When you're a parent, the travel bug isn't always as easy to satisfy as it was in your carefree and kid-free days. But if you love to learn about new cultures, and happen to need more help taking care of your brood, there may just be a perfect solution: Rather than traveling to immerse your family in another country, bring it right to your doorstep.
The U.S. State Department monitors a program to bring young people from all over the world into American homes for a year or two. They're called au pairs. And in exchange for room, board, and some spending money, they come halfway around the globe to live with families, help take care of their kids, and learn something about American culture.
For the au pair, it's a great way to see a bit of America, before becoming too entrenched in a career. For busy families, especially those with two working parents, au pairs provide a third set of hands around the house.
And although it's certainly not dirt cheap, at about $285 per week (regardless of the number of children), it's much more reasonable than fulltime daycare or a nanny. "For an active family with children, hosting an international au pair is one of the most affordable childcare options available. And yet, hosting an au pair is also one of the most rewarding childcare options for families," says Dale Dubowy, Regional Development Coordinator for Cultural Care Au Pair, a placement agency. "Au pairs enrich children's playtimes with international games, stories, and activities, while also helping families better balance their daily lives and schedules," she says.
So what's the downside? Well, for one, they are not maids. While au pairs can help with household responsibilities like preparing meals for the kids, doing the children's laundry, and helping them keep pick up their toys, they are not going to scrub your floor and deep clean your carpets. You need to know from the get-go that they're coming to help with the kids.
On the positive side, the best au pair programs require a significant chunk of childcare experience. In addition to a good deal of babysitting under their belts, many candidates have worked in schools as teachers or teacher's aides.
Sure, they'll be in your home, sharing your bathroom and maybe even "invading" some of your previously private time. But if you choose right, you'll have someone who becomes like a member of the family. And who opens your children's eyes to a wider world.
For more information, and a list of agencies approved by the U.S. State Department, see the U.S. Department of State J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program page.