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!

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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.

When Illness Strikes and Avoiding Illness

Cold?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user foshydog

At least once during your year, someone in the home is likely to become sick, especially if there are school-aged children or the host parents work in a heavy-traffic environment, like a university, office building, or retail space.

All Au Pairs have basic traveler’s health insurance, with the option to upgrade.  It’s important to understand that this is not a comprehensive plan.  Without comprehensive insurance, routine care can be very expensive in the U.S., a huge change from what you’re used to if you hail from most European countries.

So, au pairs, if you are experiencing mild symptoms, going to a hospital or traditional physician’s office is probably not advisable.  You should never forego medical care, especially if you have an emergency.  Your travel insurance is designed for emergency situations–if you’ve broken a bone or have intense, persistent symptoms, do not hesitate to call a doctor or hospital.  If you are sneezing or have a mild sprain, though, using your insurance for non-emergency or routine care will cost you more over time than will paying with cash.

Most Walgreens and CVS pharmacies in Indianapolis have small clinics inside, where no appointment is required, that is staffed by nurse practitioners.  These health care providers can help diagnose common medical problems and prescribe treatments.  If you require medical tests, you may be referred to a laboratory–explain your lack of traditional insurance to the nurse, and ask that they refer you to a low-cost lab.

If you have a cold, you can care for yourself by using a humidifier, drinking plenty of fluids, and getting rest.  Homeopathic and natural remedies, including the Pelargonium syrup that is prescribed in most European countries for colds and other viruses, are less common in the U.S., but you can find them here.  Boiron products can be purchased in retail pharmacies, and a wider variety of homeopathic and natural medicines are available in health food stores, like Nature’s Pharm and The Good Earth.

Also note: some traditional physicians offer discounts for patients without comprehensive insurance, provided they pay in cash at the time services are rendered.  Ask before scheduling an appointment.

And of course, if you need help navigating your basic or upgraded travel insurance, or with navigating the complex network of providers available in the U.S., please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Some general tips for avoiding illness, so that you don’t need to seek out care:

  • Wash your hands, and make sure the children you care for wash theirs.  Do this especially after cooking, school pickups, and visits to crowded places.
  • Make sure you’re getting proper nutrition with plenty of vitamins (get as many as you can from food instead of supplements in pill or liquid form, as they are more easily absorbed when all-natural).  This will keep your immune system strong.
  • Especially during flu season, avoid self-serve foods (like vegetable trays or chips and dip) at gatherings, which could spread germs.  It’s also a good idea to use alcohol in moderation, as heavy consumption can weaken the immune system.
  • Some people (myself included) swear by a daily dose of Apple Cider Vinegar (with “the mother,” offered by the brand Bragg’s in the U.S.) for warding off and alleviating the symptoms of a cold.

Au Pairs: Fulfilling your education requirement in Indianapolis

In order to successfully complete your year as an au pair, you need to fulfill the education requirement: 6 credit hours at an accredited college or university (12 for EduCare Au Pairs).

In the U.S., most schools have two semesters–spring and fall–and also a series of courses offered in the summer, sometimes with accelerated options that can be completed in fewer weeks than usual (because the classes are longer or meet more frequently).  Summer courses can be a great way to complete your requirement, especially if your host family has a more flexible schedule in the summer time.

Most Indianapolis universities offer an auditing program.  When you audit, you’ll get to participate in the course’s lectures and assignments, but you won’t have to enroll in a degree program and will not receive transferable college credits.

One more reason to audit:  the cost is frequently much less than taking a course for credit.  Here are some of the accredited schools around Indianapolis and their auditing options:

School: Butler University
How to Audit:      Apply to the Audit for Enrichment program and submit transcripts of previous academic work
Cost: $100 per credit hour.

School: Christian Theological Seminary
How to Audit:  Submit a one-page application and registration form.  You’ll get approval via email.
Cost:  “steeply discounted tuition rates.”

School: IUPUI
How to Audit:      You must be enrolled and get the approval of the course instructor.
Cost: full tuition (approx. $185/credit hour for residents, and $798 for non-residents)

School: Ivy Tech Community College
How to Audit:
    
Request approval from the program chair, and enroll in the course no later than the second week of the semester.
Cost:
full tuition (Approximate rates are $111.15 for Indiana residents and $239.40 for out-of-state students)

School: Marian University
How to Audit:
     Fill out an application to audit (contact admissions office for the form) and request approval from the instructor.
Cost: $140/credit hour

School: University of Indianapolis
How to Audit:
     The School of Adult Learning has applications for the Lifelong Learning College.
Cost: 50% of full tuition, or approx. $160/credit hour

Stay safe in a new place

Au pairs, are you worried about violence in the U.S.? With recent news, it’s understandable. But, remember, robberies, shootings, and other tragedies make the news in part because they are unusual events. Most residents and visitors in Indianapolis feel very safe. 11 in every 1000 people fall victim to crime in Indianapolis.

The typical crime victim in the USA probably doesn’t look like you. Most crime victims are single, unemployed, young men. That said, it’s important that you take steps to stay safe. Every city has “good” and “bad” areas. Talk to your host family, your LAR, and other locals about where “bad” areas are located and try to avoid them, especially at night. Here are some other general tips to stay safe, no matter where you are:

  • Call 911 for the police and emergencies services anywhere in the USA.
  • Don’t walk or jog early in the morning or late at night when the streets are deserted. When out at night, try to have a friend walk with you.
  • Carry only the money you need for the particular day.
  • Don’t make a display of cash, cell phones, expensive jewelry and clothing.
  • If you think someone is following you, switch directions or cross the street. If the person continues to follow you, move quickly toward an open store or restaurant or a lighted house. Don’t be afraid to call for help.
  • Try always to park  your car or bicycle in a well-lit area with good visibility, close to where people gather.
  • Make sure you have your key out as you approach your door.  Keep doors locked.
  • In the unlikely chance you become the victim of a crime, report the crime to the police. Try to remember identifying information so that you can describe the attacker accurately (was s/he taller or shorter than you, male or female, what color were his/her clothes?).

Save money with Featured Country Au Pairs!

Did you know that Go Au Pair features a country each month?  If you are searching for an au pair, these country profiles offer great information, including demographic data and insights from families who have chosen au pairs from that country.

Plus, if you match with an au pair from the country in the month it is featured, you save $100 off your program fees.

This month, the featured country is Colombia, a Spanish-speaking nation, and the home to 2012’s Au Pair in Excellence Award winner.

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Au Pair Sis is here to help!

Go Au Pair debuted an exciting new initiative for au pairs this month:  Au Pair Sis.

Do you have a question about the Au Pair program?  Do you need tips to improve your experience with your Host Family?  You can now Ask the Au Pair Sis!

Au Pair Sis is an interactive online community for Au Pairs.  She’ll help you adjust to a new culture, share new ideas for activities to do with your charges, and help you take advantage of your cultural exchange experience.  Watch the video below to meet Janine, the Au Pair Sis:

Go Au Pair Local Area Representatives and Host Families are very excited about this new program.  As an LAR, I provide local support, but this digital community will connect you with au pairs and LARs from around the country, expanding your support network even further!

If you haven’t already, Like Au Pair Sis on Facebook to get involved.  You don’t have to be active yet–au pairs who are in the process of being matched, waiting for a visa, or packing for their flight to the U.S. are all welcome to participate, too!