“I really thought that America was going to be filled with superficial, materialistic people who cared more about ‘things’ than people and relationships….I was wrong.”

I heard this so often, not only from au pairs but from high school students who are arriving in the U.S. for an academic year. I’ve also heard, “this (meaning life as an au pair) is nothing like ‘Beverly Hills 90210!” Thank goodness it’s not!

Where are these misconceptions coming from?  the media? friends chatting (though they’ve never been in the U.S.)?  Rumor?

Several years ago, I met a young man from Russia who had been on the AYA  high school exchange program when he was a teen-ager.  On returning home, his friends asked why he’d gone to America.  “Why would you want to spend time with those horrible people” they asked him.  His reply, he told us,”…ah, you’re talking about American politics; I’m talking about the American people…!  There are no people warmer, friendlier, and more welcoming than the Americans I lived with as well as those in my community and those I met on my travels. I formed friendships of a lifetime.”

Let’s all improve our cultural competency by holding off on judgments.  Meet people from other countries, interact with them, share ideas, and keep an open mind. Be willing to believe that we all have good intentions; it might just take awhile to figure them out.