I was inspired by travel blogs I found online and friends I met through language learning.
Why did you choose LoPair’s au pair program?
I chose Lopair because I wanted a long-term and immersive cultural experience.
What surprised you most about China?
I was surprised by the fact that even in very large cities strangers talk to each other.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
The staff helped me with travel arrangements and family placements. The language and culture classes were all excellent.
What has made your international experience unique?
My experience is unique because I travel to see people, not places. The people make the best stories, and the people will show me the places.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
Take the kids to school in the morning, go to class or go out to a park/exploring (on a good weather day) or stay in and work on my blog (on a bad weather day) until time to pick up the kids. Help them with homework and play games and do mom-assigned homework until bedtime.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
In my free time, I enjoy walking in the park, plaza dancing, and hanging out with my own generation (who are apparently too young and cool for plaza dancing). I also enjoy going on outings by myself and talking to strangers to keep me company.
What is your favorite part about China?
My favorite part is how easy it is to make local friends in China. It's hard to complain about China's large population when almost everyone I meet wants to be my friend!
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
I've ended up staying with three different families and my accommodations have been different every time. In general, I like best that I have my own room; it's my one chance at work/life separation.
Do you have any packing tips for au pairs headed to China?
Books make excellent gifts. Everyone is interested in improving their English, children love being read to, and it’s a good way to share your culture.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
Lots of things. Primarily, that although the experience is marketed as a cultural exchange, it really is a job in that if the family is dissatisfied with what you are doing, you will be dismissed. They will expect you to be proactive; that's not to say it can't be fun, but it is work. Work/life separation is very hard to manage. Since you will work evenings and weekends, building a network of friends in the community will be difficult to coordinate. Most au pairs are only friends with other au pairs, which is kind of a shame.
What was the hardest part about learning Chinese?
Luckily I started learning long before I came to China. The hardest, but most rewarding, skill I’ve learned is listening to what someone says, absorbing the parts I understand, and systematically asking for clarification.
What do you feel the biggest benefit of learning a foreign language is?
An enhanced ability to make friends is the best part. Being able to ask for help and read maps and signs also makes life much easier. Finally, it’s perhaps the best deterrent from getting scammed.
What is one thing you wish you would have known before arriving in China?
I feel that I found everything I needed along the way. Perhaps something I could have done earlier is practice immersion, as I spent a lot of energy getting my listening comprehension up to my reading level after taking classes for several semesters. It’s never too early to practice immersion, and until you can think and listen in that language, even simple conversations are impossible. Even a little bit of practice goes a long way.
How has your time abroad impacted your life?
My perspective on education has been broadened and I have much higher expectations of myself for providing hospitality.
Would you recommend LoPair to others? Why?
It depends on what they want. I made the most of my experience, but it's not for everybody. If they're interested in coming to China, I suggest they look at different work, study, and volunteer options before following in my footsteps. There is a variety of opportunities for young foreigners interested in coming to China.
If you could go abroad again, where would you go?
I want to come back to China because of how many local friends I’ve made and how much I’ve left unexplored. However, I would also like to go to Taiwan, mostly because I’ve heard the food is amazing. Also, I’ve already invested a lot of time in learning Chinese and I enjoy practicing and improving.
Originally from the United States, Melissa stayed in China for seven months, studying and working, after graduating from college. Since then, she enjoys making new friends and finding new ways to practice her Chinese language skills.