websites for details before you go. Many are requiring advance registration to eliminate crowds and comply with social distancing requirements.
Anne Arundel County:
- Schlagel Farm – Waldorf
- Butler’s Orchard – Germantown
Prince George’s County:
* These are my personal recommendations.
Photo: Don Graham
In the time of COVID-19 and social distancing, the drive-in movie theater may be our only option for viewing movies outside of the house for a while.
Have you ever been to a drive-in movie? Drive-in movies are outdoor theaters where the movie is projected on a large screen and you watch from your car. There were once over 4,000 drive-in theaters in the U.S., now only a few hundred remain.
One of those still operating is right here in Maryland, in the Baltimore area. Bengies Drive-In has been in business since 1956.
It is about an hour’s drive from most parts of our cluster, but since they are the only one left in the entire state of Maryland, that doesn’t sound so far.
If you have never been to a drive-in movie, you should definitely check it out!
Drive-In Movie Tips for First-Timers:
- You pay one price whether you stay for 1, 2 or all 3 movies. *Tickets must be purchased online in advance*
- The drive-in is only open Spring-Fall.
- You may stay in your car or bring chairs to sit in front of your parking space.
- If you go in the summer and plan to sit outside, bring insect repellent spray or bug bracelets.
- If you go in the fall when the weather is cool, bring blankets.
- Masks are required at the entrance and anytime you go outside of your parking space. Check the Bengie’s website for their complete rules and precautions regarding COVID-19.
- You cannot bring in outside food or drinks unless you purchase an outside food permit. I recommend you buy your snacks there. They have some interesting options that you don’t see at a regular movie concession stand and that’s part of the full experience.
- Before you go, read the information on their website about headlights. You need to know how to disable your headlights when you are inside the movie.
- You also need to figure out how to turn your vehicle to the “accessory setting” with your key. This will allow you to listen to the movie without draining your battery. VERY IMPORTANT
- There is a note on their website about how to enter their address with GPS. There address is listed as “Middle River” not Baltimore on GPS.
If you give it a try, let me know how you like it!