The Host Family and Au Pair Relationship

Life with a host family abroad may be very different to yours. You will be meeting new people, exploring new places, speaking your host country’s language and learning different routines. Don’t worry, your host family is excited to meet you and will make you feel very welcome! Please ask them if you have any questions as you settle in with them. Your international cooperator will also be available to help if you have any questions.

Cooperation and Respect

It is important to talk about the children with your host parents and how they want you to take care of them. Please cooperate and respect their ideas about their children, even if you do not always agree with their child care ideas. As an au pair abroad, you will be treated as a member of the host family. You will need to be respectful of the host family and this includes the family’s home and belongings. Everyone will be happier if you respect each other.

Respect Your Host Parents

  • Always make time to tell your host parents about your day with the kids or to ask them questions that you have.
  • Communicate! Sometimes this can be really hard, but this is the best way to solve problems early and for good. If you don’t communicate with your host family, problems can become too big. If you need help communicating with your family, ask your international cooperator for some tips.
  • It is never a good idea to criticize your host parents about the way they are raising their children. It may be very different than what you are used to, but accept that this is the way that they want to raise their kids. If you have a question about anything, feel free to discuss it with the host family or your international cooperator.
  • Respect your host family’s privacy. Do not share their information with other au pairs or friends. Do not post anything (including pictures and videos) on social media without their permission.

Respect the House

  • This is your house too. Act like a family member in the same way you would in your own family. Help out with small things that are necessary on a day-to-day basis. For example, bring in the mail, take out the garbage and stack the dishwasher.
  • Clean up after yourself and the kids throughout the day.
  • Lock the doors when you come home. Discuss with your host parents what they would like you to do if you are the last one home at the end of the day or late at night.
  • Do not give out any information about yourself, your family or your home — especially to strangers — unless you have your host family’s permission.
  • Keep your room neat and tidy.
  • Ask your host family when you can use the family computer. Remember that you should never use the computer or Internet for personal use when you should be caring for the children. Do not visit inappropriate websites or download anything onto their computer.

Weekly Meetings

Many families and international au pairs agree that weekly meetings work well for them. Set aside about an hour each week on a chosen date and time to reflect on the past week’s events, challenges and successes. You will also want to use this time to constructively give and take feedback to make your overseas au pair experience as rewarding as possible. Here are some topics you may want to discuss together:

• Child Care Ideas and Goals

• The Weekly Schedule

Your host parents will talk to you about the family’s schedule so that you can arrange your days off and if applicable, time for classes. Tell the family about any vacation days you may want to take as far in advance as possible.

• Practical Demonstration

Your host parents should explain any relevant, practical household information. For example, they may go over how to use the washing machine or dishwasher; how to change a flat tire; or, what to do if there is a loss of electricity.

• Cultural Awareness

Ask your host parents if you have questions about your host family’s culture, customs or language. They will be able to let you know what events are coming up in the community and about any special holidays. You could also teach your host family some words in English, tell them more about your culture and share your own family pictures.

• Be a Part of Your Host Family

  • Spend as much time as you can with your host family! This is a great way to practice language, learn more about your host culture and have a wonderful experience as an au pair.
  • Have dinner as often as you can with your host family and help out as a family member.
  • Participate in social events and family events with your host family.
  • Share your culture with your host family. Talk about the United States, teach the family some English, teach the kids some of your songs and games and prepare some food from your country. Your host family will love this and it will make you feel closer to home, especially if you are feeling homesick.

Love Your Au Pair Job!

  • Be on time for work, picking up the kids, meal times and curfews.
  • Always smile and greet your host family when you see them.
  • Have fun! Play with the kids and get involved in their favorite games and activities. Try to stay positive, outgoing and enthusiastic.
  • Keep the kids safe.
  • Bond with the children. By getting to know them, they will know that you really like and care about them and will trust you even more.
  • When you are working, make sure that you are watching the children or doing child care-related things.
  • Never leave the kids alone, especially outside, in the car or near a lake or a pool.
  • Keep in mind that your host children will be different than the children in your home country.
  • Always encourage your host kids with everything, especially if they need extra encouragement! It will help them stay positive and have good self-esteem.
  • Communicate with your host family about any behavioral changes you see with the kids.
  • Treat all the kids equally.
  • Keep an open mind about the differences between American life and life in your host country. Remember that you became an au pair abroad to experience cultural exchange!

