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From China Novice to China Expert

Updated: Jan 12


LoPair has been working with au pairs and host families for over a decade.

During this time we have met so many amazing au pairs. We have collected stories about our au pairs’ experiences regarding culture, families and friends, to show you the wonderful life of au pairs in China.

Today, we are bringing you the experience of a young English woman and her Chinese adventure.

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“Did you have any expectations before you came to China?”

"I honestly didn't know what to expect. I didn't know enough about China. This is a mysterious country, even when I think of China, I can only think of pandas and air pollution. I can't believe I can get such a perfect experience in China.”

Laura talked about her life in China with enthusiasm.

Laura, 20, was a sophomore at Durham university in 2018. She first heard about the au pair program at the freshers fair. Former participants were on hand and they told her that the program would allow her to come to China for six weeks for free and live with local Chinese families and experience Chinese culture, while she would accompany Chinese children and teach them English. Laura was inspired.

She soon had an interview after sending us her resume and a family sent her an offer, but she turned it down, she said she hadn't thought it through and need more time to talk to her family about coming to China.

This came as a surprise to us, as we hadn't known about Laura's hesitance. We were even a little worried. Did she want to drop out of the project? We were supportive though and encouraged her to take her time. Fortunately, sometime later, she was interviewed by a second family. The family liked Laura very much and sent the offer very quickly.

This time, she accepted.

She said afterwards that she was unsure about going to a country and staying with a family she did not know at all: she felt nervous and uneasy because she felt a little uncertain and unprepared. We put her in touch with other former participants who helped her feel ready for the trip.

So in the end, she made it to China and started her amazing experience.

"How did you feel after attending the au pair program in China for the first time?"

"You know I come from an English-speaking country and everyone speaks English and we take it for granted. When I came to China, I thought it's amazing that a non-English speaking country would attach so much importance to learning a foreign language -- English."

Laura's host family is based in Beijing, an ancient capital with a history of more than 3,000 years. Here, she can walk through old Hutong, explore the traces of the old Beijing; find historical stories in scene spots; feel the city's booming economy amid the towering skyscrapers.

Laura was extremely nervous when she arrived. However, the kindness and warmth conveyed by the host family made her feel that she was regarded as a member of the family, and the tension and anxiety in her heart gradually faded into ease.

Because the family's child is a 12 year-old girl and her English is very good they could communicate in English, so they got along more like good sisters. The girl is very independent and took Laura through the streets of Beijing. They visited museums and hung out in parks. On weekends, the whole family went out together. The family would tell Laura about the history of the Great Wall, the origin of Hutong, the art of Peking Opera, and many other things she didn't know about Chinese folk customs and culture. Laura would also share the history, culture and art of Britain with the girl.

Laura marveled at the depth and extensiveness of Chinese culture, which has a history of five thousand years. But what surprised her most was the emphasis on education. If the glory of the past is the precipitation of history, then the strength of the future is the vision of the present.

Chinese families attach great importance to learning English, because it is an international language. If children master this language, it means they have more chances and channels to obtain more information, knowledge and opportunities, and they can communicate with people all over the world from a more cosmopolitan perspective.

In China, she learned that Chinese education is very strong and competitive. So Chinese children are under pressure, and parents always pay a lot of attention to their children's study and provide as much support as possible.

'Maybe that's part of what au pair means to Chinese families,' she says.

Laura's postcard to the family

“Did you experience any culture shock while living in China?”

"No, or I don't think that is was culture shock; but there were some differences."

Being an au pair in Beijing gave Laura a wonderful Chinese experience, which not only brought her a rich cultural understanding, but also the friendship with her family. They keep in touch with each other all the time. During holidays, Laura will also communicate with the family by WeChat, sending each other recent photos and well-wishes.

Because of her wonderful experience in Beijing, Laura has devoted herself to helping more British students learn about and participate in the au pair program. She has successfully recommended many excellent British students to us, especially those from Durham University.

This summer, Laura joined the au pair program again. This time, she came to a family in Hangzhou. Having already experienced China, she was much more relaxed this time. She got along very well with her family and made a lot of good memories with the children. During this period, she also agreed to come to the office of Lopair for exchange and study, and provided a lot of support for the promotion of Lopair's overseas projects.

farewell party for Laura

Laura likes China very much and does not feel that she has encountered any so-called culture shock. She thinks that all new people and things are interesting. But it's true that sometimes, you can feel the differences between the two places.

For example, British culture is relatively "polite", or too polite, British people often say thank you, sorry and so on. When she arrived in China, she was a little surprised that people seemed "rude": people would talk loudly, and she thought they were fighting at the beginning. For example, when she went out for dinner with her family, she found that Chinese people usually call the waiter directly and give a very clear indication of what service they want. In the UK, people often say, Could you please... Can I have a... Oh, thank you or similar.

However, after living in China for some time, she found the direct approach to be quite common. This was less of a culture shock more about understanding the modernization of China and the convenience of life.

Laura's family in Hangzhou lives close to the subway, so she often used it for her daily trips. The first time she saw everyone using Alipay to take the subway, she was envious and felt that it was really convenient! So she went to apply for a bank card immediately, but the transport payment function didn't work. Even after communicating with customer service, the problem was not solved in the end. She had to get a regular bus/subway pass. She was disappointed about that.

“Will you come to China again in the future?”

"I will certainly come back. I wouldn't rule out working in China for a while."

The days in Hangzhou flew by. Laura will spend her gap year interning in France and taking part in exchange programs in Chile before continuing her final year at Durham University in the UK next year.

As for us, we were really happy to learn more about this young woman this summer.

In Britain, Laura used to attend a free school, also known as the state school, where people do not need to pay tuition fees, but the quality of teaching cannot compete with private schools or boarding schools. For a free school student, she had to work very hard to get into a good university like Durham. She is considerate, energetic, and always has a pleasant smile on her face.

We are also pleased to serve as a bridge for such excellent British students to have a more comprehensive and authentic understanding of China. We believe that she will spread China's goodwill and the beauty of China to more British young people. Let them also know more about China, let them with us, contribute a little bit to the friendly exchanges between the two countries.

Before she left, Laura also gave some advice to other young people who are interested in the project: "make sure you really want to come, you really want to teach, and you can do it well. And then you have to really like kids and be outgoing. And you must be aware that coming to a country with a completely different culture will bring many difficulties and challenges. You need to be flexible, open-minded and adaptable. You need to be ready to adapt to the environment, the culture and the expectations of your family. I can only say that this experience in China has been really great."

She has left her mark on China, with families and with Lopair.

Nice to meet you, Laura.

We wish you a bright future.

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