Joe, studying Chinese at the University of Cambridge, spent five weeks this Christmas on the homestay tutor program in Hangzhou.
Would you recommend to a friend?
Of course, I would absolutely a thousand percent recommend this program.
It is something that is deeply challenging and it’s certainly the most independent thing I’ve had to do, but it teaches you so many things – not only about teaching English, not only about Chinese language and culture, but it’s also an opportunity to learn many things about yourself and really develop as a person.
Of course, I would 100% recommend this program – it is so much fun and it will certainly change your life, I think, if you are willing enough to be open minded about it.
How did you find your host family?
I love my host family, they’re so much fun! My host mum and I get on really, really well – we’ve been out on many outings and we’ve done lots of things together, she’s a true friend and we have already made plans to meet each other again after I leave.
My host kid is so funny – he’s super intelligent! He’s nine, turning 10 years old, but he’s very driven, very determined and very willing to learn – he’s got a very open mind and is extremely receptive to the teaching that I give.
My host family is totally warm and welcoming, they really want me to enjoy my time in China and to give me memories of China that I won’t forget. I think I’m really lucky with the host family that I have.
How did you adapt to the lifestyle?
To be honest, I don’t think that the lifestyle is very different. I think living with a Chinese family seems very different at first, but actually you realise that they are just people. At first, it’s a bit of a culture shock, but once you learn just to be open minded you see more similarities than differences.
What did you learn during the program?
I think doing the au pair program will enable you to become more independent. Life isn’t completely straightforward here, you have to confront some challenges or you might have some bumps along the way. It teaches you to think for yourself, come up with your own solutions.
I think doing the au pair program also encourages you to make mistakes and to get things wrong – that way you learn to resolve whatever is thrown in front of you. So I think that it allows you to become a very flexible and resilient person.
What impressed you about China?
Something that impressed me is that Chinese people and Chinese culture is very much a kind hearted one – people you don’t really know very well are willing to go such a long way to make you happy and to make you feel warm and comforted.
I think there are so many things that are different to how you expect them to be at home. There’s a real job in everything being different and it gives a new perspective on the world actually, and might challenge any preconceptions or ideas you had before coming to China.
How have you found living in Hangzhou?
This city is the most incredible city ever – it is so beautiful, and the scale of it is massive. I think the pace of life here is extremely fast – everything is so immediate, life is so bustling and crazy here.
What is your advice for tutoring English?
I think you should try to find out straight away what level their English is at and what might benefit them. For example, my child is 9 years old, nearly ten years old. He finds the English at school too easy for him and he wants a challenge. Therefore, I decided to gear all of my tutoring towards quite strict, regimented grammar work and to teach him not through games but through properly teaching lessons.
I think you’ve got to be flexible as to what the child and the family would like and you have to adapt to how they learn best.
Have you made many friends in China?
Of course, there’s probably four groups of friends that you’ll make when you come to China. The first is your host family – your host family will become very immediate friends to you.
Your second group of friends are probably the people in your class at the language school, you will get on with them well. The language school, certainly here in Hangzhou, are really sociable – they organise events and outings, which makes the experience very varied.
The third group of friends are the other au pairs. There’s a very special feeling because all of them have come for the same reason, there’s a sense of common cause. There’s so many special memories, including today when they threw me a farewell party and they all came to the house and we celebrated together – that’s something that I won’t forget.
The fourth group of friends, which I wouldn’t have expected before coming to China but now can’t see China without, are the local staff. They will be your best friends and they will make your experience in China so fun and authentic. If you are open minded about it, the relationships that you will build during your time in China are so special, and it will give you every reason to keep coming back to experience it over and over again.
How have you found the support from our local partners, Lopair?
I think that Lopair does an incredible job in every way – I can’t fault them in the slightest. The organisation is just completely faultless and so dedicated to such a human cause of cultural exchange – it’s so genuine and so authentic.
Will you come back to China?
That’s the most obvious question ever – of course I will come back to China again! I didn’t know what to think of China before I came, it was a bit of a blind adventure, but now that I’ve come, mostly because of the people I’ve met – that’s the most important thing – because that will give me every reason to come back.
I think in my life I will have to just keep coming back to China. I think if you have a happy first experience here, you will leave a bit of your heart here and you will have to just keep coming back.