Emotional Ups and Downs: 4 Tips For First-Time Travelers Abroad

Only a short time ago I was sitting in a bustling airport excitedly awaiting my departure to France for a Conversation Coach program through InterExchange Working Abroad. Everything I was taking in at that moment brought waves of inspiration and promise of adventures to come. My enthusiasm was at a high point.

During the first few weeks of my trip, however, there were moments when I became disillusioned and questioned why I had been so eager to set out on this journey. As the novelty of everything began to wear off, I started having some unexpected realizations. While I knew that the members of my host family would be regular human beings with the same basic needs, wants and priorities as the average person back home, I was caught off guard by just how normal they actually were. Perhaps I was relying on the challenge of cultural differences to be a sort of distraction that would carry me through the duration of my teaching program. It began to feel rather ordinary, as if I were just a guy staying in a welcoming family’s home for a while. Though this was far from being a real problem, it led me to question why I had gone to all the trouble of traveling halfway around the world to have such an experience.

Whatever the issue might be, whether similar to the above or not, some kind of mental block is bound to come up during a trip of any real duration. For those with little or no travel experience, or as a reminder to more seasoned travelers, here are some ideas that have been helpful to me when working through obstacles while traveling or integrating into a host family:

1. Stay Focused

One of the best things you can do when feeling disillusioned is to think back on what motivated you to embark upon your trip in the first place. Whether you can muster up a clear picture in your mind or you need to write it down, develop a mission statement of sorts that you can rely on when things get rough. Whatever this motivation may be for you personally, it helps to have a clear focus that will reinforce your time abroad with meaning.

2. Talk Yourself Through It

It can be helpful to take a deep breathe and remind yourself of the facts, however obvious they may be. Your time abroad will end, after all. In the whole scheme of things, the duration of your trip is just a drop in the bucket. Essentially, you have before you a wonderfully rare opportunity with an expiration date. It helps to keep in mind that you will emerge from this experience sooner than you think, most likely a little wiser and enriched as a person.

3. Keep Your Lines of Communication Open

Another thing to remember is the importance of keeping communication lines open. In other words, do not isolate yourself if you are having a difficult time psychologically. It’s OK to let your host family know that you are feeling a little homesick, for example. Don’t feel that you need to disconnect and withdraw, as this will only make the problem worse. You can also talk with friends and family back home if that is encouraging to you. Of course, it’s best not to go overboard by complaining and spilling your innermost thoughts to your host family, but the point is that you should avoid keeping everything locked up inside and retreating into isolation.

4. Don’t Count the Minutes

When you are in the midst of frustration during your trip, it’s tempting to obsessively count down the days until the end. However, this not only prevents you from living in the moment, but it will probably have the opposite effect as the one intended, making the passing of time feel even slower. Again, remember that your time abroad will end soon enough. Try your best to embrace the moment and make the most of each day. The great experience you were hoping to have in the first place is still possible but it’s important to take the initiative and address the obstacles as they pop up and threaten to get in the way.

No matter how much we prepare for an adventure abroad, there are bound to be some challenges along the way. Of course, each person is unique and will have his or her own way of coping. So, find an approach that works for you. The above tips are just a place to start. Regardless of how you work through each struggle, the important thing is that you do in fact work through them. Keep moving forward and make the most of the rich but temporary opportunity before you!

Jacob is a teaching English as a Conversation Coach in France with InterExchange Working Abroad.

Vietnamese Holidays and Performances and Events – Oh, My!

Throughout the year there are many events celebrated at the school in Vietnam where I teach English and by all of the country. As a latecomer, the first one I experienced was Teachers’ Day. Yes, they actually celebrate this holiday and in a big way. In the U.S., I was simply given a certificate to “reward” me for my hard work, but here in Vietnam, Wellspring went so far as to give us the day off! The students showered us with gifts and parties all week long, the school put on a big party and performance for us on the eve of Teachers’ Day, and then we spent the day off enjoying a nice lunch of Korean BBQ, karaoke, bowling and then dinner on the famous “chicken street.” The week left all the teachers feeling appreciated and honored.

