Before you board that plane to go to the USA and live as an au pair, there is a lot of important planning and preparation you must do to ensure your time abroad runs smoothly! The biggest and perhaps most crucial part of your pre-departure au pair checklist is finding an American host family that suits your needs and makes you excited to live with them.
There are several questions to ask yourself during the matching process: “How will I enjoy spending a year of my life with this family? What if we communicate differently or have different lifestyles? What kind of relationship do I want to have with my host family?”
Here to help you answer those questions – and to lay out all the important factors to consider when choosing a host family – is Au Pair Matching Specialist Hadley Burnham. Her role at Cultural Care Au Pair is to support au pairs through every phase of their pre-departure checklist, right from the time they enter the matching system through until they begin their year with their host family. She provides matching support and educates au pairs on the matching system all with the one goal of helping au pairs like you find the right host family for their year abroad.
One of Hadley’s biggest pieces of advice when it comes to matching is to simply be patient and trust that it will all work out.
“The matching process can take some time,” says Hadley. “It’s important to speak with many families to see what family would be a good fit.” And sometimes, that means patiently screening several families in the matching system before finding the right one.
The fact is, choosing an American host family to live with is no small task! There should be a lot of time and consideration put into this decision, as it’s one that will likely impact your life for years to come. Don’t be in a rush to find a family simply for the sake of getting to America faster. The more you carefully consider your options, the more likely you’ll be to find a perfect host family fit that will result in not only a successful program year, but a lifelong relationship that you’ll hold dear to your heart.
While it’s important to bide your time and be patient with the process, it’s also critical to be responsive and proactive while matching. Otherwise, it can lead to miscommunication and missed opportunities.
“Au pairs should be sure to check their account every day and respond to connection requests within 24 hours,” says Hadley. “Families want to see au pairs being proactive and reaching out to set up an interview once the au pair has accepted the family’s connection request.”
Cultural Care Au Pair recommends being fully engaged in the matching process at every phase, in order to maximize your chances of finding a family that works well for you. Sometimes, the requests will ebb and flow – but that doesn’t mean you should give up!
“We have seen that in a lot of cases, au pairs will wait with zero new requests, and then receive a number of requests all at the same time,” says Hadley. It’s up to you to keep a watchful eye on your account, and respond diligently to host families wanting to connect. The more involved and proactive you are, the better likelihood you’ll have of finding your perfect host family.
Sometimes, finding the right host family means setting aside any pre-conceived notions or expectations. Being open-minded is vital to the matching process, because often time, au pairs don’t realize what’s truly important until they’re faced with it!
“Au pairs should focus on finding a family that they feel comfortable and confident with and try not to focus on the specific location of the family,” says Hadley. Location is a big factor that a lot of au pairs try to incorporate into their decision-making when matching – and while it can be something to consider, it certainly shouldn’t be dictating your choice of family. California and New York may be beautiful states, but the USA is full of lovely places to live – and other areas of America may surprise you in their cultural richness and opportunities. Besides, you’ll have the ability to travel throughout your program year, so regardless of where you live, you can make it a point of seeing any US states that catch your eye.
Honesty is key to finding a good host family match. If you aren’t communicating your tastes and preferences during the matching process, there’s a very good chance you’ll end up with a family that doesn’t meet your expectations and won’t be the foundation you need for a successful year in the USA. “It’s extremely important to discuss the type of relationship you are hoping to have with the family,” advises Hadley.
She continues: “Do you want to have dinner with the family and take part in family activities outside working hours? Do you want to be more independent and have your own space to do your own thing outside of working hours? These are the kinds of questions you need to ask yourself when matching!”
If a host family you’re talking to is looking for a different type of relationship than you are, that’s ok! That means they aren’t the right fit for you and that you should continue looking.
It’s also necessary to discuss communication styles and expectations. Make sure that your expectations are clear and that you have discussed what you expect out of your year together. That will help the host family decide whether you’re the right fit for them, too! After all, the best relationships are mutually beneficial and respectful. The best way to to show respect for a host family right from the beginning is to be honest about what you’re looking for.
“It’s important that you discuss your communication style with the host family,” says Hadley. “Reflect on your communication needs, and be honest with host families about what type of communication works best for you.”
Of course, the most important thing is that through every phase of your matching process, you be true to yourself. No one knows you better than YOU! And if you’re making the exciting choice to spend a year in America as an au pair, it’s up to you to stand up for what matters to you and settle for nothing less than a family who will welcome you into their home and heart.
You should be comfortable asking about everything from the host family’s daily activities to their schedule, diet, religion and even their holiday celebrations. “Families enjoy when au pairs ask questions,” says Hadley. “So if you’re wondering about something, don’t be afraid to ask!”
And when it comes time to decide whether the host family you’ve been talking back and forth with is the right one for you to say yes to and begin your au pair journey with, Hadley has a very important piece of advice: “Trust that gut feeling.”
She continues: “I always suggest that au pairs think about two scenarios when deciding if a family is a good fit. The first is – do you feel comfortable walking into the family’s home and sitting down to breakfast with them and being a part of their family? The other is – if an issue comes up during your year, do you feel comfortable addressing the issue with them?”
If you can picture yourself having a tough conversation with a host family, then chances are you have similar communication styles and will be a good fit. And on the flip side, if you can picture yourself fitting into their lifestyle seamlessly and joining them for meals, holidays and special occasions, then you’re probably a great match!
Be sure that while you’re being true to yourself, you’re also allowing yourself to be open to advice from Au Pair Matching Specialists like Hadley, and to the input from your most trusted family and friends. Share your matching experiences with them – after all, they only want what’s best for you and will help you make a decision you feel good about.
“Remember,” says Hadley, “every au pair feels nervous during the matching process. That’s normal! The most important thing is to be yourself, and focus on why you want to be a part of this cultural exchange program. If you keep that in mind, it will lead you to the family that is the very best fit for the experience you are hoping to have.”