Food Lover & Au Pair Coordinator - Alum of the Month Frances Barbour

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Frances BarbourMeet Frances Barbour (IES Abroad Paris, Fall 1986), Community Administrator and Au Pair Coordinator at the Cultural Homestay International. Read on to see how studying abroad in Paris influenced Frances’ career. From exploring culinary arts as a sous chef and pastry chef, to working in international diplomacy, Frances maintains her international connections. Also, learn why she supports scholarships at IES Abroad.

IES Abroad: Why did you choose to study abroad in Paris?

Frances Barbour (FB): I started French classes in 7th grade at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC. My first French teacher set up an exchange with an English class at Collège La Fontaine in the Paris suburb, Antony. I hosted my pen pal first, then the following year stayed with her family for two weeks. We totally clicked, and exchanged summers through high school. I specifically chose Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, because they had IES Abroad’s study abroad program in Paris. I graduated from Trinity with a B.A. in French and International Relations.

IES Abroad: What were some of your most memorable study abroad experiences?

FB : I’ll never forget the entire year! I came home a transformed young woman (with a Jean Louis David haircut). All my IES Abroad classes were excellent, especially Art History (I chose that as my discipline for my Carte Étudiante, and had free/special access to all the National museums – no lines!), Theater (we performed a vocabulary-rich Girodoux play, and I was the antagonist), and Histoire de Paris with Mr. Rabbaté. The first thing he did was wrote“100 Visities de Paris" on the blackboard. A cute co-ed, Peter, and I resolved to try to do all 100 in the year and my Parisian friends said I knew the city’s history and geography better than they did! I also joined the Sorbonne’s rock-climbing club, and we went to Dijon to do lead climbing, and I did a Gosset champagne tasting, and Mr. G himself taught me how to properly pour the bubbly.

IES Abroad: What career path did your career take you after graduating from Trinity University?

FB: It started with food. Every summer in college I worked for a different catering firm in Washington, DC. After devoting most of my life to academia, I went home, and sought full-time employment as sous chef and pastry chef at Fête Accomplie, to cultivate my passion for culinary arts. I also volunteered for The Hospitality and Information Service, helping the families of the Diplomatic Service Corps, which included hosting dinner parties for high-level Embassy staff from all over the world.

The United States Information Agency (USIA) and U.S. Department of State (DoS), Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs Exchange programs were my ultimate goal. I landed an entry level “K Street” desk job, which lead to nine years with the Professional Exchange Program – first at the Federal level in DC, then the local level in San Francisco, where I moved in 1992. I was a program officer and also resources/database manager, linking the best and brightest American and foreign minds in every imaginable profession with their respective counterparts. It was a fascinating but wholly demanding job, so I retired when my son was born to be a full-time mom for a while. I’ve been an avid bike commuter since college. When my son went to preschool I decided to re-enter the workforce grassroots, working as Outreach Coordinator for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition and was Lead Instructor for Safe Routes to Schools. Once my son was in High School, I was ready to return to my career in International Relations and Diplomacy.

IES Abroad: Tell us about your current role at Cultural Homestay International.

FB: I am an Au Pair Coordinator, now called Community Administrator at Cultural Homestay International. CHI is a national non-profit organization founded in 1980, which administers several Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs for The U.S. Department of State. I sought their Au Pair Exchange Program because I am a mom and I wanted to be involved with little kids again, I was an exchange and IES Abroad student, and when I was growing up we were a host family for foreign graduate students.

The au pairs are 19-26 year olds who come to the U.S. on a J-1 Visa. Their goal is to improve their English, live with an American family, and receive a stipend for providing childcare, so they can travel during their free time. The host family provides them with a private bedroom, meals, and transportation to their classes and monthly au pair meetings with me. My role is to advocate for and be a liaison between the host families, the au pairs, and the agency. This job is the epitome of International Diplomacy for me, and I get to decide how involved I want to be, and choose my schedule. After five years, I have grown my cluster to a full-time commitment.

IES Abroad: What’s a typical day like?

FB: I interview potential host families to get a sense of their personalities, lifestyles, and childcare needs. I educate them on the mission and requirements of the Au Pair Exchange Program. I research suitable APs for HFs from our database of applicants, to assist with a good match (I’m a matchmaker of sorts, for my friends, so this part is fun). I schedule monthly au pair meetings, to check in on their lives, relationships with their host families and children, and their status in completing the education component. We also share everyone’s local customs for holidays, and other interesting cultural tidbits. We go on museum tours, picnic hikes, play games, host international pot luck dinners, and even go sailing on San Francisco Bay!

IES Abroad: What is the most valuable lesson you learned from study abroad?

FB: Once immersed in a foreign language, at some point the brain directly recognizes what is being said, and no longer translates first into one’s mother tongue. That is the “aha moment,” but one must be patient for it. Also, other cultures don’t do things “the American way.” At times this was super frustrating, but a strong test of tolerance, acceptance, and maturity. In France, this was apparent in their bureaucracy, work ethic, transportation, food/meals, shopping, child rearing, social mores, and job opportunities. In my profession, this understanding is essential for helping au pairs and host families adjust to one another. I am able to empathize with the au pair, coming to a new country to live, work, and study. In turn, both host families and au pairs learn a new culture and way of doing things. Exchange programs help build global mutual respect and understanding.

IES Abroad: You are an annual donor to the IES Abroad Scholarship Fund. What inspires you to support scholarships for future students?

FB: Americans need to know how the rest of the world lives. It gives valuable perspective and appreciation for other cultures, as well as an opportunity to be citizen ambassadors, and share our personal stories, not what the media or Hollywood portray. Studying abroad at the university level is an excellent opportunity to experience this, if it’s feasible.

IES Abroad: Do you have any advice for students who are thinking of studying or interning abroad?

FB: Like I tell all my au pairs: get involved with local groups, make friends and spend time with the natives. Take public transit, listen to local radio, TV, etc. Don’t spend most of your time on your devices, or with other Americans – do that when you return to the USA. Also, I declared my majors as International Relations and French, which allowed every class I took in Paris to count for both, which was a real time-saver.

If you’re a food lover like Frances, take a look at the best places to study abroad for foodies. Also, check out all of our Alum of the Month profiles to see real examples of how study abroad changed the lives and careers of our former students.

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