Testimonial-How is Aupairing in China like?
You may have never thought of to be an au pair, let alone an au pair in a country like China, where from culture to the way people live has been nothing like what you have grown up with. But there is no reason of being hold back because of these differences, instead, they are just motivations for any ambitious youngsters to step out of their comfort zone and to discover the unknown of the world.
Any skepticism at this moment is reasonable and understandable. That is why we would like to have more testimonials from current and alumni aupairs be heard. Here we have Leo Tunkle, a 20-year-old lad from Michigan, the United States, aupairing in Shanghai for two months, sharing his experience of auparing in China.
What made you want to be an aupair?
I've always liked spending time with kids and teaching and thought that the best way to truly get to know a country is by living with a family there, so being an au pair seemed perfect for me. I think that it has definitely lived up to my expectations so far! Becoming part of a Chinese family is pretty much just what I'd hoped for. For my family in particular, I've really enjoyed regularly visiting the grandparents apartment and eating altogether with them. I don't have grandparents, so seeing and being part of that family dynamic is really interesting and fun for me - even if I don't understand most of what's being said.
Why did you choose China as your destination for auparing?
China is becoming increasingly more important in world affairs today, so I thought it would be good to see firsthand what China is like and how Chinese people think and act in everyday life. Also, Chinese culture is very interesting as it combines thousands of years of civilization with very abrupt changes from modern history. In the news, I've heard many negative things about China relating to political topics, and while I still think these are mostly true and disagree with many policies, I think it's important to see the Chinese perspective and that the system seems to work quite well for most people here.
What made you choose Wanderlust to fulfill your Au Pair China Program?
I settled on Wanderlust as my agency of choice because based on online reviews I found them to be the most trustworthy agency. I read quite a few horror stories about other agencies and was kind of scared about doing this, but all the reviews about Wanderlust gave me the impression that they truly cared about the continual well-being of the families and au pairs that they matched.
To what extent do you think Wanderlust has been helpful throughout the process? Could you please specify what kind of assistance you have received from Wanderlust? How satisfied are you working with Wanderlust?
The fact that they ensure that each family has a member that can at least speak some English is extremely important. They also check in with both au pair and family regularly just in case there are communication issues. The main draw for me was probably the Mandarin lessons. Wanderlust helps you every step of the way in video chatting with potential host families beforehand, assisting with visas, helping with logistics for Mandarin lessons, and even organizing events for the au pairs to help you make new friends while here! Aside from this, I haven't needed much assistance from them, but I'll mention that another au pair I know had trouble with her family and they were very quick in helping her find and move to a new family.
What is your impression of Shanghai? Is there any place you would recommend for visiting in Shanghai?
My first impression was that Shanghai is a very busy and fast paced city. If you take the subway during rush hour, you will understand exactly what I mean. There are also countless events happening at any one time and people are here from all over the world. If you're into history I'd recommend checking out the Shanghai Museum. It's definitely worth the wait and it's free! Another nice place is Century Park, which has a small entry fee. There are also plenty of concerts and other performances to go to.
Have you been through culture differences and homesickness during your stay? How did you overcome them? Do you have any suggestions for new aupairs to adapt to Chinese culture?
There are definitely a lot of cultural differences in China, but I think with an open mind you can find a lot in common with life at home. Some things I can think of off the top of my head: if you get sick, expect to be forbidden from drinking cold water and perhaps given a bunch of random traditional Chinese medicines or strange dietary restrictions (no meat until your fever is gone!); while you should try to be polite to everyone, be especially polite to elders cause they may judge you hard otherwise; while it's fine not to answer, you may be asked personal questions that make you uncomfortable as there is much less privacy than I'm accustomed to. I think that especially for the first few days, it's worth making it clear to your family that if you do anything offensive they should let you know right away so you can learn social norms here.
If you get homesick, I can recommend two things: find a restaurant with your home cuisine since Shanghai has pretty much everything; go to a Carrefour supermarket, where you'll probably be able to find something that reminds you of home. Also, try to meet the other au pairs! It can be a breath of fresh air to talk with non-Chinese friends every now and then.
Can you introduce your host family and describe your responsibilities as well as your schedule during the stay with your host family?
My host family has its quirks, but I quickly grew to like them a lot. Both parents are self-employed (fyi, this generally means fairly well off), and I'm still not 100% sure how their whole income situation works, but I'm not the type to ask for details. The mom speaks decent English and is super chill, the 11 year old boy knows some English and is a lot of fun, and the dad doesn't speak any English but from my interactions with him seems pretty cool and obviously loves his kid. My responsibilities are usually doing the dishes, talking as much as I can in English with the boy, reading with him, exercising with him (his parents want him to lose weight), and accompanying him to a few activities. Since it's his summer vacation right now, my schedule is pretty variable and I have to be flexible about when I spend time with him.
A typical day might go something like this: wake up at 6:30 and talk to the boy for a bit, eat breakfast all together, do the dishes, talk some more, go to Mandarin class, come back to find that he's in class and study or relax for the next few hours, when he gets back talk some more and maybe read an English book with him, exercise with him a bit, shower and sleep. If he doesn't have class, we might prepare some food together since he likes cooking, watch a TV show with mom, go play basketball, or just study side by side. For me it's like having a sibling that you always have to be nice to, which honestly I'm enjoying a lot. When I ask if I can go meet friends or disappear for a day, my host mom is super accommodating. During the school year, I bet my schedule would be a lot more fixed with free time clustered more around the school day whereas right now, free time is unpredictable but plentiful.
What is the most difficult part in your au pair experience with the host family and kids, and what you did to cope with them?
The first two days were definitely the hardest. When I first met the kid, I could barely get him to talk which is totally understandable given that he didn't know me and hadn't spoken much English to a native speaker before. I'd ask him questions and talk at him, but for all I could tell he was ignoring me. I honestly felt kind of hurt and I was worried that he would continue to act that way. Eventually, though, with enough smiling and talking, he got the message that I was friendly and started talking. Since then, we've become pretty close and have a lot of fun together!
Can you elaborate on the most unforgettable thing you have experienced as an au pair in China?
Something pretty memorable with the host family was traveling to Inner Mongolia. After unpacking at the house in Shanghai, before I knew it, my new little brother, the mom, mom’s friend, mom’s friend’s son, and I were all on a plane to Hailar, Inner Mongolia (dad stayed behind for work).
We did pretty much everything that Chinese people associate with Inner Mongolia. We ate lots of meat, watched a bunch of performances in Mongolian, rode horses, visited shrines and museums devoted to Genghis Khan, did various “Russian” things around the border (whatever that means), drove a lot (the province is huge), and enjoyed the freaking fantastic weather each of the nine days that we were there. Mom’s friend was pretty rich, so we had chauffeurs/body guards, ate very well, and stayed at nice hotels. I got my own room each night which was pretty nice.
Overall it was something I totally wasn't expecting and it was very interesting to see a part of China that is totally different from Shanghai.
It is never too late to see the world and being an aupair can be the most effective way to have yourself engage in the culture you want to explore and understand it through day-to-day interaction with people who originate from there and on top of that, to have yourself grow from a wider vision and unusual exotic experience.