Guest Blog

My Experience As A South African Au Pair In America | 5 Tips To Help With Homesickness | Guest Blog Part 1

I’ve been wanting to do a collab with someone else since I started my blog. I’m so happy to share that my best friend in the entire world agreed to answer a few questions of mine. I’m going to take this opportunity to announce that come April 2019, Anje and I will be releasing the first chapter of the book we’re co-writing together. It will be posted weekly on here every Sunday starting April. If you’re as excited as me and wish to check Anje’s writing out, please go show her some love on her Wattpad profile. She just released her new book called Abnormal Roses and I’m obsessed. She also has a traveler Instagram account where she posts about all the places she’s been too. And the girl has traveled the globe. All the links will be down below. Now that everything is out of the way, let’s get started!

Introduction

I’ve reached out to Anje who I felt could share a part of her journey with you, my readers, in hopes that she can help someone out there who have gone through this experience even if it’s just to show that you’re not alone.

  1. Can you tell me a little about yourself? Just a little introduction before we jump into the topic at hand.

Hello everyone, my name is Anje, I am 22 years old and currently living in South Africa. I often find it hard to describe myself other than saying I am a socially awkward introvert who absolutely loves to travel and experience new cultures and people. A bit of a contradiction if you ask me, but true all the same. I am a very heavy reader, my all-time favorite author being Arthur Conan Doyle, and my favorite novels being the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series. My passions in life are writing, archery, and chocolate.

The probing begins…

  1. How was your experience as an au pair in America?

I absolutely loved it! The States completely blew away all my expectations, which honestly surprised me a lot. I think what had helped me a ton was that I had already been an au pair the year before, though I had been in the Netherlands, I still understood that being an au pair wasn’t just all fun and games and some days would be better than others.

Anyways, back to America; when I arrived in New York for a three-day orientation, it was the night before America was to find out who their new president was. Needless to say, it was quite crazy, but nothing could have ruined my time in New York City. It’s insane, loud, and slightly stinky, but it is beyond amazing. As we zipped through the streets, passing yellow taxi cabs and towering skyscrapers, I just thought “wow, I am so lucky to be here right now.” Having to deal with jetlag was annoying, but you got so busy with orientation and training, you barely thought about it. After the three days, I finally hopped on a train and went to what would become my new home; Washington DC. After about a three-hour ride, I stepped off the train and into Union Station, which is arguably one of the most beautiful buildings I had ever seen. My new host family was there, greeting me with welcoming signs and warm hugs, then we hopped into their car and went to their house. They have three children, when I had arrived they were aged 4, 2, and 6 weeks. Needless to say, I knew I had my work cut out for me, but I was beyond excited to start.

The host parents are some of the nicest people I have ever met. Me being a very awkward and shy person, I worried about being able to develop a proper relationship with them. But boy oh boy was I worried for nothing! They welcomed me into their home with such kindness and excitement, there was never a time I felt unwelcome or even uncomfortable about being in a stranger’s house. It wasn’t before long when I became very close to my host mom, we often laughed about how our relationship was closer to that between sisters than of an employee and her boss. They never treated me like “the help,” and always asked my opinion when it came to the kids.

I know that I had hit the jackpot with them, as I believe that a host family can really make or break your experience as an au pair. This is also why I always tell people who are considering being au pairs, that if they are uncomfortable with their host parents based out of actual concerns, for example, they ask you to work overtime but don’t pay you for it, or the kids treat you like dirt and the parents encourage it, then transfer to a different family! I had a friend who was completely miserable, to the point where she even began to hate America, because her host family was horrible to her. This being said, it is also extremely important for the au pair to understand that this job is anything but easy. You are basically helping raise kids, it is going to be exhausting, it is going to be hard, but it is also worth every minute of it. I’ve had au pair friends who became an au pair with the notion that it was going to be a lovely gap year, filled with relaxation and parties, but of course, that is not reality. I found that these friends often struggled the most with adapting to their new environment, generally becoming miserable as they didn’t expect to actually work.

