Tag Archives: cultural exchange

Celebrating 18 years as an APIA Community Counselor!

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!

U.S. Capital

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. 🌍❤️🌎❤️

Making Plans for Future Travel

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.

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

Surviving and Thriving in the Holiday Season

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

Fall Traditions: Visiting a Pumpkin Patch

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:

Charles County:

Howard County:

Montgomery County:

Prince George’s County:

* These are my personal recommendations. 

Photo:  Don Graham

Drive-In Movies

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!

Social Distancing: Make a Family Time Capsule

When you are stuck at home, everyone tends to have their own ways to occupy that time individually. It’s also fun to have some activities you can do all together. Board games, puzzles and movie nights are always great options.

But, if you want to create something together that will be a keepsake to enjoy in the future, consider making a family time capsule. You can use materials you already have on hand at home. Working on this project together can also remind us that there is more going on in our lives than just the coronavirus, the things we enjoyed before this and what we have to look forward to when this time is over.

How to Make a Family Time Capsule 

Creating a family time capsule is a fun way to preserve what life is like today, to look back on it in the future.  Just 5 or 10 years is plenty of time for things to change. When you open the time capsule you can look back and see how things are different and whether some things remain the same. Making a time capsule with an au pair adds another layer to this idea. You can include traditions or recipes she has shared with your family.

There are many online articles about what to include in a time capsule and how to make one. Here are a few basic ideas to get you started:

Pick a container –  A large canister, plastic jar or any container with a lid that fits on tightly. Decide where you will store the time capsule to make sure you pick a container that is appropriate. Packing it away in the attic or basement is probably safer than burying it.

Decorate the container – You can decorate the container if you will be packing it away somewhere indoors.

Fill it up – The possibilities are limited only by your imagination (and the size of your container). Here are some things you may want to include:

Family photos – children’s artwork – letter to future self – newspaper, magazine pages showing popular hairstyles and fashion trends – postcards from most recent family vacation – list of prices of common items (gallon of gas, loaf of bread, etc) – tickets from movies or events, family recipe – a list of favorite things – pop culture list (movies, TV shows & music that are popular) – tracing of the children’s hands – something in each child’s handwriting – list of the technology devices you use now

Decide when you will open it – This could be in a certain number of years or on a special occasion in the future (child’s high school graduation, au pair returning to visit, family reunion).

Photo: Woodleywonderworks

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.

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!


What is Global Awareness?

What is Global Awareness?

The Global Awareness program brings expanded educational and​ ​cultural opportunities to the forefront for au pairs. It gives them the​ ​opportunity to share their culture with others.

How do au pairs get involved?

Au Pairs can volunteer in pre-school, elementary and middle school classrooms. They have the opportunity to share their culture, customs and language with young American children. The mission of this volunteer experience is to bring multi-cultural understanding into the classrooms and help children form positive first impressions of people from other countries. Visit the Get Involved page of our website for all the info you need to get started.

Is Global Awareness just for schools?

No. Au pairs have done presentations for scout groups, at birthday parties and at children’s story times.

Are you interested in scheduling a Global Awareness presentation?

Teachers, parents or others who would like to schedule a presentation, please visit the Global Awareness website for more information and a contact link.

How can Global Awareness help host parents?

Global Awareness offers a webinar series for host parents. The goal is to increase their cultural awareness, improve communication with their au pair and ensure the most successful exchange possible. Your community counselor can provide you with the webinar schedule and how to register.

Amazing Cluster Meeting at U.S. Capitol

More than 700 au pairs from 30 DC/MD/VA area Au Pair in America clusters came together on Saturday, March 9 to tour the U.S. Capitol. We were joined by Au Pair in America director, Ruth Ferry. We had a wonderful time and got some great photos.

Au pairs from the DC/MD/VA area, their community counselors and APIA director, Ruth Ferry

If you have never toured the U.S. Capitol, I highly recommend it. The Visitor Center offers free online tickets and a limited number of same day tickets. The tour starts off with a brief yet engaging video with some history on the Capitol Building and the U.S. in general. The tour guides are knowledgeable and you get to some very iconic places in the building. The view looking up at the Capitol dome is breathtaking.

Our cluster in front of the U.S. Capitol

Our cluster being silly on our way to the Capitol Visitor Center