Serv­ing China

For­eign­ers be­come au pairs to get a taste of the Chi­nese cul­ture

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - By Zhang Yi­hua

One of Ava Parker’s best life ex­pe­ri­ences is her three-month stint as an au pair in China. An Amer­i­can, Parker crossed an ocean to soak up the Chi­nese lan­guage and cul­ture by way of tak­ing care of two Chi­nese kids.

The term au pair comes from French and means “on equal terms,” which sig­ni­fies that the au pair and host fam­ily should treat each other as equals, ac­cord­ing to au­pair.com, a Ger­man mul­ti­lin­gual agency that has been match­ing au pairs to host fam­i­lies around the world since 1999.

Au pair pro­grams are a new trend among for­eign­ers stay­ing in China. They give for­eign­ers, es­pe­cially young peo­ple lim­ited money and the op­por­tu­nity to learn more about China while liv­ing with a lo­cal host fam­ily.

In China, au pair pro­grams are usu­ally run by pri­vate agen­cies. An au pair gets ac­com­mo­da­tions, reg­u­lar meals and pocket money mainly in ex­change for help with child­care.

Parker said she was an au pair in Europe for around half a year be­fore com­ing to China. It is among the cheap­est ways to live abroad for a pe­riod, she said.

In ad­di­tion to cut­ting the cost of her stay, Parker said that be­ing an au pair in China was a great chance for her to learn the Chi­nese lan­guage and cul­ture, which she was in­ter­ested in.

Like Parker, many young for­eign­ers are sign­ing up for au pair pro­grams in China as a way to save money while learn­ing more about China, its lan­guage and its peo­ple.

How to be­come an au pair?

The re­quire­ments for be­ing an au pair in China tend to vary depend­ing on the agency. But over­all, to be an au pair in China, a per­son needs to be be­tween 18 and 29 and have a clean crim­i­nal record.

Au Pair Shang­hai, an au pair agency in Shang­hai, said to be an au pair, an in­di­vid­ual needs to have at least a high school diploma and be con­ver­sant in at least one of the ma­jor lan­guages in the world. Most fam­i­lies pre­fer English speak­ers, and some pre­fer peo­ple who can speak more than one lan­guage. For the fam­i­lies who pre­fer English speak­ers, au pairs need to have a na­tive ac­cent; those who have a thick lo­cal ac­cent may find it hard to get placed.

Af­ter de­cid­ing that she wanted to come to China, Parker con­tacted a pri­vate agency and reg­is­tered as a po­ten­tial au pair. The reg­is­tra- tion was free and com­prised fill­ing out an ap­pli­ca­tion, pro­vid­ing a copy of her pass­port, pho­tos, and a let­ter speak­ing about her char­ac­ter and abil­i­ties.

She then did an in­ter­view with the agency via Skype, in which she pre­sented her­self as a suit­able can­di­date. Her in­ter­view­ers asked her a num­ber of ques­tions, in­clud­ing why she wanted to be an au pair in China. Af­ter that, there was noth­ing left for her to do ex­cept wait to be placed with a suit­able Chi­nese host fam­ily.

Ac­cord­ing to au­pair.com, po­ten­tial au pairs can ac­tively search for host fam­i­lies that match their pref­er­ences and send them re­quests on the web­site. The host fam­i­lies would re­ceive the ap­pli­ca­tion and ei­ther ac­cept or deny their re­quest.

Au­pair.com sug­gests that po­ten­tial au pairs try to get in touch with 20 to 30 Chi­nese fam­i­lies per day to speed up the match­ing process.

A Chi­nese fam­ily in Bei­jing wrote Parker an email ex­press­ing their in­ter­est in her a few days af­ter her in­ter­view. She was also asked to video chat with the fam­ily.

“Dur­ing the video chat, the host fam­ily and I shared our ex­pec­ta­tions for our po­ten­tial fu­ture co­op­er­a­tion, and it helped me make sure that the host fam­ily suited me,” she said.

