I’ve long had an interest in China and after the previous summer spent working at Camp America I decided I wanted something different for the summer of 2016. There are many ways to get to China, the university runs study centres or there is a choice to do an unpaid internship, however both of these cost huge sums of money. Therefore, being as thrifty as I am, and since I enjoy working with children, I decided to be an au pair.
The family I lived with were absolutely lovely, as an Au Pair in Europe or the US I would have been expected to drive the kids to school, cook the dinner, and do the family’s laundry. The family I lived with had a cook, 2 drivers and a full time nanny. So this was really not the case for me. I was never seen as staff, and I was frequently referred to as 哥哥, (gege, meaning big brother). My host brother (Tiger) was 5 years old and was already very good at English, my job was to help improve it even more and to play with him, anything to get him speaking English. I also decided to teach him to read, something he didn’t always enjoy but definitely learned quickly.
Whilst the work was hardly like work; playing Lego isn’t exactly tough, I did get lots of free time as well. The family lived in a northern suburb of Beijing, however Tiger’s school was near the 2008 Olympic stadium, which was central. He was at school Monday to Friday 8 till 5, whenever Tiger was at school I was free to explore Beijing as long as I got back for when he finished. Beijing is one of my favourite cities in the world, there is a huge amount to do, most of it very cheap, and it’s so easy to get around. One of the things people said to me when I told them my plans was, ‘but Harry, you don’t speak any Chinese, won’t you be lonely?’ This was absolutely not the case. Not only did my Chinese improve massively, but I made some great friends in the other Au Pairs and English speaking Chinese. By the end of my time, I was chatting very happily with the staff in the house, albeit about simple things.
Over my three months I explored Beijing thoroughly, improved my Chinese, I made great friends and I now have family in Beijing. It was an unforgettable experience and it has inspired me to return to China as soon as I can.