InterExchange Au Pairs Share Holiday Customs

On Sunday, Interexchange Fairfield County au pairs gathered to celebrate the holidays and share customs and traditions.

Many au pairs brought traditional food from their home countries for everyone to taste. Lena B. from France made crepes and Naomi B. and Marieke V. from the Netherlands brought amandelstaaf, a Christmas sweetbread. Celine G. from Germany made German cookies. Angelika J. from Spain shared special chocolate cookies that her parents sent to her. Other au pairs brought their favorite American snacks. Felix P. from Italy brought a big bag of skittles.

Next to an American Christmas tree, the au pairs ate and described how they celebrate the holidays in their countries.

In Brazil, customs are similar to the U.S. even though it’s summer and hot at Christmas time. Many people like to go to the beach. Sometimes children leave a sock near a window. If Papai Noel finds the sock, he’ll exchange it for a present! Read More »

InterExchange Fairfield County Au Pairs Help Bring Joy to Local Children this Holiday Season

Last weekend, 22 au pairs from InterExchange Au Pair USA in Fairfield County volunteered to wrap presents for underprivileged children as part of Inspirica’s Holiday Gift Collection. Inspirica’s Holiday Gift Collection is one of the largest regional programs to gather, organize, and deliver over 5,000 personalized, wrapped gifts to 2,500 children in Fairfield County and beyond whose lives have been affected by homelessness, HIV/AIDS, and/or poverty.

The au pairs worked tirelessly for over 3 hours wrapping gifts for boys and girls of all ages.

Christine Meek, the Local Coordinator for Fairfield County, said she tries to expose the au pairs in her cluster to “American” customs and traditions. “I believe that volunteering is a big part of our culture and I like to introduce my au pairs to community service. Inspirica’s wrapping party is a great example of how Americans work together to help others and make a difference.”

Interexchange Au Pair USA was just one of many civic and religious groups that attended.  Angelika J. from Spain said this was a unique experience for her. “I am amazed at how many people volunteered at the event.  I have never done this in Spain and it was so nice to do something for those who are less fortunate,” said Angelika.

Aletia D. from South Africa said she had mixed emotions about the experience. She said “It’s heartbreaking to know that there are children who are deprived. It felt great to know that I’m helping to make a child’s Christmas special this year. It also made me appreciate what I have and reminded me of how privileged I am.”

This is Christine’s 6th year wrapping presents with her au pairs. “Every year I bring a new group of au pairs to volunteer. Marine V. from France, who is in her extension year, participated in the wrapping party last year and requested that we do it again this year, ” said Christine.  “This is a really fun time that helps put me in the Christmas spirit,” said Marine.

All of the au pairs agreed that this was a meaningful experience. Matheus from Brazil, who is extending his visa for another year, said “It’s a very good thing to help people. I hope we do it again next year.”

 

Fairfield County Au Pairs Host International Tea Party

More than 13 countries (many had multiple representatives) were represented at the Interexchange Au Pair USA Fairfield County Host Family and Au Pair International Tea Party on Sunday, November 8th at the Italian Center of Stamford. Each au pair brought a traditional dish from his or her home country for everyone to sample.

The international smorgasbord included Yorkshire and bread and butter pudding and scones from England, gazpacho from Spain, an apple tart from France, flan and passion fruit mousse from Brazil, rice balls from Japan and chicken salad with corn and pineapples from the Ukraine. Felix P. from Italy brought bruschetta. Au pairs from the Netherlands made boterkoek (butter cook) and brought traditional dutch candy for everyone to try. Mona F. from Germany brought a pasta salad. Aletia D. made melktert which is a dessert/tea time dish in South Africa.  Local Coordinator Christine Meek made a chocolate cake to represent the U.S.  It was quite a feast!

26 au pairs and 15 host families attended the event. Virginie D. from France said the tea was awesome and Robyn S. from South Africa said it was very interesting to sample all of the foods from each country. Host families enjoyed the opportunity to meet  other host families as well their au pair’s friends. Au pairs who just arrived to the U.S. were delighted to become acquainted with the other au pairs in the cluster. Many of the au pairs were happy to mingle with their friends and encounter new people.  Pictures of au pairs with their host children were on display at the event and were handed out as a party favor for the host families.