Vietnam also celebrates International Women’s Day, which includes a gift from the parents and a women’s football (soccer) match with the many departments of the school facing off. The level of celebration for this holiday was also surprising to me.

And then there are the various performances, charity days and lunchtime weddings to attend. Traditional Vietnamese weddings are held at a date and time determined by a fortune teller, which means you could be attending a wedding at 11:00 am on a Tuesday as I did just this week. There are many celebrations involved in a traditional wedding, but non-family-member guests will only be invited to the reception and the engagement party, if you are close with the bride or groom. You eat, drink, and of course, take loads of pictures.

So far this year, I have traveled on charity trips for Christmas and the Lunar New Year to watch the kids perform and bring gifts to older adult and children’s homes. The primary school puts on a huge performance at a local Hanoi concert hall, and each primary grade is finishing up its Little Stars Space academic and dance competitions, for which I had the pleasure of emceeing during the fourth grade English portion.

The school year is never short on exciting events and days to celebrate.

How to Get Your First U.S. Passport in 5 Easy Steps

U.S. Passport

It’s often said that U.S. citizens travel internationally far less than Europeans. While the sheer size of the U.S. could be a factor here (we can of course travel thousands of miles without crossing a border), statistics show that almost two thirds of all U.S. citizens do not have a passport.

Since it’s pretty much impossible to travel or work abroad if you don’t first have a passport, we’re laying down the quick facts and links you need to get yours in no time, four to six weeks according to the U.S. Department of State.

(1) Complete the Application Form

The first thing you need is the actual application. This can be found here. You’ll want to fill it out in advance, but DON’T SIGN IT until you are instructed at the passport acceptance facility.

(2) Gather the Required Documents

Next you’ll need to gather two important documents AND make photocopies of the front and back sides. You’ll have to prove that you’re a U.S. citizen. Most people will use a birth certificate for this, but make sure it meets the necessary requirements, listed here. You’ll also have to present another form of identification, such as a driver’s license or another up-to-date government I.D. Other accepted alternatives are listed here.

(3) Obtain a Passport Photo

Now put on your best face and go have your photo taken (you could take it yourself but it’s not recommended due to the strict requirements for the photo).

(4) Prepare Your Payment

You’ll have to pay both an application fee (to the U.S. Department of State) and an execution fee (to the facility that receives your application). For first-time applicants this will probably cost $105-135 if you use standard return shipping, but the fees can vary depending on age and shipping methods. For payment instructions and accepted forms of payment, please refer to this page.

(5) Submit Your Application in Person

If you have everything listed above (and we strongly advise confirming all requirements with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs before doing this), then you’re ready to submit your application. Since this is your first time applying for a passport, the application must be lodged in person at an authorized facility.

Since we’re not an official government agency or representative thereof, you should always review the requirements right from the source – that is, the U.S. Department of State – before applying. They have a helpful passport wizard online, as well as a set of frequently asked questions.

Finally, once you’ve submitted your application, we recommend checking out the many ways we can help you travel abroad! Go get some stamps!

Weekend Adventures in and Around Vietnam

Vietnam

There are many opportunities to travel on the weekends during your time teaching English in Vietnam, whether it is to one of the beautiful mountains in the northern region or a quick trip to a neighboring country. You can use the prominent open bus line that runs throughout Vietnam, trains that run throughout the country with sleeper options and regular flight deals to major cities.

Hanoi has many adventure clubs that take weekend hikes, climbs and go kayaking on a regular basis. This city is also home to MANY tours to Halong Bay and surrounding “must-see” attractions on which you can sit back, relax and enjoy the tourist life.

And, of course, there is the obligatory motorbike trip, which led to many great memories for me and a group of teachers last weekend. The first few months of the lunar calendar is an important time for Buddhists, so we decided to see what all the fuss is about and take a trip to the Perfume Pagoda. Our route included a scenic drive, a mountain hike and a return boat ride. Not everything worked out as planned but the twists and turns were all part of the excitement and resulted in stories to tell for a lifetime.

A weekend getaway in January included a trip to the Angkor Temples (pictured at the top of this post), and next weekend I’ll be headed to Sapa – a town in northern Vietnam – to walk among the rice paddies and through H’mong villages. I’m thinking Hong Kong in May? And then who knows where my wheels, or an unexpected flight deal will take me!

