Au Pair in China – part 2 – One au pair’s story

Chinese countryside(photo courtesy of dreamstime)

In our last post, we talked a little bit about the growing popularity of China as an au pair destination. One of our readers, G. M., who is working as an au pair in China, has been gracious enough to share her experience with us. Here is some of what she has written about her time in China so far …

“I’ve been here for 3 weeks now. The agency told me that the first week was the ‘honeymoon’ phase, and then it gets hard. That didn’t happen to me … I hated the first week … “

She goes on to say that the first week she was very depressed and homesick. She was having some trouble getting used to such a different culture, and was even working more hours than she should. She was more or less wondering what she had done and if going to China had been the right decision. But she did go on to say…

“After the first week things started to get better and are continuing to get better.”

After getting over the initial sadness of leaving home and culture shock of living in such a new and different place, G. started to really appreciate China. Except for maybe the bad weather … About the country, she says,

“China is amazing in every sense. The size of Beijing, the number of people, the weather is bad, and the people somewhat difficult.”

She also says that people who can’t adjust quickly should not go to China, which is probably very true. For many westerners, Asia can be a BIG change, so you need to be sure that you can handle such a drastically different place and culture.

Like most au pairs, there has been the occassional issue with her host family, but for the most part, the au pair job in China is working out. An email sent several weeks into the job reveals that things are working out great. The agency she is working with is great and encourages other au pairs in the area to get to know each other. She has also made friends outside of her family and au pair circle, and she her work situation has balanced out nicely. She works 30 hours a week, taking care of the family’s son, whom she is getting along with very well. Of course, things haven’t been 100% easy, but G.M. is happy she made the decision to work in China as an au pair.

So, the final verdict on working as an au pair in China? Totally worth it, but not for the faint of heart!

Are there any other au pairs working in China? Or interested in going? If so, please speak up – we’d love to hear from you!

Getting sick on the job

medicine(photo by dreamstime)

Just like the rest of us, au pairs sometimes get sick. It isn’t fun for the host family who might have to find substitute childcare while their au pair is really under the weather, which can be a hassle. It is also un-fun for au pairs, who would probably rather be healthy and working and sick and not (working, that is!).

Making things even more difficult for au pairs who become ill is the fact that they are already out of their element. Being sick is a particularly rough time for au pairs, as their usual support group – family, friends, their usual doctor, medicines, etc. – is missing. They may even feel guilty for being sick, feeling as though they are putting their host family off by being unable to work or by needing any extra attention.

My advice? For au pairs, it would be to take good care of yourself in the first place to avoid being sick as much as possible. Your family needs someone who is healthy and fit most of the time, and your time abroad will be much better enjoyed – and remembered – if you are healthy.

When you do get sick, take time off to get well. And don’t feel guilty about not working if you are truly sick. Your host family will survive while you are sick, so don’t kill yourself. I nearly did – instead of taking time off and visiting a doctor during the week while sick, I waited until I was in unbearable pain over the weekend – when doctors in Germany are all closed – and wound up having to visit the emergency room to get meds for a horrid sinus infection. Not something I would recommend!

Also, sick days also don’t count against vacation days, so there is no need to fear losing precious days off when ill. And if you are contagious, believe me – your host family would rather you lay low than infect the entire family!

Finding an au pair job without an agency

world travel Although finding an au pair job through an agency is the most reliable way to find a job, au pair agencies are not the only way to find a host family to work for. And even though it isn’t what I would now recommend (mainly because of safety issues), it is what I did when I went to Germany to work as an au pair. That’s right, even though I preach au pair agencies to potential au pairs, I found my then-host family through a website (back when finding jobs via websites was still considered sketch!).

So just how do you find a host family on your own? Most au pair jobs are posted on online job boards. An internet search for au pair jobs will bring up several sites, and you can usually browse for jobs. Of course, some sites are better than others, and although many are free, several of them also have a membership fee. One of the best, at least as far as lay-out and number of host families looking for au pairs worldwide, is Great Au Pair.

Once you find a potential host family, get in touch with them. It’s that simple. If you know where you would like to work and find a family who might be a good match, then the best thing to do is contact them. Find out more about what they are looking for in an au pair, and get as much information on their family background and current situation (where they live, what their jobs/professions are, how many children they have, etc,.) as you can.