All of the attendees left very full! As our dutch au pairs would say “het was goed!” (It was good.)

InterExchange Au Pair USA to Exhibit at Drool Baby Expo in Greenwich on 8/27/15

Nobody ever feels QUITE ready for a new baby, but having the right information is a very good start. As the Local Coordinator for Interexchange Au Pair USA in Fairfield County, I am excited to be participating in the ultimate event to get you started: the Connecticut/Westchester Drool Baby Expo! Drool is coming to the Hyatt Regency Greenwich on August 27, and is presented by Magic Beans, the ultimate baby gear experts.

At this event, you can explore the world of baby products and services with the help of experts from every brand – you can get in there and try out every item and learn why each one is special, from the folks who created them. Stop by our booth and learn about the benefits of our au pair program, including our highly qualified and trained au pairs, affordable costs and flexibility.

Plus, you can snap up your faves at one-night-only discount prices, snag cool gifts with purchase, enter to win over $10,000 in raffle prizes, munch on delicious snacks and sip elegant mocktails, get pampered with complimentary spa treatments, and leave with an overflowing gift bag. This event always sells out, so snap up your tickets quick – go to www.droolbabyexpo.com! To save $5 on tickets, enter the following promo code: Interexchange 5

I hope to see you there!

Fourth of July Fireworks in Fairfield County

The Fourth of July is Independence Day, which is a big cause for celebration in the U.S. and one that I want to encourage all of the Interexchange Au Pair USA Fairfield County au pairs to experience and enjoy. While many Americans celebrate this holiday with barbecues, picnics and parades,  fireworks are perhaps the most well known and exciting Fourth of July tradition.

Here is a list of fireworks displays listed by city and town in the Patch 2015 Connecticut Fireworks Guide:

July 2

July 3

July 4

Enjoy the spectacular tradition of American fireworks and stay safe this holiday weekend!

5 Free Things for Au Pairs to Do in New York City

I recently asked my au pairs to share some of their favorite things to do in the area. Since Fairfield County is so close to New York City, many of the au pairs spend a lot of their free time exploring New York City. Of course, New York City can be very expensive. Marine, an au pair from France, has enjoyed discovering the city this year and has created a fabulous list of 5 free things to do in the Big Apple. It is a great list that I am excited to do with my family and au pairs!

5 Free Attractions in New York City

1. Take Ride on the Staten Island Ferry

Marine declares this to be a must to experience beautiful views of the statue of liberty and take some pictures. If you go at the end of the day, you can take in the sunset skyline of Manhattan.

The Staten Island Passenger Ferry is the best free cruise in town. The free round-trip cruise takes you past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, with terrific views back to Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. Staten Island ferries depart from the Whitehall Terminal at South Ferry in Lower Manhattan, next to Battery Park. Subway stations nearby include South Ferry, Bowling Green, Broad Street and Whitehall Street. Marine suggests going on the ferry to enjoy the sunset and the skyline view of Manhattan.

The trip takes 25 minutes each way, and ferries run 24 hours round the clock. You have to disembark at Staten Island by law, so while you’re there, take a walk around the Snug Harbor Cultural Center museums and Botanical Gardens.

You can catch the ferry at 4 Whitehall Street, New York, NY 10004.

To get there, visit http://www.siferry.com/getthere.html.

For schedule information, please visit http://www.siferry.com/schedules.html.

 2. Take a Walk on the High Line

The High Line is a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues. I took my au pairs their a few years ago and we all enjoyed the amazing views, street performers, gardens and people watching. Marine describes it as “an aerial greenway where you will discover another New York City by air.”

3. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge

The pedestrian walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge starts across from City Hall in lower Manhattan on the Manhattan side of the East River. This 1.3 mile walk is romantic, inspiring, expansive and historic. According to Marine, the views of Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor are spectacular. There’s a dedicated pedestrian walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge, above the roaring car traffic, so it’s a wonderful stroll. Don’t forget to bring your camera!

4. Listen to a Gospel Choir in Harlem

According to the Walks of New York, hearing gospel in Harlem is one of the finest musical treats New York City has to offer. But unlike other forms of music, New York does not have commercial venues devoted to regular gospel performances. Instead, Gospel music has remained close to its roots—and the best place to hear it is still in Harlem. The 1st Corinthian Baptist Church, Canaan Baptist Church of ChristBethel Gospel Assembly and Greater Refuge Temple are all popular gospel services in Harlem. Services are generally two to three hours, so plan accordingly. Marine’s favorite gospel choir is located at the Metropolitan Community United Methodist Church. It’s not as well known by tourists so it is easier to find a seat and the choir is very impressive.

5. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum

The 9/11 Memorial honors those who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The Memorial occupies eight acres and is a tribute to the past and a place of hope for the future. Marine describes the Memorial as “calm and loud at the same time, and the waterfalls reminded me of the loss of thousands of people.” The Memorial is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and is located at the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan. Visitors can access the Memorial at the intersection of Liberty Street and Greenwich Street. Public transportation is the best way to access lower Manhattan.Visitors can take the A, C, J, 2, 3, 4 or 5 trains to Fulton Street.

These 5 attractions will take a full day to complete. And, since they are free, you can save your money and buy yourself a nice lunch or dinner! Happy exploring! And a very special thank you to Marine for her fabulous recommendations!

Fairfield County Au Pairs Share Culture With Elementary Students in Stamford

Five au pairs from InterExchange Au Pair USA presented information on their country, customs and traditions to 400 students at Northeast Elementary School in Stamford at morning assembly on Friday. Au pairs Lena from France, Fern from England, Yue from China, Asami from Japan and Andi from Hungary shared information about their culture, including the top three facts that students should know about their country, why they wanted to come to the U.S., what they miss most about their home country and what they love most about the U.S.

The 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders giggled when they learned some British slang such as “cods wallop,” which means “nonsense,” and “chin wag,” which means “to talk a lot.” But no one was “faff” (fooling around). And, of course, all the students raised their hands when asked if they were familiar with One Direction!

They were interested in learning that the Statue of Liberty came from France. And when Yue showed them pictures of the Chinese dragon, the children were enthralled.

The teachers and children enjoyed the presentation, which gave them a brief overview of the countries represented and an opportunity to ask questions. Afterward, the au pairs met with Principal Hubert Gordon, who asked them what they enjoy doing in their spare time. The answer – travel!

This was a rewarding opportunity for the au pairs as well. Prior to the event, they were nervous about speaking in front of a large group of students. Afterward, Yue said “I like doing meaningful things like this where I can share information about China with children.”

InterExchange Au Pair USA believes in promoting intercultural exchange. While the au pairs are here to learn about the U.S. and our way of life, we feel that it is beneficial to the community for au pairs to share traditions from their home countries and what they enjoy about the U.S.

Educating Au Pairs on Bicycle Safety in Fairfield County

May is Bicycle Safety Month. To kick off Bicycle Safety Month, my Fairfield County cluster of au pairs and I volunteered at the Timothy Coppola Bicycle Helmet Giveaway.

While volunteering at this event, I was astonished to learn that helmets are not required in most other countries. As a result, I am now recommending that all of my host families make sure that they speak to their au pairs and inform them that in the State of Connecticut all children under the age of 16 must wear a helmet while riding a bicycle. It is not optional – it is the law. To reinforce this, you may want to use the example of Timothy Coppola, a second-grader who was hit by a car while riding his bike and later died from his injuries. Timothy always wore a helmet except for that one time. Unfortunately, that is all it takes for a tragic accident to occur.

A helmet is “the single most effective safety device available to reduce head injury and death from bicycle crashes,” according to Safe Kids Worldwide. In fact, Safe Kids states that helmets have been proven to reduce the risk of severe brain injuries by 88 percent.

After learning that other countries did not require bicycle helmets, I started thinking about other bicycle safety guidelines that we, as Americans, may take for granted and should discuss with our au pairs.

