Taking care of four kids is no easy job, but Monica, a 20-year-old South African and former daycare teacher was ready for the challenge when she arrived in September 2022. She was warmly welcomed at the airport with a handmade banner that read, “Welcome Monica”.
Monica was excited to start experiencing American culture from the start. She grew up watching American TV shows and couldn’t wait to try different foods and see the destinations she had on her bucket list. Since arriving, she’s been to California, New York, Indiana, and Florida. She even got to experience a vacation outside the U.S. in Mexico with her host family!
You might think being from South Africa would propose some similarities in culture since many South Africans, including Monica, speak English natively. Monica says this is true, although, “Language (is the biggest cultural difference I’ve experienced). A lot of Americans also speak Spanish. I have since learned a few Spanish words to make communication a little easier and I have taught my host family of the ways we say certain things back home so that there aren’t any misunderstandings or confusion.” Since Monica also speaks Afrikaans, she has welcomed cultural exchange here too and taught her host kids to say some special things in a new language. For example, Monica taught them to say, “lekker”, which means “nice” and “shap”, which is a greeting that translates to “hello/goodbye”.
As a parent, we all know that some days are harder than others when caring for children. Fortunately, Monica knows that even though some days are tough between temper tantrums and sibling fights, she can get through it.
I have learned to just stay calm and work through the tough times. The kids have their good days and bad days.
So, how has Monica’s life changed since moving from Johannesburg to Chicago and becoming an au pair?
(When I was in South Africa), I liked to go out to the movies, read a book, or go out for a drive with my friends. And I really liked to bake. Since coming to America, I’m more outdoors, exploring the city and seeing exciting places. I also started to go for morning runs. Running in the city is a fun way to see the sights.
Monica is in the second half of her program year and already planning on extending her time as an au pair in the U.S. Even though she misses biltong and braai vleis (some popular foods in South Africa), she is a big fan of Chicago deep dish pizza. But, that’s not what will keep her here for longer. It’s more about her overall experience as an au pair and family member, “an older sister” as she describes it.
Being an au pair isn’t the same as being a nanny. You are a part of the family.