My host family and I sent several emails back and forth to each other so that we had at least knew the basics – and maybe a little more – before signing a contrat with them for the au pair job. I told them about my background and experience, and they told me about their children and what they enjoyed doing as a family. We discussed work hours and duties, and they were pretty up front about their expectations.

Of course, not having gone through an offical au pair agency was risky. But then again, so is getting on a plane to move to a foreign country and live with strangers, with or without an agency’s backing. And although I wouldn’t do it that way again, I certainly wouldn’t have changed a thing. I took a risk but followed what I beleived was right for me, and got to live with and work for a fantastic family (with whom I am still in touch). So all I can say is, an agency is wise and will help ensure your success as an au pair, but if you find a wonderful family to work for outside of an agency and are convinced that it is the right family for you, then go for it!

 

Why a gap year makes sense

Travel girl(photo courtesy of dreamstime)

Gap year. The name sounds a little bit strange, but it is something that is becoming more popular as people become more interested in exploring the world before settling down or just to take a break away from everyday life. What used to be something for random adventuresome souls is now a bit more normal.

So what is a gap year? It’s when you take a specific amount of time (usually a year, just like the name!) and spend it doing something more or less unrelated to what you had been doing. It’s a bit like a sabbatical. For example: if, after completing high school you decide to back pack across Asia for a year before starting college, that would be a gap year.

I actually did two gap years. After my high school graduation I worked for several months in a carpet mill – no kidding – to save up money to travel to Israel, where I ended up staying for the better part of a year before returning to the U.S. to begin my studies. I worked on a kibbutz in northern Israel and then worked with Youth With A Mission in Jerusalem. My second gap year ended up being the year and a half that I spent as an au pair in Germany. Both were life-changing experiences I loved.

So why take a gap year? Breaks are invaluable, and long breaks where you get away from the familiar and into the world can be immensely rewarding. My two+ years were challenging in many ways but also irreplacable. The life lessons you learn and friendships you make during the a gap year are truly one-of-a-kind.

Working as an au pair is a great way to spend a gap year. The benefits are many – you can move to an interesting place and live there very affordably. As an au pair, you also have the benefit of living with a family, so you are not completely going it alone. You will also learn a new country, culture, and language, which is one of the main goals of a gap year (getting away from the familiar). Other gap year opportunities include volunteer work, backpacking, and teaching.

I could wax poetic about all the reasons to consider a gap year, especially as an au pair. But I won’t. Look into it yourself – if you are in between jobs and/or studies, I highly recommend taking a year to go abroad. For more information on a gap year, visit gapyear.com.

What about you? Have you done a “gap” year? Are you thinking about it?

Why be an au pair?

Paris picture(photo by dreamstime)

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. (St. Augustine)

So why should someone work as an au pair? We have already discussed many of the reasons why people decide to go abroad to work as au pairs. Some people are trying to fill a “gap year” in life (between studies or jobs), some simply want to have a good time without too much responsibility, to learn a new language, and still others are au pairs because they have no other way to find legitimate employment, either in or outside of their home country. I have discussed my personal reasons for going overseas as an au pair, which was a combination of several reasons: language learning, a sort of (ok, forced) gap year, and a bit of running away from where I was at the time.

But here’s a thought – why not work as an au pair simply for the love of travel? Well, why not? This is a simple, but perhaps slightly more uncommon, reason to go abroad. In today’s world, especially in western countries like the United States, it is rather frowned up to spend time without pursuing a concrete goal or purpose.

I know I have a hard time when I don’t have an actual reason to justify travel. Even now, as a working professional, I rarely spend the time and resources on travel just for the pure enjoyment of travel in and of itself. There has to be a reason to justify it, whether language study, visiting a friend or relative, or going somewhere for business.

The reality is that our world is an amazing place worth seeing and exploring. And anyone who wants to spend time doing just that should not need a reason to explain why. The travel alone should be more than enough reason to consider working as an au pair. Sure, working as an au pair is fairly hard work that you need to be prepared for, but it is a fantastic way to be able to travel and see places you may not otherwise be able to se.

So what are your thoughts? Are there any au pairs out there work took the au pair job just to travel? How was your experience?