Vietnam With an Open Mind and an Open Heart

When you think about people like me, and hopefully you, who take the leap and decide to live and work abroad, you automatically assume that the person is open-minded and willing to fully embrace new cultures and experiences.

This embracing of a new culture isn’t as easy as it sounds. Living and teaching English in Vietnam is not like living and working in the United States. Life here is different – mannerisms are different, food is different, markets are different – and learning to embrace the differences is all a part of the experience.

It’s very easy to live a similar life as you did in the United States – or other western countries – here in Hanoi. There is a large expat community and they basically all live in the same part of the city; there are western shops to meet your toiletry and food needs; and there are western restaurants serving up your favorite dishes to remind you of home. But to truly say you live somewhere and you have lived open-minded and accepting of all the differences, you must step out of the expat bubble and be uncomfortable from time to time.

1. Eat like a local. If you’re a meat-eater, try that frog leg, WHOLE fish or snake. And don’t shutter at the idea that people eat this way or at the appearance of the shop.
2. Buy your food at the local market. You should go to the expat market to buy the peanut butter that provides the feeling of home, but also shop at the local markets passing by the live chickens and seafood as you make your way to your favorite fruit lady and vegetable guy. It feels good to know where your food comes from and who is taking the care to provide it for you.
3. Join the minnows. This city moves like a school of fish and instead of complaining about the traffic or the lack of proper queues, let go of the anxiety and go with the flow. It’s actually quite amazing to observe.

City life can be frustrating anywhere in the world, and having food and household items around that you are used to is important for your continuing happiness while living abroad. So, eat that hamburger on Sundays, but remember you are a guest in a country – a country that genuinely values its English teachers, I might add – and you owe it to that country to live life with an open mind and without judgment of the culture and customs. You might be surprised what mannerisms you embrace and take with you. And you may even fall in love with the place. I have.

Samantha is teaching English in Vietnam with InterExchange Working Abroad.

Celebrating Tet: Vietnam’s Lunar New Year

2015 is the year of the goat

Vietnam just completed the weeklong celebration of Tet. Tet is Vietnam’s version of the Chinese (Lunar) New Year. Tet comes with customs to bring good luck in the new year. The streets are bustling as people prepare their homes for the celebration and good cheer is all around.

The most visible elements during Tet and Tet preparation are how important this time of year is to spend with family and friends, and how to bring luck into the new year.

Banh Chung

The few days preceding Tet are spent buying fruits, supplies to make traditional foods like banh chung or banh tet – a rice cake wrapped in banana leaves, and purchasing the perfect hoa dao and kumquat trees for the home. Everything must be tidy and well prepared for the many family members and friends who will be passing through your home to wish you good fortune in the new year.

Hoa Dao (peach flowers) signify the beginning of spring and luck

There are many traditions tied to Tet. The best way to learn what those are is to look around, pay attention to the bustle and ask your students and Vietnamese friends and colleagues about their family traditions. Here is what I learned:

1. It’s all about the lucky money. Coming into the new year with money is a sign of fortune. This “lucky money” is generally given to children and older adults in red envelopes. It’s best to put the lucky money into a lucky pig, which you will see sold by street vendors everywhere.
2. Goldfish are lucky too. You will see vendors selling goldfish around city lakes and waterways. These goldfish are purchased to be released into the river for luck in the new year.
3. You must include a haircut in your Tet preparations. It is considered bad luck to cut your hair during the first lunar month of the new year, so you will see many fresh looks during the days leading up to the new year.
4. If you are in the market to open a business, do so on New Year’s Day. Your shop will have great potential if it is opened on New Year’s Day.
5. Good health means no pills. To ensure good health in the new year, you should avoid taking medicine on New Year’s Day.

I am sure there are many other traditions I have not learned, but what I do know is that it’s a very important time for the Vietnamese and taking advantage of any opportunity to be a part of celebrations is well worth the time.

Kumquat trees represent warmth and fruitfulness

With that being said, most non-Vietnamese residents of Vietnam choose to go on holiday during the week break. Cities like Hanoi clear out during the holiday and many businesses are closed because it’s tradition to visit the hometown of your family for the new year. Some foreign teachers teaching English in Vietnam are invited to join friends in their hometown for the holiday and some use the time to travel around Vietnam or other countries. Northern Vietnam is rather chilly during the winter, so I took the time to visit a warmer climate, soak up some sun and learn about different cultures in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. And now I am back, feeling refreshed and ready for my last few months of the school year.

