🧚 "Experiencing Life as an Exchange Student: The Authentic, Intimate, and Immersive Chinese Family Experience" - Vivianne, a Chinese-Swedish Exchange Student
Today, we at WE are thrilled to introduce a special individual in our exchange program – Vivianne, a Chinese-Swedish student whose journey in Shanghai has been nothing short of remarkable!
🌸 Vivianne, hailing from the serene landscapes of Sweden and known in Mandarin as Zhang Kaiwei, embarked on an adventurous gap year in China following her undergraduate studies at University College London. With a passion for reading, cinema, urban strolls, photography, and freelance writing, Vivianne sought to deepen her understanding of her heritage and her love for China.
Our team had the unique opportunity to sit down with Vivianne for an exclusive interview. We delved into her background, her fervent affection for Chinese culture, and the myriad of insights gained from her exchange experience.
Join us as we explore Vivianne's life in Shanghai, her explorations, and the growth and discoveries she made on this extraordinary journey!
1.Background and motivation
Hi, Vivianne, Can you share about your background and what motivated you to join the Au Pair in China program?
“I was looking to take a gap year between my undergraduate and Master’s, and going to China was an obvious choice for me. I grew up in Sweden and the UK, but both of my parents are from China so Chinese culture has always been a big part of my life. I already knew Mandarin fairly well, loved eating and cooking Chinese food, and would visit my relatives in China as often as possible, but had always been curious what it would be like to navigate life in one of China's mega-cities by myself. So as I looked for affordable opportunities to experience Shanghai, I came across Wanderlust’s au pair programme and realised that there is probably no more authentic, intimate, and immersive way to experience urban Chinese life than to live in an urban Chinese home.”
Visiting host family's hometown in Xinchang, Zhejiang
2.Why Wanderlust Exchange？
How did you first come across our agency? What made you decide to cooperate with us?
Once I had decided that I wanted to au pair in China, I compared several agencies before choosing Wanderlust. Besides the option to do a three month programme, because many other agencies required a minumum of six, an important factor was that I got all my questions answered well and quickly during the application process, so I felt very safe and supported. There are also websites where you can contact host families directly, but if it is your first time coming to China, I would really suggest going through an agency like Wanderlust. As a foreigner in China, you will very likely have problems with things like VPN, SIM card, bank card, mobile payments etc. and it helps to have someone to turn to. Moreover, through the au pair life, I also got the opportunity to improve my Chinese in a standardized Chinese school, plus I got along well with my au pair family in my normal life, and my sister at home was also very happy to teach me some Chinese words in her free time, which turned into my little teacher.
Vivian's Chinese essays
What are your main activities and responsibilities in the family?
My host family has two children, a 7 year old girl and a 3 year old boy. I spend most of my time with the 7 year old, whom I pick up from school everyday, help with homework, and accompany to extracurricular activities. In her free time, we normally just chat and play together in English or read books together. We're currently reading all the Roald Dahl books while watching the movies at the same time, which she loves. And with the 3 year old, I just teach him English words and simple sentences while we play with his toy cars.
Most of the time, they are super funny and sweet, but I'd say that you need to genuinely love children to do this programme, because you will spend a lot of time with your host kids and they will test your patience at times! In a way, they just become like your own siblings. Sometimes they make you incredibly frustrated, but at other times, incredibly happy.
The host children told Vivianne that they had never had a Christmas tree at home before, so they got one and decorated it together!
Your program is approaching to an end. In what ways do you feel the program has contribute to your personal and professional growth?
I sometimes joke that through this programme, I've basically had a taste of the life of a young mother! You know, learning how to plan my own life around my kids' schedules, finding ways to motivate them to do homework, or explain what they can and can't do... Above all, realizing how easily influenced young children are has given me this strong sense of responsibility, and I've found myself changing many of my own habits like not wasting food, using my phone less, or reading more books, so that I can be good role model for them. And then of course, just all the other things that naturally came with moving to a different country by myself: making new friends, improving my Mandarin, learning how to use all the various Chinese apps... Trust me, Didi and Taobao will be your best friends! Although the au pair life is coming to an end, I have become good friends with the children and the family. I believe that our friendship will not end with the end of the program, and I hope that when I go back to China to visit my family in the future, I will still be able to reunite with my au pair family!
Shanghai is an amazing city to stay in – it has everything you'd expect of a big bustling city, but also lots of small, quiet streets like these for when you want to take it slow.
What advice do you want to give to our future participants?
If you not in a rush, I would really encourage you to take the time to interview a few families before you accept an offer. Your experience as an au pair will completely depend on the host family you get, so you want to make sure that they are a good match for you. Ask lots of questions during the interviews about things like curfew, your schedule, distance from their home to the city center etc., so that there are no surprises later on.
Once you arrive in China, my biggest piece of advice would be to make an effort to get to know people outside of the au pair network too. Those who have been in the city for a while will be able to show you all the best cafés, bars, clubs, restaurants... and most importantly, what tourist traps to avoid!
Shanghai nightlife is unbeatable
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.