Category Archives: Things to Do in Indianapolis

Share Your Language and Culture in Indianapolis, Indiana

One of the greatest parts of the au pair program, for au pairs, host families, and host cities is the sharing of language and culture it inspires.  Host families  benefit greatly from the exchange, which results in more globally-minded, sometimes multi-lingual children.  Au pairs generally enjoy their Hoosier experience when they come to Indianapolis and leave an impression on all of the friends they make while they are here.

Do you want to make the most of the exchange part of cultural exchange child care?  Sharing your language and culture with others is super-simple thanks to the internet!  Check out local Language and Culture meetups, where you can join an international supper club, attend a language lecture, or find a language group to practice your English (or another language you’re trying to learn while you’re here).

Au Pairs: Make New Friends at Indy’s Many Cultural Festivals

Indianapolis has long been known as a “City of Immigrants.”  The city’s long history of immigration means that Indy has a global feel.  Whether you’re interested in connecting with people who share your culture, or learning about someone else’s, there are so many opportunities to make friends and expand your cultural vocabulary in Indianapolis.  Mark your calendars for these summer and fall festivals (more will be added as they are announced), where you can meet visitors, long-time residents, recent immigrants, exchange students, and others who share your passion for cultural exchange!

St. Benno Fest (Festival of Beer)
April 27 @Indianapolis Athanaeum

Italian Street Festival
June 14-15 @ Holy Rosary

Annual Indian [Native American] Market
June 22 @Eiteljorg Museum, Military Park

Indianapolis Greek Festival
August 24-25 @Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church

Hispanic Heritage Fiesta
September 15 @ Indianapolis Zoo

Chinese Festival
September 21 @Military Park

Latino Festival of the Arts
September 28 @Indiana State Museum

Au Pairs take note: Indianapolis is a great host city!

When I lived abroad, the standard reaction to my revelation that I lived in Oklahoma was incredulity that I might live in a teepee (I did not, for the record!).  The big cities are usually pretty familiar–NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago.   My experience got me thinking that potential au pairs might not have heard of our city. 

So, when a host family asks to interview you and they are from Indianapolis, don’t be disheartened or worry that your year abroad will be dull because you’ve never heard of the place.  While it is true that Indianapolis isn’t quite so fast-paced as say, New York City, this city has a lot to offer, including friendly, welcoming people, beautiful historic districts, top notch educational institutions, great museums (including the biggest Children’s Museum in the world–but don’t let the name fool you, I have just as much fun there as my toddler!), and a varied and active artistic and culinary scene.

Plus, if you really want to visit a bigger city like Chicago, it’s a $1 MegaBus trip away.  Indianapolis is the best of both worlds–friendly and laid-back, but accessible.

Au Pairs, do you have a question about Indianapolis?  Feel free to ask in a comment!

Food Culture Shock – Europe v. the U.S., pt. 1

Years ago, I participated in a year-long cultural exchange program in the U.K.  I’m a picky eater, and at the time, loved my food plain (no condiments, no fancy spices).  England was the perfect locale for me because the food was, no offense, pretty dull.  But, after a month or two, I began to notice a distinct lack of foods that I took for granted when I lived in the U.S.  I started to crave brand-name, sweetened peanut butter, my mom’s homemade chicken soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, and maple syrup.  The peanut butter was nowhere to be found, there was no cheese like the stuff at home, and I looked for months trying to find a good substitute for the Polish egg noodles that are the centerpiece of Mom’s soup.  Every time I pondered a grilled cheese and chicken soup, I’d get a little more homesick.  Thankfully, after a lot of trial and error, and a care package or two from home, I was able to find the familiar flavors I loved, and fill in the gaps with some new local favorites.

Food has a lot of power.  The smell of a familiar dish can trigger an intense memory, and the lack of familiar foods can really begin to drive you crazy.  This is a series.  In this post, I’m going to tell you a little about the differences you’ll see in American groceries and food habits.  Then, in subsequent installments, I’ll show you how Indianapolis’ history of immigration makes it a great city for finding some of the familiar foods you miss.

One of the first things visitors to the U.S. notice about food is probably the relative lack of small specialty shops compared to their home country.  For good or ill, the typical American diet includes a lot of packaged, processed foods and meals at restaurants.  Most grocery stores multi-task as pharmacies or general retail outlets, stocking fresh, frozen and packaged foods as well as a small selection of  medicines, toiletries, gifts, and office supplies.  Larger retailers (locally, you’ll find Target, Walmart, Meijer, Kmart) also include pets, clothing, electronics, garden supplies, and furniture among their merchandise, and some even have banks, hair salons, and portrait studios inside.  It can be overwhelming, even if you’ve lived your whole life in urban America.

