A true au pair is a young woman, ranging in age from 18-26, who joins a family from abroad for one to two years to become not only their children’s caregiver, but also an extended member of the family with whom they’ll be residing. Families sign a contract vowing to make the au pair (whose French translation “on the par” signals that they are not meant to be looked at as a mere employee) part of family gatherings, trips and celebrations.
Unsurprisingly, as some of these young au pairs might not have ventured from home before, the change of environment and distance from loved ones can be difficult. Regardless of the best intentions and most inclusive actions by the host family, there may come a time when your au pair becomes homesick.
Try these tips to help your au pair feel at home, in her home away from home.
A Taste of Home
One of the biggest and most jarring changes, and one that could actually be causing low levels of physical discomfort for the au pair, is the change in diet. A difference in portion sizes (and not wanting to appear rude), heavy or fried foods, regional spices (or lack thereof) and unfamiliar produce could all contribute to an au pair feeling uncomfortable. Etiquette itself could also cause your au pair to feel ill at ease. Because the regulations and policies regarding au pairs dictate that meals are to be shared, this is not simply solved by eating separate meals.
Strike up a conversation with your au pair and ask what their home mealtimes look like socially and nutritionally. Part of the relationship between an au pair and her host family is sharing the different cultures to enhance both your children’s experience and that of the au pair. Ask what her favorite meals are. If they’re difficult to prepare, search out a local restaurant for takeout.
Because regulations preclude an au pair from household duties not relating to the child (so no asking them to cook a dinner from their homeland), make preparing a meal together a fun family experience. Search out a grocer that carries key favorites or sweets from home for surprises and designate a special cabinet or spot in the pantry for the au pair to store her own favorite foods.
Teach the Tech
In this day and age, physically being miles apart does not need to equate to being emotionally distant. Load Skype onto the family computer, if your au pair did not bring her own, and designate a private place and time (with consideration for time zones) for her to connect with family and friends from home through videochats.
Call your telephone provider and ask about special international program add-ons. Some unlimited options (especially those that designate particular countries) cost only a few dollars per month. Going the extra mile to ensure your au pair knows she is just a phone call away from her support system from home might relieve a lot of isolation and loneliness.
Familiar media from home might be sorely missed. Connect to your local library’s online system – many are interwoven with a wider network where books, including foreign editions, can be requested and picked up locally when they arrive. Many libraries also offer eBook loans, and some even offer loaner eReaders that might offer a wider array of their favorite authors. Consider a free or minimally priced subscription to Spotify or similar online music sites where international artists are featured.
Adding international channels to your cable or satellite service can help them stay abreast of news items of note, while Netflix and Hulu Plus can be perused for soap operas, sitcoms, dramas and foreign films from the UK and other nations so the au pair can feel connected to her peers back home.
That’s the Ticket
Depending on where your au pair hails from, a ticket home for a quick visit midway through her stay might refresh her emotionally and be worth the short break from her services if it means a happier household. If visa complications or price makes this impossible or impractical, offer to let a loved one visit for a long weekend (or week, depending on your comfort level). Decide ahead of time what works for your family. If an in-person visit is not workable, consider researching the postage rates from the au pair’s home country and offer to cover a quarterly postage-paid care package from home.