The Best Decision of my Life

The Best Decision of my Life

Finding my American host family has been an incredible blessing.

People said I would fail … but I am committed and happy and cannot imagine any greater success than this experience.  I would not trade a second.

 

Hi! I’m Ilda Lowe, a 21-year-old girl from South Africa.

 

Before becoming an au pair, I was comfortable with my life as a Junior Secretary in a Law Firm in South Africa. I had a great group of friends, I was close with my family—overall, life was good. When my good friend shared her experience as an au pair with me, I immediately began researching the program and learning as much as I could about the au pair year and process.  I had never been outside of the country before—had never seen snow or the ocean. I had never been on a train, plane, or boat. The community where I lived was dangerous, and my family could not leave our house in the evening or after dark. I knew that embarking on an adventure like this would take courage and bravery, but it felt exciting—and within just days of speaking with my friend, I had completed my application with Cultural Care and the ball was rolling.

 

The matching process went smoothly and easily. I began communicating with families immediately and within a week I connected with my “Big Family” in Great Falls, VA, just outside of Washington D.C. My host parents are hard-working professionals, and are employed full-time. I knew that managing the joyful, energetic personalities of my host children would be no small task—but it was a challenge I welcomed with an open mind and heart. The magic, stress, laughter, and noise of the kids created a year full of unforgettable memories with a family of kind and loving people. In June 2018, I packed my bags and sense of adventure and boarded my plane to the USA … and the rest is history.

 

The majority of my family and friends supported my decision to join the au pair program, but there were one or two people close to me who doubted my commitment and told me that I would fail—and that they expected my return to South Africa within two months of my departure. I’m happy to say that I have proven them wrong 1000-fold!  I am now 6 months into my first au pair year and have never looked back—I have never once regretted my decision. I take pride in making a difference every day in the lives of my host children—I connect with each of them in different ways, and I feel honored to be part of their lives. My love for them runs deep.

 

Great Falls, VA plays to my peaceful side and is a breath of fresh air—here I am surrounded by woods, greenery, and horse pastures with a small town village. Great Falls is also pretty close to Washington, D.C and has a large and close-knit au pair community, which has helped me make friends quickly and easily.

 

Since my host children vary in age, I have different approaches to play time, conversation, activities, bedtime, movies, responsibilities, discipline, advice and guidance, and everything in between. Some of my host children are school-aged and spend the majority of the day in school. When they return from school, they do not need childcare necessarily, but they often need assistance with snack/meal preparation, homework help, and transportation to activities.

 

I spend most of my day with ‘Baby Hazel.’  I try my best to be creative with activities for her which include puzzle-building, trips to the park and library, reading, pretend play, and singing songs.  During school breaks and summer months, my older host children are home between camps, etc. and I enjoy keeping them busy and engaged. I believe planning ahead and trying to get the children out of the house and involved in age-appropriate activities is fun and enjoyable for all.  Sometimes I take them bowling, picnicking, or for hikes!

 

Over the past 6 months, I have equipped myself with all the necessary tricks to help maintain the peace and happiness in my host family’s home. I have learned different strategies that work well for each child’s personality. For example, one of my host children has difficulty with time management and it is very stressful for the child when she feels she does not have enough time to get ready. I know that if she wakes her up earlier than would seem necessary for school, this child’s morning goes much more smoothly and is less stressful for her. I occasionally have to discipline the children, and I do so in keeping with the consistent rules of my host parents which usually means depriving the child of a play date or taking away electronics/TV privileges.

 

Although this is my job, this is also my family and my life. I go out of my way to engage the children even during my “off time” not because this is required of me, but because I love and care about the children so much. This may mean curling my host child’s hair in preparation for Halloween or watching a movie together, sharing a meal, or simply hanging out.

 

Living my unique au pair experience, I have learned to give a lot of myself. I have become more confident, independent, and sure of myself.  In return, I have been given beautiful, lifelong memories and the deepest love for my host children. I am proud and joyful knowing I touch the lives of my host children and that I am helping guide them by being a great role model.

 

What you should know

 

You are doing a great job! Being an au pair is a truly wonderful opportunity but it is hard work. You will have incredible life-changing experiences, but it is not a vacation like some people may think it may be. It is a real job with a lot of responsibilities. Just because you are not blood-related to your host children, you will love them as though they are your own children or siblings—they are your family. Keep up the good work!

 

Some difficulties you may have

 

When a host family does not have the same religious background, it can be challenging for some people, I imagine. My host family always supports my religious goals and endeavors and for this I am thankful.

TIP:  Stay faithful and stay true to yourself and your beliefs.

Some parting advice

 

  • Be open and honest with your host family—communication is key!
  • Speak as much English (or your host family’s language) as possible.
  • Always be yourself.
  • Go out and meet new people often.
  • Enjoy each moment and share your cultural traditions.
  • Be open-minded and appreciate every experience big and small.
  • Explore!
  • Be joyful and warm-hearted towards your host kids.
  • Experience dating abroad (while being careful and safe)
Fun Facts about me: - My native language is Afrikaans and English is my second language! - I made friends with au pairs very quickly through Facebook Groups. I found this a very easy way to meet people in my area. - I am part of a local church group, which is not only a great way to connect with au pairs but also a wonderful way to meet local peers with similar interests. - I recommend the beautiful and quiet Nantucket, MA for a vacation! - In my opinion, Uber and Lyft apps are a MUST and a very useful means of transportation.
A line drawing of a gumball machine

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