by Shana Medah

Hosting an au pair offers a chance like no other to learn about other cultures and build enduring intercultural relationships. However, is certainly isn’t always easy. In some ways it’s like a marriage – all parties have to be committed to success in order to make it work. Here are a few tips to help you solve some of the cultural mysteries, bridge the gaps, and most importantly, learn as much as possible.

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1. Realize that cultural programming is unconscious.

Most of the time, you aren’t consciously aware of how culture influences the way you think, behave, and interpret the world. Just like a computer, you respond to things according to your cultural programming. The people who are most successful with other cultures work hard to bring their unconscious programming to the surface. They observe their own behavior and reflect on why they act or feel the way they do. Once you are more aware of your own programming, you can start to put yourself into the cultural shoes of others.

2. Be a cultural detective.

Observe the people you interact with who are from other cultures. Try to describe as objectively as possible what you see. Avoid descriptions that make a judgment about what you see. For example, instead of saying that the person you just met was disrespectful, you should simply observe that the person didn’t say thank you when you offered him something to eat. The first sentence assumes the correct way to show respect, while the second simply describes the behavior. Separating yourself from your cultural assumptions will free your mind to explore other cultural points of view.

3. Being culturally sensitive doesn’t mean you have to like everything.

When interacting with a new culture, you will find some things are very easy for you to adapt to, and others that you just can’t accept no matter how hard you try. Try to find a compromise with the things you can’t agree with so that you can still function in the society while not violating your own deeply held beliefs.

4. Remember that culture shock can be a good thing.

It’s not easy to feel confused and disoriented all the time. Recognize that this is normal process, and that it will eventually lead to better understanding of the new culture. Use your cultural detective skills to discover the logic behind the annoying, frustrating or confusing behavior of the people around you. Take time to retreat and recharge, but keep in mind that each encounter with the new culture is an opportunity to learn.

5. Keep your sense of humor.

They say that laughter is the best medicine, and the ability to laugh at yourself will help you keep things in perspective. Even the most experienced intercultural professional can tell stories of embarrassing mistakes. Learn from your mistakes and look for the humor in them.