Discovering Diversity, Building Bridges, JoiN on Their Transformative Journeys Across China
In our increasingly interconnected world, cultural exchange serves as a vital bridge connecting people from diverse backgrounds. Through the unique journeys facilitated by Wanderlust Exchange, we delve into the stories of three young, courageous women – Kate from the USA, Kelly from South Africa, and Selma from Sweden – as they cross oceans to explore Suzhou, Shanghai, and Linyi in Shandong, China. Their narratives transcend mere geographical transitions; they are tales of inner transformation and growth. Here, we share how they found new aspects of themselves in the historic towns and bustling cities of China, forged cross-cultural friendships, and created unforgettable memories.
1.Kate's Journey from the USA to Suzhou: Blending Cultures, Crafting Memories
Kate's experience as an au pair in Suzhou, China, is more than just a mere cultural exchange; it's a journey of personal growth and mutual understanding. She recalls, "I have only been here for a few weeks, but working as an au pair in Suzhou has become the highlight of my year." This sentiment captures the essence of her transformative experience in China, facilitated by the attentive support of Wanderlust Exchange and her program coordinator, Jiali.
Upon her arrival, Kate was warmly welcomed by her host family, a perfect match that made her feel like she's known them all her life. They went above and beyond, preparing her own room, and even buying gluten-free soy sauce and snacks to accommodate her food allergies. The heartfelt welcome extended to a homemade card from the children, reading "We love you, Kate," a treasure she plans to keep forever.
The children, aged 8 and 6, are the heart of her daily life in Suzhou. Kate's interactions with them are filled with joy, energy, and a genuine connection. "Playing with them, teaching them, and just hanging out has fostered a genuine connection," she says. Their enthusiasm and curiosity light up her day, making the impending goodbye bittersweet.
Kate's journey also includes immersing herself in the wider family circle, experiencing the warm dynamics of a traditional Chinese family. A cherished memory is when the grandmother raised a toast to her, welcoming her not just to China, but into their family.
An integral part of Kate's journey is her role as a student. With up to 15 hours of Mandarin classes per week, she finds a fulfilling balance between teaching the children and her own language studies. It's a win-win situation that enhances her cultural immersion.
Living in Suzhou has its unique charms, notably the weather, which is a pleasant change from snowy Michigan. The city's milder climate allows Kate to explore its picturesque canals, gardens, and cobblestone streets. Embracing cultural festivities, she shared her heritage by celebrating Christmas with her host family, making pannukakku, a traditional Finnish dish, and singing carols.
Kate's journey in Suzhou, though still in its early stages, is already marked by cultural appreciation and personal development. Her experience encapsulates the spirit of Wanderlust Exchange, blending cultures and crafting unforgettable memories. As Kate herself puts it, "I'm savoring every moment until my contract ends six months from now," grateful for the amazing opportunity provided by her host family and Wanderlust Exchange.
2.Kelly's Leap from South Africa to Shanghai: A Tale of Urban Adventure and Discovery
Kelly's transition from South Africa to the bustling metropolis of Shanghai is a story of exhilarating discovery and heartwarming connections. Initially apprehensive about her journey to China, she found her fears quickly dissolving upon meeting her host family. "They welcomed me with open arms and cheerful faces," Kelly recalls, instantly feeling a part of the family. The bond she formed with her host children was instantaneous, marked by shared games and laughter.
Her host family's warmth extended into the smallest of gestures, like the host dad making her green tea, a simple act that made her feel cherished and respected. The host parents' kindness and constant attention to her needs further eased her transition into this new environment.
Kelly's adventures in Shanghai began just three days after her arrival, with a family outing to a horse riding ranch. This outing not only gave her a glimpse into the family's life but also introduced her to a wider circle of their friends. It was during these early days that she experienced her first hot pot, an event she describes as "amazing... like something out of this world."
