Au pair finds Mac so interesting, city is featured in her new book.
By CAROL DREILING, Sentinel Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 31, 2005 12:22 PM CDT
Being an au pair has inspired Thongkun to write a book to help other Thai women learn about that experience.
Twenty-two months ago, when Tanya Thongkun -- a 24-year-old woman from Thailand -- first received an invitation to become an au pair via a phone call from McPherson resident Julie Simak, she said no.
Thongkun knew exactly what she wanted: a family with two young children. She absolutely did not want to deal with an infant in diapers. At the time of the phone call, Simak was expecting her second child.
"I didn't want to work with a newborn baby," Thongkun said. "But I called the au pair who had worked with the family before, so here I am."
The young au pair traveled to the United States on a J-1 Visitor Exchange Visa, a document that allows a one-year stay for a citizen from another country to live and work here. Under recent legislation that set up a pilot program, visitors holding the J-1 visa were allowed to apply for a one-year extension. Due to that extension, Thongkun will remain in the United States until November.
Although Thongkun and her American family are moving to Chicago, McPherson and the state of Kansas hold some wonderful memories. She recounted some stories of her driving experiences here.
Over the period of one day, Thongkun qualified for a Kansas driver's license.
"You need to get 20 out of 25 questions correct on the written test," she explained. "The first time I only got 19 right, and I had to wait an hour before I could take it again. Some of my au pair friends in California or New York would have to wait as long as seven days if they didn't pass the first time."
She passed the written test on the second try and then passed the driving portion, a simple process she thinks. But her driving experiences in McPherson have left her with some funny stories to share.
One of the first instances she described happened at an intersection controlled by stop signs. As Thongkun approached the stop sign, she saw the driver in the opposite lane of traffic come to a stop.
"I thought the driver had stopped for me," she said, "so I drove through it, making a left turn. The man in the car followed me and kept honking his horn at me. Julie told me later that I shouldn't do that."
Another incident occurred late one afternoon when Thongkun was trying to get to the post office before it closed. She left home at approximately 4:45 p.m. that day and worried that the post office would close before she arrived to complete her business.
"When I drove up in front of the post office, I saw one open parking spot," she said. "So I turned my car and drove into it." She said that, at the time, she did not notice that her car was facing east in front of the building while all the others parked there were facing west.
"A lady came out of the post office and kept saying, 'You can't park like that; you'll get a ticket.' I worried that the police would come for me, so I got back into my car and tried to turn it around. The lady acted like a traffic officer and was directing cars around me from the middle of the street. It was right in the middle of five o'clock traffic."
Thongkun said she never did find out who the lady was.
In the Simak household, Thongkun is responsible for the care of two girls: 4-year-old Jacqueline and 20-month-old Madelline. In a typical day, she dresses the children and makes breakfast for them. Part of the morning is spent in organized activities or play. According to Thongkun, she sometimes takes her charges to the library for one of its programs or to the park to play. Once a week, she takes Jacqueline to the baby/toddler center at the hospital. She prepares lunch for the three of them, and then it is the children's nap time.
The afternoon might be spent at the water park or at the YMCA for Jacqueline's swimming lessons. Other days might have her taking Jacqueline to activities such as ballet class, gymnastics or tap dance lessons. She spends a great deal of time playing with the girls.
"When I came here, I did not know any children's songs in English," she said. "So I taught Jacqueline a Thai song about a turtle. We still like to sing it."
The two of them sang the song, along with appropriate gestures describing the turtle's four legs and head that moves up and down.
Thongkun's duties as an au pair end at 5 p.m. when Simak returns from work. The evenings and weekends belong to Thongkun. If she is not attending a class through Hutchinson Community College or the local learning center, she is likely to be chatting online to family and friends in Thailand or to au pairs in other parts of the United States.
Thongkun has a personal web site and, for some time, she has answered questions and concerns from other au pairs on her web board.
Perhaps that experience led her to the publication of her first book. It is printed in Thai, but the title can be translated: "Free Travel, Earn Money -- Au Pair."
"My editor picked the name," she said. "It (being an au pair) is much more than free travel and earning money."
She said the book talks about the opportunities that being an au pair provides: particularly the chance to attend college. The host family must agree to provide tuition, as well as the time and means to attend classes.
In the book, Thongkun shares the humorous anecdotes that have endeared McPherson and her American family to her. She also offers chapters of practical advice about what must be done to become an au pair -- such as preparing the au pair application, as well as specific information about technicalities once an au pair arrives in the United States -- such as opening a checking account, securing a social security number and determining expectations with the American host family.
The book is selling well, according to Thongkun, and she hopes that when she returns home, all 5,000 copies will be sold and the book will be ready for its second printing.
The book could be considered a promotional publication for McPherson because she compares Kansas to her homeland, even noting that the sunflower is the flower for her province just as it is this state's flower.
"Before I came here, I found the Wizard of Oz connection," Thongkun said. "So I knew what Kansas was. In my book, I say McPherson is the best place to live."
The book includes several pictures that are distinctly McPherson, including the McPherson High School marching band. She also includes the facts recently published that identify McPherson County as the best place to live in the Midwest and the third- best place to live in the United States.
She said she has enjoyed experiencing the four distinct seasons in Kansas because in Thailand, a tropical climate, people experience only three seasons, "hot, hotter and hottest."
Having earned a degree in English from Rajabhat Thepsatri University and graduating with a 3.8 grade point average, Thongkun has a strong academic background. When she returns to Thailand, she first plans to spend some time promoting her book.
Then she wants to get back to the studies that she loves. Eventually, her dreams will take her to Canada, where she can obtain a work permit and remain as long as she wants to stay. She plans to work there as an au pair and pursue her doctorate in English.
When she leaves for Chicago on Thursday, she will miss McPherson and her friends here, she said.
"You have very few foreigners here," she said, "but the people are nice. People remember me, the black-haired girl with the children."