Indianapolis does have local food shops that specialize, like bakeries and butcher shops, but they are concentrated down town.  If you miss the shopping experience of your home country, a great place to get fresh artisan-quality foods is the farmer’s market.  Markets are held year-round in various parts of the city and boast seasonal produce, specialty baked goods, and sustainably-raised meat and poultry.  Click here to see Indy’s most popular markets.

The other major difference you’ll notice between European and American food is regulation:  foods banned in the E.U. are permissable in the U.S., and not all of them are required to be labeled.  If you’re concerned about genetically modified foods and additives, it takes a little savvy shopping.

  • You’ll find food dyes in the “ingredients” list on the side or back of the box.
  • BPA is still used in the U.S.  It’s used by some brands to line the interior of food cans.  Plastic storage containers and packaging not intended for infants and children are not required to be labeled if they contain Pthalates or BPA, but most manufacturers now boast “BPA-free!” on labels if they’ve removed it from their products.
  • The U.S. does not prevent the washing of poultry in chlorinated water.
  • Farmers may use pesticides, antibiotics, and bovine growth hormone.  The “Clean 15/Dirty Dozen” is a list of the least and most risky fruits and vegetables.  If you are concerned about pesticides in produce, consult this list to help make an informed decision at the grocer.  Public outcry about antibiotics and growth hormones has resulted in some companies ceasing their use.  As with BPA, companies are generally keen to label their products when they are free of these additives, as it is a major selling point.  But, be careful, because non-regulated marketing claims can be misleading.  For example, a certification system exists for organic food and only certified growers may use “Certified Organic” on a label; in contrast, no reliable certification process exists for the use of the word “natural” on labels in the U.S.
  • Genetically-Modified Organisms are not forbidden in the U.S., and they are also  not required to be labeled.  There are a few Organic brands that undergo a third-party certification process and can boast that they are GMO-free.  Corn, soy, and beets are the most common GMO crops in the U.S.  Otherwise, it can be tricky to avoid GMOs, especially in convenience foods.    Here are some tips.

All these concerns aside, there’s a lot to love about American cuisine.  Next time, we’ll look at the great food in Indianapolis (both ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook) that can help you battle food-induced homesickness.

Local Resources: Take advantage of the library!

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IMCPL lobby. Photographer: -Lori-, Flickr user.

The local library is an excellent local resource for families and au pairs, whether you have avid readers amongst you or not.  In fact, one of the first things I’d recommend for an au pair to after getting settled is to visit the library and explore.  In addition to today’s bestsellers, libraries have resources to help with English and learn a new hobby to ward off homesickness.  There are plenty of quiet areas to sit and work,  events for all ages are offered, and the library is a  great way for you to get to know your neighborhood and make friends.

The Indianapolis Public Library has an extensive digital collection that can even be downloaded from home.  Other local libraries, in Greenwood, Fishers, and Carmel, boast similar collections and a great array of story-time activities, workshops, and lectures.  So, whether you’re in Indianapolis or one of its suburbs, looking for a place to get away or to take the kids, the library is a great, free resource.
Getting a library card is easy– for most libraries, you’ll need your passport plus an item of mail received at your host family’s address in the last 30 days (like your welcome packet from Go Au Pair!) or proof of enrollment in a local education institution.

Thanksgiving: A distinctly American tradition

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that is so ingrained in many American families that we don’t give it much thought.  With November right around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to consider Thanksgiving’s value for host families.  Though many countries have a day of Thanksgiving on their calendar, chances are, Thanksgiving will be totally foreign to your au pair, and the real story of  Thanksgiving may be a little foreign to you, too–it’s not quite the same as the tale told in kindergarten classrooms throughout the country.

So, how should you approach Thanksgiving with an au pair?  Exercising your Hoosier Hospitality will go a long way.   Just involving your au pair in the meal and the football-watching (or any other treasured tradition) will make for a smooth family Turkey Day.

But, to make this often-overwhelming holiday a little less nerve-wracking and take the opportunity to grow closer to your au pair,  consider involving your au pair and your children in the planning of the  festivities:

Want a bilingual child? How about a bilingual family?

I’m on vacation this week, and yesterday, our family went to the zoo.  I was guarding our stroller while my little one took a tour with her father and saw an au pair out with her host family doing the neatest thing.   They were all speaking Spanish together, though the father occasionally slipped into English and the au pair occasionally corrected their grammar or taught them a new word.  They had twins who couldn’t have been older than 18 months, and boy of five or six, all of them experiencing the zoo in another language.

What a great idea!  It’s never too late or too early to learn a new language.  On your next outing, practice in your au pair’s native language.  Pick a place that’s familiar and full of things you can name and describe to build your noun and adjective vocabulary, like the Indianapolis Zoo.   Before you go, talk about the trip over dinner in both languages, and ask your au pair to teach you some useful words and phrases for the trip.

Tip for parents of young children:  a dog doesn’t say “woof” in every language.  Check out this Animal Noise compendium and even your toddler can take part!