Microbiology student Vanessa, from the University of Manchester, spent two months in summer 2019 on the Homestay Tutor language exchange program in Shenzhen.
Why did you apply for the homestay program?
I’ve always wanted to come to China, it’s such a huge country, such a powerful country and such an important country in the world that I just really wanted to see what it was like to be here.
Also, I do like kids – I wanted to be able to work with kids but also experience the culture.
How was your host family?
My host family was really interesting – I feel like they are super generous people, I think in general Chinese people are very generous. Because Chinese people are very proud of their country, they really want you to have an amazing experience. They always did so much for me to enjoy myself and try new things.
I think, just like any family, they argue and make up – I think they were just a normal family, so I liked it.
What did you enjoy?
I liked the fact that I got to be in a completely different culture to what I was used to. I got to try new foods all the time, go to new places, learn about the history.
I feel like it’s made me understand Chinese people a lot more in terms of their ideals and their ways of thinking because of the history and how they treat each other in society – how they value family etc.
What did you learn?
I learnt patience – I’ve learnt I need to be more patient and how to be more patient, especially with differences in culture. Taking a step back to understand why a person does what they do or why the child is the way that they are.
Especially in China, where a lot of the time you may be living with an only child and they might not be the easiest person to deal with, but taking a step back to realise why that child is like that – sometimes the parents work a lot so they’ve had to raise themselves, so they’re not used to having somebody pay that much attention to them or want to be their friend.
What was the hardest part of living in China?
I think being non-Chinese in China is an experience – people remind you that you are different, through looking at you all the time and taking pictures of you. You’re constantly conscious of what you look like or what you’re doing, I think that was the hardest part.
Any advice for future applicants?
Try new things and take a step back at the beginning to try and understand why they are the way that they are.
For a lot of people, you are the first foreigner that they’ve seen or met. You might be the first person from your country they’ve ever encountered, so they might be a little bit more fascinated with that.
It might seem unusual but just be prepared!
How was the support in China?
I think the fact that when you come as an au pair in China you’re by yourself but you have people that are there for you – people you can talk to if you have a problem or just a small question about Chinese culture or how you do something. There’s always someone you can talk to, and I found that especially useful because I’m coming from England and it’s a seven hour time difference so I can’t talk to my friends or family during the day.
If I need any help, I need to rant or talk about something, there’s always people at the agency – no matter what time you message them, if they see it they will reply. It doesn’t have to be work hours – if they see your message at 11pm they will reply, which is really encouraging and useful.