In China today many au pairs serve as domestic assistants, living with host families as the part of their contract. Au pairs often share responsibility for house work, but usually focus on childcare. With Chinese economic growth and the rise of a wealthy middle class, au pairs are growing in demand. With many Chinese obsessed with learning English, often preferring to hiring white tutors, certain au pair agencies are booming. The main goal of an au pair in China is often to get young children used to speaking English from early age, as well as being around foreigners; sometimes they even help the parents with their English too. TWOC recently interviewed an au pair in Beijing who wanted to share her experience with us.
Amy, 23, from Australia, is an au pair in China, where she has been working for the last six months, partly choosing the job because she wanted to travel:
“I chose to be an au pair because I wanted to explore China a bit more and I found that being an au pair and living with a Chinese family is interesting because you are totally immersed in Chinese culture, so just being surrounded by Chinese language all the time is a huge learning curve.”
She lives with a Chinese family, and takes care of their three children, two daughters aged six and eight, and infant boy of two, however she often finds her work is more than just childcare:
“I’m not just a teacher or a babysitter or a nanny, I am a bit of everything. Often I class myself as a language tutor . I help them with their homework , correct their pronunciation any time we have a conversation, play with them, go with them outside, and explore and travel with them, and talk about all kinds of things and get them comfortable with being around a foreigner as well as learn to speak like me, so they can become better at this language.”
The wealth of this particular family affects her duties as an au pair; the two girls have their own nanny, and the boy has his own too, with the family also having a cook and a cleaner, so she is practically a live-in English tutor, and she doesn’t have to clean up after the children or feed them. She has her own room on the third floor of the house, and she has access to everything that this family has to offer, but this doesn’t affect her payment, which is only 1,000 RMB a month, with only one and the half days off. Considering the fact that the family paid the agency 40,000 RMB to bring her from Australia, the agency are paying her a scandalously low salary.
Amy has two classes of Chinese a week, that the family kindly pays for (given her salary, it is just as well they do). However, there’s a significant language barrier:
“Not everyone in the home speaks English, but the eldest daughter speaks fluent English so that’s very helpful when it comes to translating anything, and so does the mother, but she is not always around. Most of the time I am surrounded by the grandparents, nannies or the two youngest who can’t speak English very well, so at times I can’t even give them simplest instructions.”
The language barrier is not the worst part of the job and discipline in the family is definitely an issue. Given the wealth of the family and the constant absence of the parents, the children are somewhat spoilt. I personally witness the girls’ behavior and there was little or no respect for elders, and a stereotypical ‘rich kids’ attitude prevails. “Living with a family you see the ins and outs of everything, so when it comes to discipline with this family they have different expectations and boundaries compared to what I am used to, but I can’t step in because it’s not my place to do that, and I must let the parents take that responsibility,” Amy said.
Regardless of disciplinary issues, Amy’s au pair experience is a relatively good one when compared to others:
“A friend of mine doesn’t have WiFi in the home, and he has to go somewhere else; sometimes he has to pay for his own meals because the cook , nanny and ayi don’t like him and think they should just cook for the child and not for him. That may or may not have something to do with because he is black, I don’t know.”
So, for those who want to come to China to work as an au pair, firstly make sure that your agency is not ripping you off, and keep a back-up plan in your mind in case your host family turn out to be a wealthy version of the Addams family.
Image courtesy of Nargiz Koshoibekova