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới

Cheers to the year of the goat!

Samantha is teaching English in Vietnam with InterExchange Working Abroad.

Assimilation: A Crash Course in Teaching English in Vietnam


I moved to Hanoi at the end of October and, therefore, started teaching English in Vietnam about three months later than the newest batch of teachers. As a latecomer, you must process and adjust rapidly. It goes a little something like this:

1. Pay attention and take notes. When you travel for roughly 22 hours to arrive and LIVE in a country on the other side of the world – that’s wildly different than your motherland – jet lag will be all consuming. I barely remember anything anyone said to me my first couple days of orientation. Acknowledge this fatigue, and possibly culture shock, and take notes about every detail even if it seems silly or too obvious at the time to write down. You’ll need this documentation to recall conversations and what it is you do at your new job, but you’ll also want this documentation later when you are settled into your new life, or returning to the motherland, and you want to recall how you felt adapting to an unfamiliar environment.

2. Connect with people. I have a policy: unless I am sick, I always say yes to an invitation when I am new to a place and have a desire to get out and meet people. This is also a great policy to employ for learning about restaurants, places to shop and just how to live life in your new city. Connecting with as many people as possible is also critical because you will share a bond with everyone you meet abroad that no one in your current life will ever understand.

3. Find a home. Don’t be shy, ask colleagues if they know of rooms available or if they have real estate agent recommendations. There are also good online platforms to peruse when searching for available housing, roommates and really anything else. The dorm options are good for your first week or so but past that, you need to get out and live among the people.

4. Learn the language. If you decide not to take classes or private lessons to learn Vietnamese, learn at least enough to pronounce your students’ and colleagues’ names and buy what you need at the market. Vietnamese is a difficult language to learn and speak but it’s a wonderful feeling when you understand what someone is saying, and your attempts to learn will be appreciated.

5. Get a motorbike…if you dare. Before you make a decision about whether you want to rent or own one, ride as a passenger and take Xe Ôm (motorbike taxis) to your destinations. This will help you get an idea of if you are up for being a driver or not. Your other travel options are bicycle, bus and taxi, which aren’t expensive. I will give no advice on these options; it’s a personal decision based on your comfort level and desire for freedom.

6. Set your intention. I’m all about going with the flow and taking advantage of opportunities as they arise, but I also have some goals for my life in Vietnam. One of my biggest fears is falling into a daily/weekly/monthly routine that becomes mundane and devoid of authentic experiences, and then waking up to realize that my time here has come to an end. So ask yourself: Where do I want to travel? Do I want to take classes? Meditate more often? Learn to cook Vietnamese food? The opportunities are endless.

Samantha is teaching English in Vietnam with InterExchange Working Abroad.

Changing Time Zones

I’ve been in Spain for three days now and even though I’ve mostly slept, I think it’s safe to say I love it! The travel was tough. Despite all the planning, weeks of packing, farewell parties and goodbye outings, it wasn’t until I walked into the airport that it really settled in that I was really moving out of the country on my own! “Who does this?” I thought. But with little time to get lost in logic or consumed by fear I hurried to the check-in counter. Despite the last minute purge I did just before leaving the house, every piece of luggage I packed was over weight, as anticipated. I stepped out of line, rearranged once more, paid my fees and went on my way.

Before arriving to my gate I stopped at Pinkberry to indulge one final time before also bidding my favorite frozen treat adieu for a while. I arrived to my gate with just enough time to call Sprint and disconnect my phone service prior to boarding.

Finally on the plane, I was served two hot meals, a couple of cups of tea and a glass of wine. I spent the next 14 hours journaling, napping, listening to music, watching a plethora movies and TV series and tracking our travel progress with a GPS system that showed live footage of the area outside.

After what felt like a lifetime of flying we landed in Moscow, welcomed by about 10 or so inches of snow (give or take a few inches as I’m from L.A. and am not used to eye-measuring snow, lol) covering parts of the runway, but thankfully it did not impact our landing. The homes adjacent to the airport were the cutest, as they were painted an assortment of bright colors adorned with alternating colored rooftops.

