I have been working very hard to educate the public in Rhode Island about the Au Pair Program and how it can benefit families right here. It truly is affordable, flexible and brings so much more to your family than a babysitter.
But what about your au pair? He or she is a young person, coming to a new and totally unfamiliar country to live with your family for a year or more! Were you that brave at 20 years old? I would like to give some advice for other LARs with small clusters, or groups with a small number of au pairs. Summer Blackhurst shared comments from a real au pair about what makes a great LAR; I don’t think I am there yet, but I am trying!
Some groups have up to 20 au pairs, like my friends in Boston. Rhode Island is on its growth curve, but we will keep growing. LARs, or Local Area Representatives, must hold meetings at least bi-monthly to offer the au pairs in the area some social or cultural experience as their part of the cultural exchange. Those of you who know what it is like to try to plan an event where 2 or 3 or 5 people’s schedules can find a few mutual hours can be a huge challenge. Add to that the flexible schedules of Host Families, which makes this program worth their while, and you may have events where only one au pair or family attends.
Good LARs are here to support the Host Family and the au pair throughout the cultural exchange experience, to mediate if needed, and to be available to answer questions and keep the lines of communication open so that the Department of State Regulations are followed by all parties. We also guide au pairs and families who are newer to the experience. Some need help in how to make friends of what to do during off-work hours, as events are several weeks apart.
My advice is eclectic, as usual. Use social media; Au Pair Sis is a great friend, as are the many active au pairs who comment, post and participate in her many online activities. Check her out on Pinterest too! Look for other au pairs who live in your area, or not too far away, and plan a weekend getaway, or meet for coffee or a playdate with your host family children. Find groups on Meetup.com, like the Northern RI Moms and Natural Families of RI groups I belong to here in RI. These are groups of mostly young parents who like to get out and do all kinds of activities in the community. This is a great way to find those fun places and meet American families, and practice your conversational English.
Naturally, attend your LAR’s scheduled events. How can you meet people if you don’t at least attend? If your LAR isn’t planning events you like, say so! Speak up and suggest an event. Your LAR wants you to enjoy your experience as much as your Host Family, so share your ideas of what makes a great event. I am planning more than bi-monthly events and inviting other groups I belong to, such as my local moms groups, to make them more fun for everyone. Tell your au pairs and families to invite their friends if they like. You can also find out what the nearby clusters are doing. Hartford and Boston sometimes invite us to attend, and the ride can be worth it!
Part of the au pair’s job is to take classes at a local college or university. What better way to meet people than your classes or somewhere on campus? If an au pair is brave enough to travel across the globe to live with this new American family and care for their children, surely he or she is brave enough to speak to a classmate. Introduce yourself to a few people, tell them you’d like to meet people or find out where people hang out after class and make a visit.Our most popular local university, the University of Rhode Island, has the Multicultural Center, or the MCC on-campus, which is a great resource for local au pairs. Find out what your local college or university has to offer its international students, and get involved.
Find something in your local community to inspire you. Many communities have volunteer organizations that are always looking for new, energetic faces. Inquire at the local boys and girls club, YWCA or YMCA, or event a local food bank, and find a way to pitch in. You will quickly find yourself engaged and participating in events, meeting people and learning more about this American culture you’ve heard so much about!
If you have questions or suggestions, please contact me, Joan Lowell, your Local Area Representative in the Rhode Island area. Contact me by phone at 401.309.1925 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to your participation in my local events!