But please don’t be discouraged from ever becoming an au pair, it is an amazingly fulfilling job, where you get to experience a different culture, country and meet new interesting people. Just keep in mind that it isn’t always going to be easy, there will be days where you want to give up, but push through, it is worth it.

I remember when I first got there everything seemed so different and new. The food was bigger, the people greeted me on the streets, and when you pay for your meals at a restaurant the waitress takes your card to the machine. My host mom, who was still on maternity leave, showed me around the city a lot. We drove past the white house, countless museums, and visited her parents in Arlington, Virginia. I honestly didn’t have such a big issue with culture shock, other than having to use a few different words to describe some things (Not the boot, but the trunk, not a costume, but a bathing suit). I think this is because Cape Town, where I grew up, had a lot of American influences. That and we typically watch American shows, meaning I was always exposed to the American culture and kind of had an idea of what to expect.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t have to deal with being homesick. I’ll admit, during my first year I was completely fine, but close to the end of my second year, things got a little tougher. It is, unfortunately, part of the job, but I do have some tips that worked for me, should you ever have to deal with being homesick as an au pair or traveler. Small disclaimer, though these tips did help me cope, it isn’t to say they will work for you. As you live and experience the new city you are in, you will start to realize what you enjoy doing during your free time and what helps you relax, do what makes you happy. But anyways, some things that helped me:

  • Skype with my family, even if it is just for a few minutes. I would catch up to what was happening back home and tell them how things were going with me. I often found that telling them about my day or week was a great stress reliever. It also allowed me to get excited again, especially when I told them about something new I did or saw.
  • Talk to your host family or friends. Finding someone who you can rely on for support is vital, not only for your mental health but your experience as an au pair. It is great when you can talk to your host family, but it is also good to have someone else. With a friend, you can complain and rant about the things that annoyed you about your day and lean on them whenever you feel homesick. I remember after a particularly tough day of work, it was a snow day so all three kids were home, I messaged my friend and she immediately told me to meet her at Union station. We then had a lovely time walking around the snow, taking pictures in front of the capitol building, and grabbing some dinner at a nice restaurant. When I arrived home I felt amazing, talking about my day had taken away so much stress and I felt ready to face the next day of hard work.
  • Go for a walk. This is a wonderful way to help clear your mind and take a step back from everything going on around you. You can listen to some music or just enjoy your surroundings, I found it often calmed me down a lot. This can even include exploring a little, whether it is going to a museum, a mall, or even nearby coffee shop.
  • Self-care. As an au pair, this is extremely important!! You will basically be taking on the role of mom and therefore will be tired and have little time for yourself while you are working. Self-care can be anything from going to bed earlier, taking a relaxing bubble bath, reading your favorite book, or listening to music while stuffing your face with chocolates. Self-care differs for everyone, do what you feel works for you.
  • Be sad. Yes, this sounds absolutely depressing, but part of being human means having feelings and emotions. We would be doing ourselves a disservice by completely ignoring how we feel, invalidating our own feelings can cause us even more distress. I had learned this the hard way, sadly, as my number one coping mechanism is to hide behind “No, I’m fine,” while actually falling apart inside. Then the smallest thing would happen like my favorite tv character would die (RIP Khal Drogo) or I would knock my elbow against the wall, and everything would just come crashing down. One night, after bawling my eyes out over having found a cricket in my bathroom, I had decided to think more about my feelings and to validate my emotions. Now when I am sad or angry, I go through those emotions, I allow myself to feel, no matter how hard it is. But it helps, when I had worked through the emotions they eventually fade away and I am able to move on from whatever had troubled me.

Now back to my time as an au pair. So in my first year, a typical day would be waking up, going upstairs at 8, saying goodbye to the oldest girl when her dad took her to school, and begin making breakfast for the 2-year-old. My morning would be spent entertaining him, while also taking care of the baby. My host mom luckily worked from home, which helped a lot seeing as the baby refused to take the bottle during the first month or so. One day, when my host mom had to go into the office, the baby had a 6-hour hunger strike. I tried everything to get her to drink, but she outright refused. It was also during this time that we were trying to potty train the 2-year-old boy. It was probably one of the most disgusting things I had ever experienced in my life, but luckily we all got through it. The months passed by rather quickly, the boy now 3 and the eldest now 5. Summer break then came, catching me slightly off guard. It was so humid outside we were confined indoors for most of the time. I kept them busy with science experiments, baking, art projects, and dance parties. When summer break was finally over, the 3-year-old also started school, meaning it was just me and the baby from that point on.