Parker noted that in­stead of the meth­ods she planned to em­ploy to teach their child English, the host fam­ily was more in­ter­ested in her hob­bies to get an idea of her char­ac­ter and per­son­al­ity.

“Most host fam­i­lies like au pairs who are

pos­i­tive, out­go­ing and en­er­getic,” she said, adding that she mainly asked thet host fam­ily about her work hours and hol­i­days, whichwh she be­lieved were is­sues all au pairs need to clar­ify.

“Au pairs need to know whether they would have enough free time,” she ex­plained.

The ini­tial in­ter­view went well. Both Parker and the host fam­ily thought they could make a good match. So, they or­ga­nized an­other video chat to dis­cuss more spe­cific de­tails about ac­com­mo­da­tion, pocket money and so on.

Parker had to pro­vide a health cer­tifi­cate and crim­i­nal back­ground check pa­per­work be­fore she signed her con­tract with the agency and later with her host fam­ily. Af­ter her con­tracts were signed, the agency helped her to ap­ply for a three-month tourist visa and then she was all set to go.

Ac­cord­ing to au­pair.com, the type of visa au pairs ap­ply for de­pends on the length of their stay. For a shorter stay, au pairs can ap­ply for an F visa, which is valid for up to six months. For a longer stay, they can ap­ply for an X visa, which is is­sued for stays in China lasting more than six months.

Eco­nom­i­cal and en­rich­ing

When Parker looked back on her three­month au pair ex­pe­ri­ence in China, she noted that be­ing an au pair was the most eco­nom­i­cal way to travel in the coun­try. A friend of hers trav­eled around China purely as a tourist for two weeks more than two years ago, and ac­cord­ing to Parker, although he tried to save money on food and did not stay in an up­scale ho­tel, he ended up spend­ing nearly 30,000 yuan ($4, 451) on the trip.

Parker, on the other hand, did not need to think about how much to spend on food and ac­com­mo­da­tion, and she was able to en­joy a cozy room and home­made Chi­nese food.

More­over, since she was al­lowed to have a three- to five-day hol­i­day every month, she was able to travel to dif­fer­ent places in China with the pocket money she earned from her work.

She took care of a 6-year-old girl and an 8-yearold boy dur­ing her stay in China. When they were at school, she would clean their room, do their laun­dry and then at­tend the lan­guage cour­ses her host fam­ily had signed her up for al­most every week­day. In two months, she was able to com­mu­ni­cate with oth­ers in ba­sic Chi­nese.

“My host par­ents never let me do too much house­work and al­lowed me plenty of free time,” she said.

She added that the amount of free time her host fam­ily gave her al­lowed her to at­tend more lan­guage cour­ses and thus learn more.

Parker also made a lot of for­eign friends in her lan­guage cour­ses, which she thinks would have been im­pos­si­ble if she had stayed in her home coun­try or sim­ply trav­eled to an­other coun­try for a few days.

“My host par­ents of­ten talked to me in Chi­nese when we had time to chat, and that gave me an op­por­tu­nity to prac­tice my oral Chi­nese,” she said.

Parker added that her host fam­ily also helped her with other ex­penses, such as buy­ing a mo­bile phone and trans­porta­tion. They even let her use their car in her free time.

Although Parker’s au pair ex­pe­ri­ence in China ended sev­eral months ago, she con­sid­ers it one of the best ex­pe­ri­ences in her life so far. “Un­like be­ing an au pair in Europe whose cul­ture was not too dif­fer­ent from my home cul­ture, be­ing an au pair in China helped me get closer to a very dif­fer­ent cul­ture,” she said.

“I con­trib­uted to the ed­u­ca­tion of kids, and I also en­hanced my CV with my au pair ex­pe­ri­ence in China. I am sure that more for­eign youth will take part in au pair pro­grams in China.”

Photo: IC

Some Chi­nese fam­i­lies wel­come English­s­peak­ing au pairs to teach their kids English.

Photo: IC

Many young for­eign­ers sign up for au pair pro­grams in China as a way to learn more about the Chi­nese lan­guage and cul­ture.

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