I love cultural exchange.  I love meeting people from all over the world who are brave enough to take the step to come to a new country filled with new ideas.  Every day presents something new:  a tidbit of information, a discussion of a “big” concept ( our ‘peace’ competition), politics, values, ways of life.  Each of us learns to understand the others and the values they hold dear.  We learn not to judge based on pre-conceived notions or what we think about a situation.  We learn to listen, to explore, to compromise.  Oh, if only a cultural exchange experience was a requirement for the world’s leaders!

I recently asked Janita, a South African au pair, to tell me something about her experience with cultural exchange.  Here is what she wrote.

“A Roman philosopher once said “As the soil, however rich it may be, cannot be productive without cultivation, so the mind without culture can never produce good fruit.”  I strongly believe that to be more true than most of us realize. I am still growing into someone with such a mind.  Growing up means  finding out who you want to be and then growing into that person.   What often determines who we are, is our culture and influences by other cultures, and here in America I have probably done more growing up then I have throughout high school because of this exact reason.

After graduating high school I knew I was not yet ready to enter the world as an adult capable of taking care of myself with all the emotional challenges life had to offer. I wanted to leave my sheltered life and experience the world, I wanted to expand my knowledge of people and become world wise.   That is why I joined this program, because I knew I would experience things outside of my comfort zone, and learn things I would always cherish.  Here I did not only learn things from the American culture, but also many things from the cultures of the other Au Pairs  that I have gotten to know.

I have learned that it is the American culture to be proud, patriotic, independent and to go big with everything. Americans are not afraid to speak up for what they believe, and to fight for what they want. By living with Americans I have learned to embrace who I am before worrying what people might think. I have experienced how easy it is for Americans to choose their own style and look, which was not easy to do in South Africa. We grow up wearing school uniforms that brought along with it a very strict dress code. It is so deeply imbedded into our culture that we are reluctant to stray from it.  But here I have realized how uplifting it is to choose what you feel comfortable looking like.

On the 4th of July I experienced a national pride and unity that brought tears to my eyes, it was absolutely amazing to see how Americans stand on attention to sing their national anthem, and show their pride, a culture that makes America what it is today.  On Halloween I saw how big Americans can go with things, the decorations, the candy, the trick or treating, Americans definitely know how to go big! Which is an impressive way of showing their enthusiasm.  On thanksgiving I realized how American people can be loving, caring and festive, with the most beautiful traditions.  And this along with all the support they give their troops and how much pride they take in proudly showing their flag.

But other than the American cultures, I learned to be elegant and professional from the Germans, how to be easy-going and child-like like the Brazilians and how to be crazy and fun like the Thai girls. And I have introduced people to the warm heartedness and devotion of being South African.

While being in America I have seen how things can be done differently all around the world, and thanks to that I can pick and choose and mix and match the different ways possible for things to be handled. I have a new way of looking at things from many different angles and I have heard many different opinions to help me form a well thought through conclusion on many important matters in life. Because of the cultural exchange I have experienced I can get a head start in becoming a well rounded person, with better formulated opinions.  I cannot even begin to thank Au Pair in America enough for the opportunity to have experienced what I have. I got to know myself better because of all the different things I could live through and I got to know so much more about how the rest of the world works, or sometimes doesn’t.

Because of cultural exchange, I have changed, but into someone for progressive, whos mind can start to bare fruit.”

Janita also entered our “Peace” competition with a beautiful painting and poem.  To see her entries, visit art gallery

Thank you, Janita, and all you other wondrful au pairs who have graced us with your presence, sense of wonder, and culturally different styles.