The Agency – "Life in China - Stories, Experiences and struggles told by Aupairs" – An Article Series by Anon Ming
A new month, a new topic. Get yourself ready with a little drink and enjoy hearing me ramble about something that is fundamental in the journey of being an Aupair. The choice of the agency.
The Amount of options can be almost overwhelming for many. With many agencies comes the higher probability of getting in contact with false advertisement or hidden clauses in their contracts, biting every Aupair in the butt, when it comes to payments or cancellations.
That's why it is very important for everyone, who wants to work and live abroad to double check the information provided on all platforms.
Sometimes it can happen that you find the agency you want on instagram, but later you read about the same named one on a website and suddenly the information doesn't align anymore. An especially important tip from my site is to double check that information, to not end up in a scam or have a bad awakening when you have already traveled thousands of kilometers to end up in a place you envisioned differently.
What can help are personal experiences from other Aupairs. Be it on YouTube or even other platforms. Of course, not every company or agency has an outsider talking about their experience and sometimes not everyone is even able to share their stories publicly without risking troubles for everyone involved.
Another part in the decision of finding an agency have been the benefits offered to you. My agency did events such as Aupair of the season or year, with prices, money and plaques. Then another bonus was an extra payment for Aupairs who stayed longer than half a year. Every extra month meant more money. But no one should be diluted by the numbers on paper.
It can be a trick, too, for young people to think that it is better to stay longer than they had originally intended. Just because something sweeter is presented to them at the end of their stay.
In addition, the contract situation is another difficult choice for anyone to decide on in the end. Because when I signed with my agency, I made a contract with them and a separate contract with my
host family. This double contract is a safety-line. Not every Aupair I have met before or after my stay told me that they had done the same or their agency had provided this option. But I would always prefer it this way.
Because to have a safety net to catch you when your contract gets terminated by the host family or you do it yourself, then the contract from the agency will provide you with a spokesperson to keep you from the street and provide you with conditions, to still get payments and a place to sleep if either of the contracted parties had decided to not wanting to live together in the grace period before finding a new family.
All this didn't seem that important to me, as much as now, when I chose my agency and signed the contract. But after having lived there and looking back on all the events of terminations happening around me with too many Aupairs than I would have believed possible in the beginning. However, it is the cruel reality that taught me that the ideal stay of an Aupair is hopefully without any cancellations and then there are the negative cases in all agencies when you meet the people, who had to change their plans once or twice.
Myself included. (And that is a story for another time!)
When I planned my stay, applied for my visa and organized where my plane should land to get the fastest to Shenzhen, my agency and spokesperson Cally helped me with every step. And most importantly for free. Not every agency on my search had advertised this service. This was the little bonus of flying to a country where "Aupair" was still a relatively new concept.
Before I chose China I was in contact with Australian and U.S. agencies, all telling me I had to provide thousands of dollars, and had to pay service fees and also needed to pay for the staff to find me families. All these would have been extra costs, which everyone should think about if they can afford.
My agency was quite large for its time. In its prime there were almost 40 Aupairs present.
The size might sound ridiculous if I claim it is large, but compared to other agencies from friends, they had maybe 15 people or 10 Aupairs at the same time. The density depends on the size of the city and how famous the program there is. Statistically, the agencies in Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen,
Chongqing are the biggest cities, which most foreigners would have heard about. Without having a lot to do with Mainland China.
From my own experience and the stories of other people, the bigger their agency was, the better their stay was. Because of the size and fame they had, their foothold in the industry was stronger.
Meaning they have more funding, and can afford more extras for the Aupairs. Such as cultural classes, excursions, trips or even language teachers. Or the simple fact that in better situated agencies. Smaller agencies, which a few of my friends had worked with, had offered the typical extras of language classes. But couldn’t afford anything special for their experiences. As had mine. There were award ceremonies to grade and motivate Aupairs for good behavior and good service. Larger trips organized to go to the beach and the weekend away during Christmas, etc.
The language classes offered were organized by teachers, which weren’t staff members. And they were teaching at the official HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi) level. Preparing us to take the exam at the end of our stay if we wanted to. The lessons were quite professional, since the teachers were also working at schools and took their time to give enough feedback. The classes organized by the agencies always happened on specific two days during the week, and changed each year. There was an entry test and different level classes.
