Foreigners become au pairs to get a taste of the Chinese culture
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.”
Some Chinese families welcome Englishspeaking au pairs to teach their kids English.
Many young foreigners sign up for au pair programs in China as a way to learn more about the Chinese language and culture.