I stayed in the airport for my two-hour layover while I people watched and compared cultures. When it was time to depart for our final destination, we walked out onto the runway and boarded a charter bus that drove us to our appointed aircraft, where we then emplaned and got ready for another 5 1/2-hour flight.

Once in Madrid, after passing through customs, I made my way to baggage claim and retrieved all of my items. I attempted to purchase a luggage cart but did not have exact change in euros nor did either of my bank cards work (which now I’m assuming was the machine error). In that moment I found the saying to ring true that “you never realize how strong you are until being strong is [literarily] your only option.” I stacked all of my oversized and overweight luggage on top of one another and hauled them out of the airport to meet my host family, whom I’ve only seen once via Skype previously, for the very first time. After a 30-minute commute I arrived at the four-bedroom flat I now call home.

I spent the next day in hibernation trying to reclaim the hours of sleep that I lost. While still struggling with the time change, I’ve been forcing myself to stay awake during the day by overdosing on coffee in the morning and using sleeping aids at night to help regulate my sleep/wake rhythm.

I started work Thursday evening. I sat with the daughter, Gabriella (12), and assisted her with her English homework. I helped clarify the difference between past continuous and past simple verb tenses, the proper use of the word “ideally” and further helped her understand common English idioms such as something costing “an arm and a leg.”

The kids are really fascinated with my hair. After discovering that my twists are extensions, Sergio (10) now often sneaks up behind me and holds a strand in his hand. After several seconds, he’ll jump from behind me, hair still in hand and ask “Can you feel that?!? Did you know I was holding your hair?”

Gabriella and I share many of the same interests; she likes to swim, shop, eat frozen yogurt and also loves high heels. Friday she and I walked to the mall, which is about 10 minutes by foot. While many things are the same here, there are a lot of dissimilarities.

In my adventures of getting out and seeing the town, I have noticed Majadahonda (the city where I reside) does not use traffic lights, rather every intersection is a traffic circle and people simply merge accordingly.

Beer is an acceptable beverage sold at many fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s and Burger King and costs no more than one euro.
Manis and pedis are not a popular part of the culture, so much so that a six-chair cart in the mall (like where we would buy cell phone cases) is enough to meet the demand here. I guess it is safe to say that my biweekly gel mani/pedi upkeep will soon fall by the wayside.

Most things in Europe are smaller; cars, food portion sizes, the popcorn served at movies, storage space and even the chairs at restaurants are less than what I am accustomed to.

I will have to get used to the European double cheek kiss as a form of greetings, partings and gratitude. I will also have to remember to use the word “trousers” instead of “pants,” as the word “pants” references underwear and is taboo to discuss publicly.

Londi is working as an au pair in Spain through InterExchange Working Abroad.

My Spanish Adventure Continues…

Spain is such a wonderful country, filled with culture, food and history! Over the last two months I’ve been able to experience it all through the InterExchange Working AbroadConversation Coach in Spain program! My adventure so far has been filled with a mix of emotions, as all experiences abroad will include at one point or another. As I have been told many times throughout my travels, if you don’t feel a little bit uncomfortable, you’re not learning anything.

So what have I learned? Well, that’s a loaded question. When you travel to a foreign country, you learn about the country you visit, how the people live, what they do for fun and simply how they live their lives. It’s a learning experience you should embrace and explore to fully understand a culture, but you also learn so much about your own culture at the same time. You use this experience to compare and contrast, learning and coming to realization about things from your own culture that you had previously never paid any attention to, until you saw how other cultures are doing it differently. This doesn’t imply or mean that one country or culture is better in comparison – that’s open to opinion, but I would avoid that mindset at all costs simply because it will limit your learning experiences. Be true to yourself, embrace change and take in all the world has to offer.

My final month is well under way here in Spain, and it’s a bittersweet feeling to say the least. It’s hard not to fall in love with such a beautiful and historical culture, and you haven’t really lived until you’ve experienced European nightlife, especially in Madrid! I’ve grown close to all the children I’ve been tutoring in English as well, and it’ll be hard to see myself off and leave them behind. Through this experience I have made relationships one would hope to last a lifetime. I know I will always be welcomed back!

Joseph is a Conversation Coach in Spain with InterExchange Working Abroad.