Navigating New Frontiers – "Life in China - Stories, Experiences and struggles told by Aupairs" – An Article Series by Anon Ming

Last time, I wrote about the challenges moving to a new country can be. The new life and customs an Aupair or Expat faces. Especially focused was the article about the differences in eating culture and traditions, which can make or break a good relationship with a host family or coworkers. 

For this article I want to do a deep dive into the actual new life someone will have, when having done all their planning, flying and getting to the new family. So, sit back, get another cup of your favorite beverage ready and have a quick read to plan your stay ahead. 

Ah, the thrill of moving to a foreign country and living with a host family! It's an adventure that can be nothing short of transformative, filled with cultural immersion and personal growth. But, let's face it, adapting to a new family with their unique daily routines, living spaces, and work schedules can be a tad challenging. 

Following I wanna look into certain aspects, which are the most prominent topics Aupairs and Expats equally have struggled with, and which I noticed during my interviews with others mentioned the most. 

First would be embrace the lifestyle shift: 

The key to a smooth transition is to be open to change. Living with a host family means embracing their lifestyle, which includes adapting to their daily routines. Whether it's mealtimes, leisure activities, or bedtime rituals, understanding and integrating into the family's schedule can help build stronger bonds and foster a more positive experience. 

This shift can bring upon a few struggles too. Not every family will offer this routine or entrance to their daily activities. 

From my personal experience it was quite easy for myself to adapt into my host family's preferences. We would eat dinner together, or sometimes lunch on weekends too. Breakfast wasn’t during my working hours, but because of my personal preference I would always join my kid during the early hours. Which in hence sight, Jenny shared with me were her favorite times in the day. And can be an 

example of sometimes doing something not entirely written in your contract, but through adapting and opening up your horizon such a small matter can make a huge impact in the host family's and the children's lifestyle. 

In comparison my friend Lizzy shared with me that her first host family had been quite traditional in their thinking and because of that fact her time with them had been a struggle on the communication part of her stay. Her second family was way more open minded and gave Lizzy the opportunity to explore her surroundings more. 

Crissy had a similar story to tell about her life with two different families. In her first one she had a tough time connecting with the family and their life, because of the treatment she had experienced. Crissy said that because of the exclusion she was living with and no attending of family events and shared dinners, the adapting to the family was much slower and the shared interests were pretty minimal. While her second family was far more open with Crissy and invited her to stay longer, drink tea or play games with her. 

But not every experience has been this bad; my other friend Tony told me that she really enjoyed her time with her family. They had been actively interested in Tony and invited her to join them in many events and made it easier for her to enjoy her stay. 

In conclusion, I would sum up the matter of lifestyle to be a matter of openness of the host family and how much they want their Aupair to be part of their daily activities. This matter has to be addressed as an important factor, because not every family will accept, even after having made space, their Aupair. And I have to break the delusion of everything being quite easy, but enough stories and personal experiences have led me to the knowledge that just because of what a family writes in their letter or says during the meeting will not be what an Aupair or Expat is going to be faced with. 

The second point will be how to navigate the living space: 

The dynamics of the living space are crucial to a successful experience. Be respectful of the family's privacy and shared spaces, and communicate your boundaries and expectations early on. It's essential to establish a clear understanding to ensure everyone feels comfortable and at ease. 

This has been a huge concern for many Aupairs, because now offered jobs will always offer a private room for the Aupair or Expat. But a few years ago, this had not been the thing. There had still been more leisure contracts and from my personal experience already living full-time with your employer can be strenuous on privacy and mental health. Before signing a contract one should definitely establish what the living situation will look like. 

Every time I lived with a host family I was offered my own room, with enough space for my things, luggage, essentials, etc. The room usually was a guest room and would have stayed empty without me sleeping there. However, in my last host family I encountered the interesting fact that my room had been the house helper’s, the ayi’s, room. She would sleep in the kid’s room for the length of my stay and was a factor, which I never forgot to think about. 

My friend Crissy told me a similar experience. In her first family she had also stayed in the room, originally meant for the caretaker, and was weighing quite a lot on her consciousness. But in Crissy’s second host family she had her own apartment and stayed outside of her family's place. 

This was also a unique factor. Mostly every Aupair will be living with their host family, be it in the same apartment, house, or even on the same floor. But there have been exemptions. Some Aupairs with more connections or who have been living longer in the country have found ways to ease their troubles. 

Everyone of my friends I have interviewed for this article Series has been living with their host families. Emilia, Elice, both had their own rooms, but struggled with keeping their personal space for themselves. Sometimes the kids would still want to get into the room, because a child has a more difficult understanding of working time and leisure for the Aupair. For most kids an Aupair is there for them and they want to spend all the time with them. 

Crissy made it easier for herself and to set boundaries after her first experience and got herself a shared apartment with other friends she had met. Such can be more costly, since the room and food from the family's are mandatory and free. 

