My Swedish tour guides 2010 (L to R) Former au pairs: Lisa (2008), Emelie (2006), Maria (2005) and Malin (2007).
After nine years of participating in a cultural exchange and childcare program through Cultural Care Au Pair and hosting au pairs from all over the world, I became a student of exchange when I traveled to Sweden and was able to spend time with four of my five former Swedish au pairs. What I experienced was what I expect many of my au pairs have experienced in their travel to the USA to join our family. Excitement, trepidation, awe and delight. We had been planning our reunion day for weeks now and I couldn’t wait to see the girls and catch up on each others lives. For some it had been three years since we’d last seen one another, others only a few months but regardless of the amount of time since our last visit, seeing one another again was a joy and a trip down memory lane!
Welcome to my Swedish cultural exchange – meet my tour guides!
Maria was our au pair in 2005. She was our second Swedish au pair but the first to care for two children. My daughter was just 4 months when she arrived and she managed the two with grace, a sense of humor and passion for sports that made her an instant hit with my older son. She embraced participating in our family activities and was always up for anything – swimming, sailing, skiing or snow boarding. She introduced us to the Viking game of Kubb and Glogg, a Scandinavian warm mulled wine holiday drink that has become a part of our annual traditions. She returned home to Sweden and settled into Stockholm where she currently is a sales manager for an online wine distributor.
Emelie was our au pair in 2006. The baby was now on the run as a fast moving toddler and my son was exploring the world of elementary school. She arrived with a great sense of humor (thank god!), a passion for sports and an incredible talent for drawing. She fascinated my son and daughter with her images of Star Wars and Dora the Explorer characters and played more games of soccer, basketball and baseball in the back yard than any of us could keep track of. She never seemed to tire of it and always had a smile on her face. Emelie introduced us to Swedish rain pants for children and was game to take the children out in all kinds of weather – rain, shine or snow – everyday. This was our first introduction to the idea that there isn’t bad weather, just bad clothing – an old Swedish saying and we too fully embraced the idea. She returned home after her year to attend dental school.
Malin arrived in 2007 and my son fell in love. She was blond and beautiful (his comments) and she charmed the pants off of him with her willingness to make legos and play basketball in the driveway. She never tired of playing dress up with my daughter either and cast a spell over her with the all magical power of nail polish. Like all of the girls, Malin made the most of the opportunities to travel and see the USA. She returned home to attend Uppsala University to study the legal system and had expressed interest in becoming a police officer.
Finally, Lisa was our au pair in 2008. An elementary school teacher by trade, she decided to participate in the au pair program when she was 23 because an earlier attempt had been thwarted by love in her late teenage years. Lisa arrived determined to make the most of her exchange experience and brought a sense of calm to my hectic household that I have always appreciated. She was a teacher through and through and we all learned a ton from her! She returned home after her year and resumed a teaching position as a Kindergarten teacher where she dazzles the young children with her creativity and calm daily.
With everyone traveling in from different parts of Sweden we decided the best place to meet was my hotel. I waited in the hotel lobby like an expectant parent pacing the floors and when they walked in I was overcome with emotion. They all looked the same (stunning of course) and sounded the same but more grown up and confident. They were excited to show me their city and so we set out on a walking tour of Stockholm.
What I noticed immediately was how fashionable everyone looked despite it being only 20 degrees outside and how many people were out and about on walking the streets. The girls reiterated to me the old Swedish saying – “no such thing as bad weather just bad clothes” with the requisite jup that sounds like someone is inhaling a yup under their breath. I was also impressed with how clean and stylish everything was. From the bathrooms in restaurants, coffee shops and even the airport to the city architecture, Swedish design was in full force and everything was clean, colorful and stunning.
On our travels around the city we passed the Royal Palace where just this summer the royal couple were betrothed, the Grand Hotel, the Vasa Museum and Gamlastan where you got a sense of such rich history and culture.
After many years of sharing tidbits about American culture and history with each of them during their year with our family it was a very cool experience to be on the receiving end of their local knowledge and desire to show me around their beautiful city. We enjoyed a traditional Swedish lunch of Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, lingonberry sauce and gravy and caught up on each others lives.
Yum! I couldn’t resist a photo. I have made these with the girls at home (here’s a great meatball recipe) but there is nothing like having the real deal in Sweden. After catching up with one another we set back out and continued our travels.
We stopped for godis (candy) gifts to bring home and enjoyed a Swedish fika of coffee and candy. We laughed with one another about different experiences from each of their years each and it was as though a day had never passed. For some of the girls it was their first time meeting in person for others it was catching up as old friends. For me, it was seeing my Swedish au pair family come together in their home country.
I look forward to sharing a visit back to Sweden with my husband and children next time and taking several weeks to travel the beautiful country. In the meantime we will continue to stay in touch and plan future visits.
Now that I am home and preparing for the holidays, I see signs of my Swedish girls and other au pairs all around. From the St. Lucia advent candle holder, to the Dala horses that decorate our living room to the Svenska and German soccer jerseys the kids adorn playing basketball, there is so much we have incorporated into our life as a result of our cultural exchange experiences.
In a week my daughter’s class will celebrate with a St. Lucia party and she will be able to share her knowledge of this rich cultural tradition because of her connection to our Swedish au pairs. I continue to appreciate all that my family has learned and benefited from hosting au pairs for nine years- from help with childcare to language learning and cultural exchange.