Living with your own parents and sharing a bathroom, kitchen and food is tough! But luckily, that unconditional love for your family was palpable from the second you were born. As you grow older and as years pass you learn how to live with your family. You learn how to bribe them for those extra 15 minutes in the shower. You learn to conceal your food in the fridge so your siblings don’t eat it.
But imagine building a relationship with a whole new family on a different continent where you may not speak their native language. The thought of living with someone who doesn’t know you is worrying.
I still remember that nerve-racking feeling when I was Skyping my host parents for the very first time. I remember that daunting feeling of having both host parents and their kids surrounding the laptop screen all glaring at me through the little camera. It’s awkward and uncomfortable but hopefully this article helps you to build that great relationship with your host family while having the time of your life!
1. Communication is key. Don’t like when the kids are on their Ipads all day? Tell your host parents. Don’t like cleaning up after your host parents? Let them know. They won’t know what’s right or wrong until you speak to them. From the moment you feel anxious, worried, stressed, even pleased with your host kids, you need to tell your host parents. Always! Never feel like you can’t talk to them. You’re expected to live in their house and they’re expected to cater to your basic needs as a host family. Communication is key when it comes to relationships, especially one that impacts your daily schedule.
2. Be flexible. Did any au pairs find that a lot of things change when you first arrived at your host family’s home? Your private bathroom isn’t so private when you find your 10-year-old host kid peeing in the middle of the night with the bathroom door wide open. Or you were promised a car but regrettably, it broke down and had to be towed away for good and now you’re left sharing with your host parents. Life is unpredictable and no matter how organized your schedule may be, there will come times where you will have to be flexible and learn to liaise with your host parents.
3. Working in your pj’s all day, every day. It’s comforting to work from home for both yourself and your host parents. My host mom often worked from home (which unfortunately for me, meant my host kids would run to her at every opportunity they could get) but when she had to run off to that last minute dinner meeting, I pulled my weight and worked an extra hour. Don’t forget your role, you’re living in their home to do a job – to care for their children. I know kids are tough but managing a full time job, kids, a household, and an international au pair is tougher!
4. Home is where the heart is. A house is not a home, it’s what you make of it that makes it a home. Your host family should welcome you in their home and make you feel a part of their family. They should allow you to make yourself feel comfortable or give you the option and space to do so. I received a brand new set of chest drawers when I arrived at my host family’s home which I thought was very considerate of them. I didn’t ask for it but they acknowledged the fact that I would need extra space to store my belongings. And even if they can’t provide essentials for you, communicate to them about your personal space. It will also help improve your language skills and help develop a mutual relationship!
5. Share cultural differences. Pumpkin pie, peanut butter and jelly, and Panera Bread were all new to me but I learned to love every single one of them! You may feel homesick at first and forget to dive into the adventurous lifestyle at the beginning, but with time, you’ll adjust to the cultural differences. As well as learning your host family’s cultural traditions, you’ll have the perfect opportunity to share yours! I remember teaching my host kids all things British and Indian, and the look on their faces was overly satisfying and something I miss terribly. It helped develop a strong bond between myself and my host kids, all the while creating a lifetime and loving relationship.