But this decision should be made by everyone deciding on becoming an Aupair or Expat. 

The most important factor will be how much freedom you need and the boundaries you are willing to give up, when living with your host family. 

Third point accepting the work schedule: 

Another crucial aspect of your experience as an au pair is grasping the work schedule. Understand the family's daily routine and your role in it, which may involve childcare, light household chores, or even language exchange. By establishing clear expectations with the family regarding your responsibilities, working hours, and days off, you can maintain a healthy balance between your role and personal time. 

The factor of responsibilities and days off has been something of the bigger problems for many Aupairs. But because of different reasons. 

For myself I had always looked out for my set work times and went with every host family I had over my schedule and established routines working for each party. My first family had my 13 year old quite occupied with school matters, that's why we used every ounce of free time to do things together. Be it chatting, or actually studying. However, excursions were Jenny's favorite activity. Having shared interests can help with establishing a better work schedule. Deciding on if weekends would be better for working the set hours and to fulfill the expectations of the host family too. 

In my second and third families, I had younger kids. I would be teaching English and German. The younger, the more difficult conversations can be. But because my two girls were quite bright and eager to share their life and stories with me this matter had never been very prominent. Playdates with other friends and trips outside were the favorite thing for them too. For example, I would beforehand talk with the host mothers about places I had seen and would love to take the girls with. Be it a cat café or an artist alley. I would research such places according to the hobbies of the kids. My second child loved animals, so I would look for fitting events. My third child was quite interested in painting and art. Going to museums and art villages was something she had barely done before, so, I convinced the family to take her with me and it made the schedule more interesting. 

Repetition cannot only become boring for the Aupair themselves, but also for the children. Regarding their tight knitted appointments with school, after school classes and learning instruments, etc. To give the kids a breather can be quite the opener to forge tighter bonds. 

From the experience of other Aupairs, they would agree with finding creative solutions to brighten up the kids’ day. 

Crissy loved to get creative and make fun games to help her kids learn difficult things or get through their homework with less tantrums. She also noted that from her point of view the children enjoyed playing outside way more than in the apartments or with their own toys. Whenever she took her host kids to the playgrounds or parks, they would play much freer. 

Elice had shared that her two girls loved books, and when they weren’t reading they would create their own books, to help boost the kids’ creativity and using more difficult grammar, etc. 

Each story of what an Aupair does with their children can be similar. The teaching and playing, but with unique solutions everyone attempted to make their time easier and playful. This would be my biggest reminder for every Aupair or Expat to not only follow the set schedule, but find out how to use their time with their family's most usefully. One could also combine their outings with the kids with places they really wanted to visit during their travels. An example would be for me art exhibitions, like DarkMatter, which was only in Shenzhen for a short amount of time, and I took my third host kid there, because it was an interactive experience, filled with lights, art, and beautiful backgrounds for pictures. My kid loved taking pictures and would help me take beautiful shots in different settings. Not only did I give the girl a great memory on her weekend, but I also could visit the exhibition for which I wouldn’t have found time otherwise. 

In conclusion, remember, each host family is unique, with their own set of values, experiences, and cultural backgrounds. Approach each family with an open mind and a willingness to learn, recognizing that their way of life may differ from your own. By embracing these differences, you can foster a positive and enriching relationship with your host family and your host kids. 

Fourth point cultural exchange: 

Living with a host family as a student or expat can be a life-changing experience, filled with opportunities for personal and cultural growth. Each host family is unique, shaped by their individual experiences, values, and cultural backgrounds, so it's essential to approach each one with an open mind and a willingness to learn. 

As a guest in someone else's home, it's important to be respectful of their space and adaptable to their rhythm. Be patient and flexible, as the integration process may take time, especially if the family is new to hosting. By doing so, you can build positive relationships and create a comfortable environment for everyone involved. 

One of the most rewarding aspects of living with a host family is the opportunity to engage in cultural exchange. As a guest, you can share aspects of your own culture, traditions, and language with your host family, while also learning about theirs. This mutual exchange not only enriches your experience but also fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of different cultures. 

Such cultural exchanges can happen not only through living with the family, but also the opportunities presented through vacations and trips. 

I had the chance to travel with every single one of my host families. Be it to the hometowns, or a weekend trip to the beach. With my second family I had the opportunity to even go abroad and experience far more than just Chinese culture but Trans-continental exchange. Every opportunity could be seen as a form of cultural exchange: conversations during dinner or cooking together. Sharing your own culture and being able to learn from the family can ease a lot of intercultural problems and miscommunications. Not only language barriers can become a problem, but also misunderstandings of habits and actions. 

Be it German direct answers, or delays with Hispanic time management, everything can be strange for a host family and create dysfunctions if not talked about and sharing your mind. 