The culinary explorations continued with a Lazy Susan dinner at a local restaurant, where she tried duck and squid for the first time, both becoming instant favorites. "It's been great tasting all of Shanghai's different flavors and cuisines," she enthuses, embracing the city's diverse culinary landscape. Celebrating New Year's Eve with her host family at a camp was a highlight, complete with fireworks, fire dancing, and music. Dancing to "Baby Shark" was an unexpected delight, adding to her collection of joyful experiences.
Adapting to life in Shanghai brought its own set of firsts, including using the metro, something not available in her hometown. While she attracted some attention as a foreigner, it was all part of the experience of immersing herself in a new culture.
During her orientation, Kelly explored half of Shanghai, visiting iconic locations like the People's Square, the Museum of Shanghai, and marveling at China's tallest tower. Her free time is often spent on peaceful walks along the river near her host family's home and exploring Century Park, finding tranquility amidst the city's hustle.
Kelly's journey in Shanghai is one of continuous discovery and anticipation for what lies ahead. "I really look forward to seeing what else China has to offer and what other amazing cuisines I can try," she shares, her excitement for the future palpable. Her story is a testament to the enriching experiences and personal growth that come with embracing a new culture with an open heart and mind.
3.Selma's Homeward Bound: From Sweden to Shandong's Linyi, Rediscovering Roots
Selma's au pair journey is a unique blend of adventure and cultural rediscovery. Unlike most, her journey started in Haikou, in southern China, where she first met her host family. This marked the beginning of an unforgettable road trip to Yishui, their hometown in the north. "Driving from Haikou to Yishui takes about a day," Selma recalls, "but we made a lot of stops in other cities on our way." This experience allowed her to witness the diverse landscapes and cultural richness of China, making it one of the coolest adventures she's ever had.
Her host family extended a warm and inviting welcome from their first meeting at the airport. The family's effort to communicate in English, ensuring Selma felt included, was something she deeply appreciated. "Even if they speak Chinese, they explain and retell everything in English to me," she mentions, highlighting the importance of feeling included and not left out.
Living in someone else's family, Selma admits, is both special and challenging. There's a delicate balance in trying not to do something wrong and not feeling as relaxed as one would be at home. This new living dynamic has been a significant part of her learning experience.
Selma's first impression of China on this trip is complex, given her previous visits and her personal background of being adopted from China. "It's a big difference to just travel in China and to actually live here for a longer period," she explains. This extended stay has given her the opportunity to experience Chinese culture more deeply and observe the everyday life in China. She finds the cultural differences interesting, fascinating, and sometimes intimidating, but they have undoubtedly broadened her perspective.
Selma's journey in Linyi is more than just an au pair experience; it's a journey of reconnecting with her roots, understanding her heritage, and seeing China through a lens that combines the familiarity of the past with the discoveries of the present. Her story is a compelling narrative of embracing cultural differences and finding a place in a world that is both new and familiar.
As we reflect on the experiences of Kate, Kelly, and Selma, it becomes evident that their journeys are more than just physical travels to a foreign land. Each story is a tapestry woven with threads of cultural discovery, personal growth, and heartfelt connections. From the serene streets of Suzhou to the bustling avenues of Shanghai, and the culturally rich landscapes of Shandong's Linyi, these young women have not only bridged geographical distances but have also connected deeply with their host families and the Chinese culture.
Their stories remind us that the essence of travel lies not in the mere act of moving from one place to another, but in the transformation that occurs within us as we embrace new experiences, navigate challenges, and celebrate the diversity of our global community. Wanderlust Exchange prides itself on facilitating such transformative journeys, where every au pair becomes a storyteller, sharing tales of adventure, friendship, and cultural immersion.
If you're interested in learning more about Chinese culture and experiencing it firsthand by coming to China, please don't hesitate to reach out to Wanderlust. We're here to help you embark on your own incredible journey of cultural exchange and discovery.
Wanderlust Exchange encourages the exploration of self-awareness and personal development , and fostering of global understanding. We desire to bridge cultural divide and contribute to build the world with more trust, understanding and diversity among all.