With a love of travel and a desire for a job involving children, Champion High School graduate Janelle Drennen furthered her education to become a nanny and combine these things to achieve her employment goal.
"I've always been interested in working with children, and this was just another avenue to do that," said Drennen, who earned her early childhood education degree from Youngstown State University.
She completed a certification program at the English Nanny and Governess School in Chagrin Falls in December 2011, and three months later in March 2012, she was on her way to the Middle East, and the United Arab Emirates' capital city of Abu Dhabi.
Tribune Chronicle / Nancilynn Gatta
Janelle Drennen, a graduate of Champion High School, has worked as a nanny for the royal family of the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi.
Drennen learned during the interview process that she would be working for Abu Dhabi's royal family, Sheik Saeed Al-Nahyan's children.
After 13 hours of travel time, she landed in Abu Dhabi. The city is an island on the northeast section of the Persian Gulf.
Even after losing an entire day through travel, Drennen's first impressions of her new residence were very positive.
"It was very warm, modern and big. I was amazed at all of the buildings and shapes of those buildings. I landed at night, so all the lights in the city were amazing and beautiful," said Drennen.
Abu Dhabi is rarely cloudy and temperatures range from 73 degrees in January to more than 100 degrees in April to August. It is a cosmopolitan city similar to New York City.
Arriving at her job and residence, she found out it was a walled compound of palaces.
"It was very pretty and had a very homey feeling," Drennen said. "I felt very comfortable when I first got there. There are three other palaces on the grounds - one for the sheikh's mother and one each for his two brothers."
The Al-Nahyan household consists of five children. There are four boys and one girl, ages 1, 5, 6, 8 and 10 years old.
"Each child has their own nanny," Drennen said.
When she arrived in March, she was the fill-in nanny of the eldest child, the 10-year-old daughter, until mid-July.
Drennen didn't know what to expect when working for the royal family. It seemed quite intimidating.
"I thought it would be very uptight and very restricted," said Drennen.
She found it to be quite the opposite. On her first day, she visited with the sheikh for two hours, discussing her life in the United States, her family and her boyfriend. Drennen said she felt like she was talking to an old friend.
But she did have a rough start to her new position.
"I got seriously sick the first time I was over there," recalled Drennen. ''I ate something. I think it was an allergic reaction. Both of my legs swelled up. You couldn't tell I had any knees, any ankles. They had their own royal ER and their own set of doctors and ICU. Sheikh Khalifa Medical Center is affiliated with Cleveland Clinic. The hospital is just for the royals."
Her work schedule is six days a week with one day off. Most of her time concerns the children's school day.
According to Drennen, a typical school day begins at 5:30 a.m. when she gets showered and dressed. She then goes to the palace, makes her child's lunch and wakes them up at 6:30 a.m.
The child would eat breakfast and visit their mother for a kiss before leaving for school. She would travel with the driver and the child to school and walk with him or her to their classroom by 8 a.m. She would make sure they were settled and return to the palace.
From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. was her free time until she returned with the driver to pick up the child.
The children attend an off-site British school from Sunday through Thursday.
When the children returned home, they would eat lunch. They would have free time until their evening lessons. These lessons were usually an hour and a half with either their French, Chinese, Arabic or Islamic teacher. Since Drennen had an education degree, she often taught the English class.
After their lessons, they would have free time to play tennis, swim or play rugby, and then it was time for dinner, bath and bedtime. She often stayed in the child's room until they fell asleep.
She found that being a child in a royal family does have advantages. Drennen attended the circus and an ice skating show with the children. At each event, they were allowed to stay after the performances to meet the cast and have a private lesson in circus tricks or figure skating.
Drennen discovered some cultural differences during her time with the sheikh and his family.
"Whenever (the sheikh) enters the room, you have to leave unless you are the family or you're holding the baby. You hand off the baby to him, and then you have to leave the room," Drennen said.
Also, opposite to American culture, the family did not like the smell of food.
"All the food is cooked off site by their cook, and then drivers will bring it in. Lunch is always fish. I can't stand fish," said Drennen. She usually ate the previous dinner's leftovers for lunch.
During her two times as a nanny at the Al-Nahyan Palace, from March to mid-July and September to early November, she stayed in a private room on the grounds just steps away from the main palace. Other residents in her building were another nanny, two other staff members, the office and house managers.
As the end of 2012 approaches, Drennen is weighing her employment options.
"I would love to continue to work for the family, but I cannot see myself moving there permanently. I am hoping to obtain a teaching job in the area. Until then, I will work for the family whenever they need me," said Drennen.
She added that the sheikh wants her to return to the household to take care of the one-year-old, who does not have his own nanny.
But no matter what she decides to do, she knows it was the right decision to go there.
"I was very lucky that I was placed with that family. Other families were a little bit more strict," said Drennen.
"I would have never gone on my own over there. They really, really wanted my mother to come over this second time. Even if I don't go back at the first of the year to take care of the baby, we are planning a trip there for my birthday," Drennen said.