When school started it felt quite weird having only one kid, but I wasn’t complaining one bit. I took her for walks in the stroller, taught her some Afrikaans words, and helped her learn how to walk. It was around October, a day or so before my birthday, that my host parents decided to move to a different house. It was only a few blocks from the old one, but a lot bigger. It was also during this time that a particularly nasty stomach bug was slowly making its way through the whole family. As luck would have it, on moving day, the day before my birthday, I got sick. I was confined to my bed for almost three days, not even able to eat my own birthday cake. My host mom, however, decided that this was unacceptable and said that my birthday would move to that weekend, when I am healthy again. That Saturday morning the whole family sang me a happy birthday, bringing a cupcake with a candle. It warmed my heart, as I had told her it was a tradition of my family to do that on someone’s birthday. That day my host mom, her mom, the 5-year-old girl and I went out to get our hair done and have lunch at a huge mall. It was a great day, we did some shopping and had a lot of fun bonding.

Halloween then came around and let me tell you, it was amazing!!!  Back home in South Africa, we do not celebrate Halloween, save for a few house parties some people throw, but we definitely do not go trick or treating. So walking down the street with the kids all dressed up, watching them fill their bags full of chocolate and candy, was probably a highlight of my year. That and the fact that I ate my bodyweight in chocolate that night.

Thanksgiving was also beyond amazing, we went to my host dad’s family in Rochester New York and his mom is a genius in the kitchen! She had like 4 types of pies!!! The amazing food aside it was also a great experience to be part of that holiday, especially when we sat around the table and said what we are grateful for. About a month after that it was Christmas, a holiday I thought I would be prepared for seeing as we celebrate it back home as well. But, boy was I wrong. America does Christmas like I have never seen Christmas being done before. I always said that America’s motto is “go big or go home.” Giant Christmas trees around every corner, beautiful Christmas lights wrapped around every building, green wreaths on every door, it was a kaleidoscope of color and cheer. It was beautiful and really makes you excited for Christmas. The day itself wasn’t at all different than how we celebrate it back in South Africa. The kids will open their presents that morning, the family will come over that evening for a delicious Christmas meal. It was strange being away from my family, but I skyped with them the whole morning and everyone at the Christmas dinner was so friendly, it made it so much easier.

So then New Years rolled around and 2018 marked my second year as an Au Pair. I had decided to extend with the same family, but that is a decision that depends on so many variables. For one thing, you have spent an entire year building a bond with these kids and their parents, you have a stable routine, you know how everything works, and you are comfortable with your surroundings. But on the other hand, there is a new adventure that awaits, a new State to explore, and new people to meet. I think it all depends on you as the au pair, if you feel that you want to experience a new family and city, then go for it, if you don’t, then stay. Just never feel as though you are obligated to stay in the same place, even if you don’t want to.

I think I also need to talk about traveling, definitely my all-time favorite topic in life. So when I was in the Netherlands I would only travel by train and use Couchsurfing. I traveled to so many places, I got to walk through the Colosseum in Rome, fell asleep on a beach in France, bought fresh fruit in Barcelona, and went up on the Eiffel Tower with my best friend. But I quickly learned that it isn’t that easy in America, obviously the US is a lot bigger and you need to use different ways of getting around. So my main form of traveling came in the shape of road trips. My friend and I would rent a car and go wherever we wanted. Keep in mind that if you are under the age of 24 you might have trouble renting a car or would have to pay a lot more. Also always get insurance, it might be a little more expensive, but trust me it’s worth it! We were also quite lucky being only a few hours drive from New York, but for that, we decided to take the bus. There are a lot of cheap busses in America, it might take you longer to get to your destination, but let me put it like this: A 3-hour train ride from DC to NY was around $60, while a 5-hour bus was around $15. I am a full-time student so saving money was important, which meant I was on the bus, rather than the train.

