I want to talk a bit about the differences I have experienced since living as an au pair in the USA—because there are a lot! From the way children are taught and raised, to how people eat, live and talk, American culture is very unique.
School, for example, is different. I’m specifically talking about my host kid’s school. In the US there are private and public schools. For private schools you pay for your kid to go to school. The schedule is much different than my schedule when I was in school—the days are shorter, and everyone eats lunch at school. You can give your kid his or her own lunch, but you can also pay for school lunch. Every class has a different teacher that’s specialized in one subject. For me, that only came in high school. Before high school, we just had one teacher every year that would teach us every subject. I don’t know much about high school here, because my host kids are not in high school, but I know that everyone gets taught at the same level, and goes to high school for the same amount of years. This is different than where I come from because we have levels in high school that are determined by tests we took in middle school. We would be taught according to that level, and it also means we can go to high school for 4, 5 or 6 years. It depends on those levels how high of an education we can pursue after high school.
Here in the USA, many kids go to school in a uniform—not their own chosen clothes. Also, sports usually go through school here. You play sports with school. I used to just have gym classes in school, but if I wanted to play a sport, I had to find a team outside of school. My host kid played a few sports with school, and also some sports outside of school. The coaches were usually fathers of a player on the team—they played on a random field that wasn’t good, and they played on different fields all the time. They didn’t have their own fields. This is much different, because for me everything was always very well-arranged.
Another thing about kids that I feel is very different, is that here it’s super normal to give your kid their own electronic device at a young age. I’ve noticed here in the US that kids are very addicted to their iPad, and can be on it for a full day—but get very quickly bored doing something else. Back home, in school, kids will make plans with each other for playdates after school—but here, I find it is usually the parents or guardians (like me) that is the one making plans for playdates. I think one of the reasons for that is because American kids have homework that they have to do before they can start playing after school. I didn’t start to get homework until I was 11 years old, so I could always just go and play outside right after school.
When I first came here I had to get used to the food. Not only because there is much more sugar in everything here, but also because I used to have the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day—but here they need a different breakfast and a different lunch every time, and kids do not get their own food ready.
Oh, I cannot forget to talk about the houses! Houses here are bigger, and most houses are free-standing houses. The houses are made of wood, not stone. Many host families that I know have a pool, or a gym room, or a mini-cinema and a play room. These things are not common where I am from.
Going out for dinner here happens a lot more often than where I’m from. A difference when we go out for dinner is that the staff is super friendly—almost like they know you. I think this is because they are working for tips. Not only in restaurants is it like this, but also in stores. They always want to come up and help you. Another thing is that the taxes for items you want to buy are not included in the price they show you—so I never know what I’m going to have to pay in the end.
Almost everything here is done by car, even when it’s really close. A thing that I like about the cars here, is that almost every car is automatic and not manual, so they’re much easier to drive. It’s harder here to cycle to things, because there are only several bike lanes, and these are not even that safe. This depends on where in the USA you live!
One last thing that I’d like to talk about is sports. I think the sports that are most popular here, are not that popular in other countries. Sports like American football, baseball, basketball, and (ice) hockey. (Here when you say hockey, it means ice hockey. To me and my friends back home, it means field hockey.) Sports are very big here and scholarships are given to people that can play sports very well, because schools want them on their teams. I was once at a college football game, and the stadium was two times bigger than the biggest stadium in my home country—it was crazy, and there was so much going on! That was one of the most awesome things I have experienced here.
I could probably talk so much more about differences, because there are just so many! Some differences I really like, others I don’t. But that’s part of being an au pair in the USA—learning and experiencing new things with my American host family and new friends.