Here are some recommendations from Safe Kids:

  • Any helmet you buy should have a sticker declaring that it meets the standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
  • Your child should never wear a hat under the helmet.
  • Make sure he or she wears a helmet every ride, even if it’s short! This includes other wheeled sports activities, too, such as riding a scooter, roller skating or in-line skating.
  • Your child’s helmet should fit properly – not too big or too small. For more information on helmet fitting, please use the National Highway Traffic Control Safety Association’s tips, which my au pairs and I were trained to do before volunteering at the bike helmet event.
Here are some other considerations to discuss with your au pair about bicycle safety:
  • Make sure children wear sneakers to ride a bike. Flip flops can get caught in the spokes or bicycle chain and cause an accident. Shoe laces should be tied and loose pants should be avoided for the same reason.
  • Do not allow headphones to be worn while a child is riding a bike. It is important that kids are not distracted by music and are able to hear oncoming traffic and horns while on the road.
  • Discuss where your children are allowed to ride their bikes (your neighborhood, your street, etc.).
  • If possible, always have the kids ride on the sidewalk instead of the street. Better yet, bring the bikes to a park, or ride on bike trails or designated bike routes where the kids can ride without having to worry about traffic and cars.
  • Ensure that children ride on the right-hand side of the street, so they travel in the same direction as cars do. They should never ride against traffic.

Please do not take for granted that au pairs know and understand American bicycle safety rules. Put these guidelines in writing in your house rules or au pair notebook and be sure to have a conversation about this with your au pair in front of the children. It is better to have everyone on the same page than to risk an accident.

Happy riding!

Fairfield County Au Pairs Volunteer at Bicycle Helmet Giveaway

Fern Murray, an au pair from England, volunteering at the Timothy Coppola Bicycle Helmet Giveaway.

I am so proud of the au pairs in my cluster who woke up very early on a Saturday morning to volunteer at the Stamford Police Association Timothy Coppola Bike Helmet Giveaway.

Glen and Peggy Coppola started the bike helmet giveaway in 1995 after the death of their only child. Timothy died at the age of 10 after riding his bike without a helmet. Timothy suffered a traumatic brain injury after colliding with a car on August 30, 1992 while riding his bike. The second-grader succumbed 22 months later. The accident occurred less than 300 feet from their home. Timothy always wore a helmet except that one time.

All of the au pairs were trained on how to properly fit bicycle helmets prior to the start of the event. We arrived at 8:15 am for our training and worked from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm fitting brand new helmets for kids ages four to 16 who were unable to afford them. We volunteered along with Backyard Humanitarian and other members of the community. The helmets were purchased with donations from local corporations.

Community service is a big part of American culture and I thought this would be a good opportunity for our au pairs to see how we give back to our community and help one another. In addition, this event taught the au pairs about bicycle safety and how important it is, especially when you are caring for children. I didn’t realize it, but most of the au pairs informed me that helmets are not typically worn in their home country.

Everyone agreed it was a wonderful experience! Marcella Oldenhuizing from the Netherlands said, “It actually feels good to help someone else.”

We helped fit 1,000 children with new bicycle helmets! Everyone agreed it was a rewarding experience and enjoyed the American tradition of community service.

How to Welcome Your New Au Pair to Connecticut

This is a busy time of year for au pair arrivals. When I touch base with families before their au pair arrives, I am often asked what host families can do to make their au pair feel welcome when he or she arrives. Here are some suggestions to make your au pair feel at home:

1. Email the au pair’s parents prior to the au pair’s arrival and ask them to send some favorite pictures of the au pair’s family, friends, pets and home. The pictures can be sent via email and you can print them out and put them in frames around the au pair’s room.

2. Have your children make a big welcome sign to put in the front of your house or in the au pair’s room. Have them decorate it with pictures, glitter, stickers and other items to make it bright and cheery.

3. Put together an “American” welcome basket. Include items such as Hershey’s chocolate bars, a book on the U.S., a jar of local honey or jam, an iTunes card, gum, a small American flag and some toiletries.

4. Give the au pair maps of the local area and any brochures and pamphlets of local attractions. If you are a AAA member, you can pick these items up at your local AAA location free of charge.

5. Have a welcome party and invite friends and neighbors to meet your au pair as well as any au pairs that live in the area.

6. Make plans to take your au pair to a special “American” event, such as a baseball game, festival, bowling or concert.

7. Look for local ethnic stores that carry items from an individual country (for example, we have Polish and Dutch stores in my area) and purchase a few treats and special items to remind her/him of home.

It is very possible your au pair may experience culture shock and homesickness when she or he arrives. Be sure to include him or her in all family outings and activities, ask questions about home, family and friends, and encourage her or him to Skype with family and friends. I also encourage host families to introduce their au pair to other au pairs in the area and suggest they make plans to go out together. Help your au pair feel like a part of your family and I am sure she or he will feel right at home!