Reka, from Hungary, spent one year on the Homestay Tutor program while studying Chinese at Fudan University. She had the opportunity to stay with two different host families during this time.
I did a homestay before in Spain to practice my Spanish and I’ve been looking after kids since I was 16. It was very natural for me to stay with families with kids and spend time with them, since I love kids. There’s no better way to get integrated into the culture other than this, I believe.
I prefer tutoring in a playful way, making games rather than making the little kids sit down and study, though that is also essential. Their attention span is shorter and they easily get distracted so you have to make these session interesting, have to gamify them to keep them engaged.
As for kids going to school already, their time is very limited and fully packed, so you have to reserve time to help them with homework and just play and converse with them during their free time. I preferred to not add more to their workload. I prefer to be considered a big sister that helps, rather than a teacher that demands their cooperation.
It was interesting. The members of the two families had rather distinct personalities. The first family was happy and talkative, liked to share and to get me involved. The mother had spent some time studying in Japan and knew how hard it is to integrate into a different culture. So they helped me a lot and took a very good care of me. I felt like I really was the big sister of the family, as they really took good care of me.
As for the second family, they were more introverted and respected my space and study time. They were very busy with their business, I felt bad for them having to work so much, and after work the mom spent the whole evening with Jack doing homework. They were very hardworking and I had a lot of respect for them.
That is a hard question! One memory that is dear to me is actually pretty funny, and at the same time very common. When I was with the first family, there were words I still couldn’t pronounce well in Chinese. Spending time with kids in a homestay you are not only a teacher, but you influence them in a passive way, unbeknownst to you, and that is why your responsibility is way bigger.
Eason, after getting used to me, started to take me as an example, followed me and learnt from me – even when I was speaking Chinese, apparently. He was an only child at that time, it is only natural to copy his “big sister”. So, one day the mother realized Eason was saying a Chinese word with the wrong intonation, it appears to be he learnt that from me! After that I had to pay very close attention to tones, so as to not be a bad example to him!
I remember the mother sitting us down during dinner and making us practice the tone of that mispronounced word. That was the moment I figured how important it is to show a good example, no matter the language.
I absolutely recommend it. Of course, it is not rainbows and unicorns all the time, they are kids after all and the culture can be strikingly different from one’s own. But there is just no better way to learn the language and to get a grasp of the culture in China.
After, you will always feel at home and filled with experiences that you will carry with you throughout your life. Just to support my statement: I came to China with an HSK Level 3 and HSKK Beginner Level, and at the end of my stay I passed HSK Level 6, and HSKK Advanced Level.