Unlike most of the au pairs in England, Teuntje (my sister) found her host family through an agency. And she went a bit further than England as well: Beijing, China.
When was the first time you thought of becoming an au pair?
I first started to consider becoming an au pair when everybody was talking about me going to university. I didn’t know what to study. So, halfway through the school year, I sat down with my mum and told her that I wanted to take a gap year and travel. She agreed but told me that I would have to pay for it myself. So I started to look for cheap ways to spend some time abroad. That’s when I started to consider becoming an au pair. I liked children and was really motivated, so why not?
Why did you decide to become an au pair in China?
The main reason I wanted to be an au pair in China was that I wanted to experience a completely different culture and learn a new language. Originally, I had planned to go to Korea or Japan because I knew a bit more about those countries. I ended up going to China because there weren’t any au pair agencies near me with contacts in those countries. Pure convenience, but I do not regret it one bit.
What was your experience as an au pair like?
It was a complete surprise. My tasks were a bit different from normal au pairs. Instead of helping around the house and watching the children, I acted more like an older sister and English teacher. I liked helping people with their English, and I have experience being a sister, so I just jumped in headfirst thinking “F*** it, we’ll see how it goes.” After the first awkward month, I started to really love it.
What are some of the differences that you have come across between the Netherlands and China?
There are a lot of differences between the Netherlands and China. The first one I noticed, was the food. In the Netherlands, we eat a lot of bread. Maybe a bit too much. But in China, they always eat rice. I like rice more than bread, so that worked out well. Plus, I can eat with chopsticks now!
The biggest difference between the two countries is probably the way we say things. The Dutch are very blunt. Chinese people aren’t. I had a couple of misunderstandings, but thankfully my host parents spoke English really well, so we were able to resolve everything.
There were also a lot of small things like drinking warm water instead of cold. And public toilets in China don’t have toilet paper, so you have to always bring tissues with you, etc.
How have you changed as a person since you moved to China?
I like to think that I have changed, but not drastically. I still feel the same, but I look at things differently. If that makes any sense to you. It doesn’t to me.
What are things that you know now, but would have liked to know before becoming an au pair?
I was prepared for a culture shock. The au pair agency gave a really good briefing on cultural differences. Everything else I learned in China. What I didn’t realise is that feeling homesick is much worse than it sounds. There were times where I couldn’t stop crying because I missed home so much. But then there were also times where I was dancing in the streets because I was so happy I was in Beijing.
What do you think is the most important trait an Au Pair should have?
Au pairs should be able to stay very positive. If you have a positive outlook on life, you will feel happier, and you will be more fun to be around! It will also make it a lot easier to deal with homesickness and any differences between you and your host family.
What is the best thing about being an Au Pair?
To me, the best thing was gaining a little sister!
What are your tips for finding the right family?
I am not sure if I can give you any tips on finding the right family. The first family I spoke to was a match. Mostly because we started talking about our dogs and how much we loved them. The only tip I can give you is: be yourself. If you’re going to live with these people, better be honest about who you are!
Since most au pairs I know find their host families through AuPairWorld, I also asked Teuntje some questions that were related to finding a host family through an au pair agency.
How did you decide what agency you were going to go with?
I found multiple agencies, but only one of them was located in my own country, which I preferred. I was quite scared about going abroad, on my own, for six months and wanted to know that I was in good hands. The agency helped me with the preparations and gave me all the information I needed before leaving for China.
Did the agency give you multiple families to choose from or did they just match you with a family?
I was quite late in applying for the program, so there was only one family left in Beijing. I could have asked them to keep looking for families in other cities, but after talking to the family, I decided that I wanted to stay with them. They seemed really kind, and a lot of other Dutch au pairs would be going to Beijing as well. I wouldn’t be the only Dutch au pair and could actually start getting ready to go to China.
Did you have a lot of contact with the people from the agency during your time in China?
Not really. I sometimes got a message asking how everything was going and how my Chinese was coming along. Other than that, there was no contact. It wasn’t necessary. The host family liked me, and I liked them. There wasn’t really any need for contact between the agency and me.
Were there things the agency helped you with that you would not have known how to do otherwise?
I didn’t really need their help once I got to China. As I said, my host family was amazing, and they spoke English pretty well. If there was something I needed or didn’t understand, I always asked them. I never really felt the need to ask the agency anything.