Au pair China

A pro­gram which orig­i­nated in the Europe is now tak­ing hold on the main­land

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By TANYINGZI in Chongqing tanyingzi@chi­

The au pair pro­gram, which orig­i­nated in Europe af­ter World War II to pro­mote cul­tural ex­changes among young Euro­peans, is find­ing a foothold on the Chi­nese main­land.

Three-year-old Yoyo has a spe­cial friend in his home this sum­mer. Is­abell Ro­hde, 18, from Span­gen­berg, a small town in cen­tral Ger­many, is spend­ing six months as an au pair with Yoyo’s fam­ily in south­west China’s Chongqing.

Like many Euro­pean peers, the young woman de­cided to take a gap year to ex­pe­ri­ence some for­eign cul­ture be­fore go­ing to col­lege.

“I was look­ing for an op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence a dif­fer­ent cul­ture af­ter fin­ish­ing high school,” Ro­hde tells China Daily. “It’s my first time abroad.” At Yoyo’s home, her main duty is to take care of the boy, play with him and teach him some English. She will also take some Chi­nese lan­guage cour­ses ev­ery week and travel with the host fam­ily.

The au pair pro­gram orig­i­nated in Europe af­ter World War II to pro­mote cul­tural ex­changes among young Euro­peans.

Au Pair, a French term, means “at par” or “equal to”, and in­di­cates that the au pair is on par with other mem­bers of the fam­ily, rather than a tra­di­tional do­mes­tic help or nanny.

Au pairs live with their host fam­i­lies and look af­ter the chil­dren. In re­turn, they get an al­lowance and op­por­tu­ni­ties to study a for­eign lan­guage.

Due to visa re­stric­tions and lim­ited de­mand, the au pair pro­gram was not in­tro­duced in China un­til the early 2000s.

At first, it was Chi­nese au pairs go­ing out, mainly to the United States, as some Amer­i­can par­ents started to re­al­ize the im­por­tance of learn­ing Chi­nese.

In 2006, Yu Hong­bin, from Harbin, north­east China’s Hei­longjiang province, was the first Chi­nese au pair to land in the United States, ac­cord­ing to the New York Times.

In China, the de­mand for au pairs has started to grow in re­cent years as some af­flu­ent and am­bi­tious Chi­nese par­ents want their chil­dren to get a hands-on feel when learn­ing a for­eign tongue.

In 2014, a Chi­nese movie, When a Pek­ing Fam­ily Meets Au Pair, drew pub­lic at­ten­tion to this con­cept.

Based on the ex­pe­ri­ences of a Chi­nese host fam­ily, the movie is about how a tra­di­tional Chi­nese fam­ily gets along with a Colom­bian au pair called Na­talie.

Yoyo’s fa­ther Pu Yongjian, an eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor at Chongqing Uni­ver­sity, learnt about the au pair pro­gram this year through an English teacher whose friend is run­ning an au pair agency in Chongqing.

“My son likes English very much, so I want to have an English-speak­ing au pair to help him prac­tice the lan­guage at home,” says Pu.

But at first, the agency told him it might take a while to find an au pair who wants to come to Chongqing, a lesser-known Chi­nese city in the un­der­de­vel­oped western re­gion.

Typ­i­cally, for­eign au pairs want to live in Bei­jing and Shang­hai.

“Bai Mei (the Chi­nese name Pu gave to Ro­hde, which means white plum blos­som) is an ex­cep­tion,” says Pu.

“She wanted to go to the ‘back­ward’ part of China.”

My aca­demic and pro­fes­sional back­ground also at­tracted the Ger­man stu­dent who plans to pur­sue an eco­nom­ics de­gree in col­lege when she re­turns home, the pro­fes­sor says.

Ex­plain­ing how au pairs and fam­i­lies are matched, Ma Senhu, the gen­eral man­ager of the Chongqing Hol­i­day Cul­tural and Tourism Ex­change Cen­ter, which helped Pu find the Ger­man au pair, says: “Our clien­tele com­prises well-ed­u­cated pro­fes­sion­als with in­ter­na­tional ex­po­sure, such as pro­fes­sors, lawyers and en­trepreneurs.”

There are about 10 agen­cies who are in­volved in the au pair pro­gram in China and about 700 for­eign au pairs came to the coun­try last year, says Ma.

“Thanks to the coun­try’s fast growth, an in­creas­ing num­ber of young for­eign­ers are ap­ply­ing for po­si­tions in China,” he says.

The agency has matched 15 Chongqing fam­i­lies with au pairs this year.

“The se­lec­tion process is mu­tual,” says Ma, adding that the two sides com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly via email and video chats to see if they click.

“Al­most no for­eign au pair can speak Chi­nese, so Chi­nese par­ents need some for­eign lan­guage skills,” he says.

Mean­while, though an in­creas­ing num­ber of Chi­nese par­ents are buy­ing into the pro­gram, many have con­cerns about the sys­tem.

Shi Ke, the ed­i­tor-in-chief of a fash­ion magazine and a mother of two young chil­dren, says: “I can­not imagine hav­ing a for­eigner liv­ing in my home.

“It can lead to lot of cul­tural and life­style con­flicts. For in­stance, do I have to pre­pare Western food for the au pair ev­ery day?”

Zhuang Yilin, a se­nior man­ager at a multi­na­tional com­pany in Shang­hai and also a mother of two, has been think­ing about hav­ing an au pair for some time.

“It is not easy to find a trust­wor­thy one,” she says.

“I want an au pair with a good per­son­al­ity and a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude. I have heard some neg­a­tive feed­back about au pairs in China, so I am be­ing very cau­tious.”

Lan­guage ex­perts also say that it is not ne­c­es­sary to have an au pair for kids at very young age.

Liu Jian, Chief Aca­demic Of­fi­cer of Best Learn­ing, an English lan­guage train­ing cen­ter, says: “While hav­ing a native speaker at home is ob­vi­ously the best way to pick up a for­eign tongue, if the child is only three years old, the au pair is just a babysit­ter and can­not teach the child a lot. I think the proper age (for a child to have an au pair) is around 10.”


Is­abell Ro­hde (left) on a trip with Pu Yongjian’s fam­ily.


Is­abell Ro­hde’s job is to take care of and play with Yoyo.

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