The best way of finding the cheapest ways to travel is by doing a lot of research! Go on different websites, use Hostels instead of Hotels, compare the prices of everything! It does take some time, but when you are on a budget it helps a lot. My all-time favorite website was Wanderu. Basically, you type in where you are and where you want to go and it gives you hundreds of options for busses and trains. It compares prices from a bunch of different travel services so you know you are getting the best deal.

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In part two we will talk about how Anje balanced being a full-time au pair in America while studying. Part two will go up on Monday, so stay tuned. Please show her some love on her Instagram or in the comments down below. I will send it all through to her.

Thank you so much for reading and I will see you in a click!

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Abnormal Roses — https://www.wattpad.com/story/170208404-abnormal-roses

Anje’s Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/anje_tait/

 

Story Time

My Funny Foreinger Story With The Public Transport Here In The Netherlands

I’ve told this story to a handful of people here in the Netherlands and it’s always a good chuckle. The other day I was like oh wait this would actually make a funny blog on my website so well here we are. Alright so we know by now before I can start my stories I need to throw a bit of background information out there otherwise some things won’t make much sense without it. So excuse me while I do that.

Where to start? Wait I know. South Africa and the Netherlands are completely different and at the beginning of my au pair year, you could guess that I was still learning the ropes of it all. So the one main thing that was completely new to me is the public transport. We have public transport in South Africa but it’s in no way reliable nor safe. It also won’t get you everywhere you would want to be. Here in the Netherlands, the public transport is pretty damn amazing. Yes, there are some delays but you can go anywhere by train and it’s relatively clean and I haven’t had a problem with safety. I mean I don’t need to worry about being mugged or stabbed so that’s great. Oh wow, that’s dark. Before my year here I had no idea what trams are. I knew of trains and busses. That’s it. So it’s safe to say that my first independent tram ride makes one funny story. Alright, that might be enough back story. Let’s get to the interesting bit and also I hope this blog turns out to be funny. We can’t have another key story.

I was probably only here for three weeks, one month max when I had to go to Den Hague to get my permit. To get there I would have to take two trams. The first part was easy as I had to climb on the tram close to the house and just take it all the way to the city. It was when I got in the city when everything derailed. First of all, the trams suddenly looked different so I wasn’t sure if I could still use the card or if I would have to get a new card or anything like that. It went from a blue and white tram to a red and cream tram. So the night before my host mom tried to explain the system to me but I had no idea what she was talking about but the only thing I knew was the tram number, 8. So I jumped on the first tram with the number 8 on it and scanned my card. It read ‘Overstap Ok’ which basically means the transfer went great but I literally had no idea what that meant so I kept checking in and out in hopes it would say something different. In a complete panic, I called my host dad to ask if it’s okay. He was like get off my back I’m at work but said all was good in the world. I for some reason did not believe a single word he said. A person nearby was like no it’s fine. I still was unsure but sat down anyway. 20 minutes later I was starting to get worried. I haven’t heard my stop yet and the tram just turned around? It was also at that moment that the person who scans your card walked along. I was so terrified that my host dad and the kind stranger was lying to me and I would have to pay this massive fine that I jumped out the next stop. In the middle of fucking nowhere. I waited for the tram, bought a ticket when the card did the ‘Overstap Ok’ thing and hoped that somehow this time everything would be okay. That hope came to crashing halt when we stopped at the central station. I was right where I started and by now I was convinced it was the wrong line number. I climbed off, walked around, trying to build up the confidence to ask the information desk. Keep in mind that I was convinced that no one in the Netherlands could speak a lick of English and I could barely understand Dutch, much less speak it. Finally, after a good few minutes, I decided to stick with line 8 and see where the road takes me. This time the tram actually went in the right direction and I was in such a panic that about the card not working and the train ticket already being expired that I jumped off at the first stop that began with an R. I was so completely stressed about the entire situation I just wanted to walk the rest of the way but it was a good 45min walk so I waited those 15 minutes before I climbed on the next tram and kept my eyes peeled for the building.