But not all was that shiny or new from the get go.
In the beginning, my agency was situated in a large office building, but one which looked less impressive from the outside and from the inside I had to step back and think for a moment about what I was getting myself into, as I saw the office for the first time. And with “the office” I mean it was a huge common room, available through a glass door. In the common room were the tables for the workers included. Connected to the room were two smaller ones, which were used as the language classrooms.
All in all, the office was crammed and was bursting at its seams, with so many Aupairs and staff members.
After a few months the office moved during the winter break, and when I came to the new location in January, I felt a sense of relaxation, because it began looking more official. But of course, one could
miss the closeness that had been pushed on one in the former building. The pros over the move still clearly outweighed the cons. And the way to get to the office building was also shorter. Rightly, situated in a business district and being left and right connected to shopping malls. The building was a far better place to hang out at. And the options to go out to eat had multiplied, because of the amount of businesses.
The change was welcomed, but comparing the stories of my friends, some having voiced their experiences in the survey, others I remember from all those years ago, I had it off the best.
Not every agency is good, just because of their shiny office and nice wording of their program. I think what makes an agency good is their staff and the Aupairs they sign. A good atmosphere within the agency helps a lot to feel welcomed and slightly at home, when your family is thousands of kilometers away.
Here's my first hand advice summed up:
- Research extensively: Before settling on an au pair agency, dedicate ample time to research. Look for agencies with a strong reputation, positive reviews, and a track record of successful placements. Consider reaching out to other au pairs who have used the agency to get their feedback and recommendations.
- Verify credibility: It's crucial to verify the credibility of the agency you are considering. Check if they are registered and licensed by the appropriate government authorities. Look for certifications or affiliations with recognized international au pair organizations, as this demonstrates their commitment to following industry standards.
- Assess support and services: The level of support and services offered by the agency can significantly impact your experience as an au pair. Inquire about their support system for both the host families and au pairs. A good agency should provide guidance throughout the placement, offer cultural orientation, and be available to address any concerns or issues that may arise.
- Consider the matching process: Pay attention to how the agency matches au pairs with host families. Ensure that they consider your preferences, skills, and interests when making the match. A personalized matching process increases the chances of a successful and enjoyable placement for both parties.
- Review the contract and terms: Carefully review the agency's contract and terms before committing to their services. Look for any hidden fees, clauses, or restrictions that may limit your rights or cause inconvenience. Be wary of agencies that require excessive upfront payments or charge exorbitant fees.
Now, let's talk about some important warnings to be mindful of during the decision-making process:
- Avoid unregistered agencies: Engaging with unregistered or unlicensed agencies can lead to various risks, such as unreliable placements, lack of support, and potential legal issues. Always choose agencies that have proper accreditation and are recognized by the relevant authorities.
- Beware of unrealistic promises: Be cautious if an agency makes unrealistic promises or guarantees, such as extremely high salaries, luxurious accommodations, or effortless visa arrangements. Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Trustworthy agencies focus on providing accurate information and realistic expectations.
- Steer clear of inadequate support: An agency that doesn't prioritize providing adequate support throughout your au pair experience can make the journey challenging and frustrating. Avoid agencies that do not have a dedicated support system or are unresponsive to inquiries and concerns.
- Watch out for excessive fees: Some agencies may try to exploit au pairs by charging exorbitant fees or demanding additional payments for unexpected expenses. Read the contract thoroughly and clarify any doubts regarding fees upfront. Transparency is key in avoiding financial surprises.
- Be cautious of rushed placements: Avoid agencies that rush the placement process without proper consideration of your preferences and needs. A rushed placement may result in an unsuitable match, leading to a disappointing experience for both you and the host family.
By following these tips and being aware of potential pitfalls, you'll be better equipped to choose a reputable and reliable Aupair agency in China. Remember, your experience as an Aupair should be enriching and mutually beneficial, so take your time, do your research, and make an informed decision. Take as much time needed. Some take months, others just a few weeks. No story is the same.
I hope you enjoyed your drink, had some eye openers or just looked at the application process a bit differently. And fitting for the change in temperatures, I will have some fun talking about my Summers in China next.
A serial article, written by Anon Ming