From the experiences of my friends everyone had a harder time with cultural exchange or a bit easier. 

Lissy found it more difficult in her first family to create a tighter bond because of the traditional mindset and their understanding of what she was doing there. For Lissy she was hindered in cultural exchange a lot because of the language barrier and the stricter thinking of her host parents. However in her second family, she had much more freedom, because of the more liberal standing of the parents and their experience in foreign countries. 

Similar experience comes from Crissy, who had lived in her first family seen mostly as outsider and there for teaching the kid, less as a new member to the family. However, with her second family, she 

was more welcome and could use her former experience to better communicate when problems occured. 

Tony for example had quite the positive experience in her family, not only from being able to travel with them multiple times, but also for being introduced to every relative and during family functions to be included in conversations. From her personal standpoint, Tony said that it was only the fact of cultural differences to sometimes feel like an outsider, less than her family's attempts. 

My other friend Emilia had a similar matter. She was an accepted member of her family, especially, because she had been living with them for more than a year. But not only the prolonged time helped, but also the chances to extensively travel with the parents and kids. 

Family functions can be a great opportunity to not only meet new people of the family, but also have a new insight into bonds between relatives and listening to stories. Such exchange has helped not only me, but others to learn more from the foreign perspective on being a child or parent, but also about internal ties and the bond parents or grandparents have with their kids, etc. 

However, Crissy was sadly, like me, sometimes aware of the fact that however close one could become with their host family, that from time to time, being Aupair included being led in front of strangers and presented to relatives as a foreigner living with the family. Showed off, to put it in other terms. This habit was quite uncomfortable for her, making Crissy sometimes not feel entirely appreciated as a person, but more of an interesting new addition to one's life. My own experience went at times in similar directions. However sweet I would be treated or how much I loved to join during festival seasons to meet everyone in the family, my role as the shiny outsider became quite obvious. Even when my kids would even tell their relatives to treat me normally. 

In conclusion, embarking on this adventure with an open heart and a willingness to learn can lead to lasting connections and unforgettable memories. By embracing change, respecting living spaces, understanding work schedules, appreciating diversity, and emphasizing cultural exchange, you can turn this experience into a transformative chapter of your life. Even though there will be moments darkening your journey, but this article Series is here to help bring awareness to future Aupairs and 

Expats to not only be open minded, but also to look out for loop holes and future problems, which can be early avoided if known beforehand. 

So, embrace this opportunity with an open mind and a willingness to embrace new experiences, and you'll find yourself creating memories that will last a lifetime. 

Summed up, an au pair is essentially a trusted member of a host family, taking on a variety of responsibilities to help care for their children and maintain a clean and organized home. 

While the specific tasks may vary depending on the family's needs, some common duties include: 

1. Childcare: Au pairs are often the primary caregivers for the host family's children, providing a range of services such as playing, helping with homework, preparing meals, and ensuring their daily routines run smoothly. 

2. Language Assistance: Many families seek out au pairs to help their children improve their language skills by engaging in language exchange activities. This not only benefits the children but also allows the au pair to learn the local language themselves. 

3. Light Housekeeping: Au pairs are typically expected to help with light household chores related to the children, such as keeping their living spaces tidy, doing their laundry, and organizing play areas. 

4. Meal Preparation: Depending on the arrangement, au pairs may be involved in preparing meals for the children or assisting with family meals. This could involve planning menus, grocery shopping, and cooking. 

5. Transportation: In some cases, au pairs may be responsible for transporting children to and from school, activities, or playdates. Familiarity with local transportation or the ability to drive may be required. 

6. Cultural Exchange: One of the most rewarding aspects of the au pair experience is the opportunity for cultural exchange. Au pairs share aspects of their own culture with the host family, fostering cross-cultural understanding and mutual respect. 

It's essential for au pairs and host families to establish clear expectations regarding working hours, days off, and specific duties. Open communication is key to ensuring a positive experience for both the au pair and the host family. Every journey can be different and not every of those responsibilities will be 

the same, however, this can be discussed when signing a contract and to have in mind before even deciding to embark into this direction. 

As a last piece of advice I would probably repeat to mention the struggle of many of my friends, who noticed the biggest problem to have been the language barrier between them and their host families. When the agencies cannot be with you at every step of your journey, it might be important to consider how much of the other country's language you can speak or how fast you are at learning a new language. This will help a lot beforehand to avoid miscommunications and also the possibility of a contract being canceled earlier than wanted. Many reasons can lead to that decision of either the family or the Aupair; struggles can always appear along the way. But it is more important to find the middle way for the Aupair to take part in a once in a lifetime chance to have a hands-on experience in another country. 


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A serial article, written by Anon Ming

Zuletzt bearbeite von:: Joost Brokke
Letzte Änderung: 27.02.2024
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