The rest was pretty okay. I saw my stop, climbed off and got what I needed in 30 minutes before taking the tram back. Luckily I climbed on the tram going in the right direction and the rest was smooth sailing. It was only when I spoke about the entire situation with my host dad that I realized that every tram line has a tram to go in each direction. I know this is so obvious and I can’t believe this didn’t cross my mind but hey it makes a fun story to tell now. I also realized later on that I was paying for the same trip twice so that’s great. I still get confused sometimes heck I bet even some Dutch citizens get confused. I mean sometimes they have the different companies and it gets really confusing.

Just recently I had an incident where it was a different company but I checked in with the other company and I realized it way too late and then when those scanners came around I proudly played the confused foreigner card because well the poor bloke was trying to explain the system to me in broken English and I was just like alright buddy I’m fucking lost now. He surrendered and I got out of paying the fine. Funny enough on my way back the same bloke scanned my card and this time around I did everything correctly so that was really awkward. In my defense, I still don’t understand what he wanted me to.

Thank you so much for reading and I will see you in a click!

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General Life Tips, Other

So You Want To Au Pair Abroad? This Is What You Need To Know…

Leaving home isn’t always easy. So going abroad for a set amount of time and taking on the big responsibility of being an Au pair isn’t for everyone. BUT it’s an experience like no other and something I’m so happy and grateful for being able to have done. It’s life changing and eye opening. If it’s something you’re interested in then don’t let fear stop you. I was an Au pair in the Netherlands for one year with two kids. I can honestly say that it has changed me as person like no other experience could’ve.

  1. Kiddie Love

This probably sounds funny and obvious but I really can’t express it enough. You really need to love children and I mean all the different parts of it. The good and the bad. Children aren’t always easy. They’re going to test your limits and really see just how patient you can be. There will be days when you honestly don’t want to deal with the same nonsense and there will be days you love your host kids so much that the idea of leaving them physically hurts.

  1. Country Love

If you’re going to au pair in another country it really needs to be a country YOU are interested in. It’s going to be your new home for a year so it really needs to be a place you feel like you can fit in, experience new things and really embrace and learn from the culture.

  1. Host Parents

Please take your time with choosing a host family/parents. Don’t just choose a family because they chose you and your scared you won’t find a family. No. Kick this idea right out of your head. These people are not only going to be your family and basically the baseline in this strange and new country but they’re also going to be your boss. You have to have similar views and interest or it won’t always be a breeze in the park.

  1. Au Pair Friends

Having Au pair friends is really a blessing in disguise. They’re experiencing the exact same thing than you are: the frustrations that can come with looking after kids, the home sickness, the struggles with the new culture and language and overall they’re your support in this new environment. They’re your comedian relief. They’re someone to have fun, unwind and most importantly to grow with.

  1. Wise Company Choices

Choose your company wisely. They’re going to effect the entire experience in ways you won’t imagine. You can get absolutely wonderful companies that truly carries your best interest to heart, but then you get horror companies that basically…to put it nicely screw you over. Do your research on the company, specially Google their names with words like scandal, horrible company etc. If someone didn’t have a great experience with them it will be somewhere on the internet. Go to their Facebook page, try to contact other au pairs that went through them and not just that, go with your instinct. If you feel good about the company then that’s all you need to know. I recommend House-o-Orange for my South African Au Pairs: https://www.house-o-orange.nl/

Take the leap and Au pair. At least once.

child-594519PS: It’s not always going to be fun and games but again, it’s a great experience. You really ‘grow up’ while you Au pair. If you’re interested, go for it!

Edit from future Cassy – 25/06/2018

I know that I promised to write about my actual au pair experience but after long consideration I’ve decided against doing so. I respect my host family too much to share about it in such a public platform. In the end of the day I need to respect their privacy and I also need to take into account that one day the host kids might read it. It’s not like there was many bad experiences, heck I will cherish some of my memories with the kids forever but too write about it honestly I need to be able to share the good and the bad you know. I’m sure you will all understand.