I signed up to the Lo Pair programme looking for a change, and it's exactly what I got. Chinese culture is so vastly different from the western world that everyday is a new adventure. Staying with a host family, as opposed to in a school, or hostel, means that you really get to experience the everyday life here, which is why I enjoy this programme.
The arrangement is fairly simple, you stay with a host family, helping with basic childcare, and introducing them to the English language, and western culture. In return you get bed, board, pocket money, and an unique opportunity to discover China. Which is rapidly overtaking America as the world's biggest superpower. Therefore it's a win win situation for all of the programmes participants.
There is a also good opportunity to travel on this programme. In my free time I've explored both Ningbo and Beijing, whilst my host family have taken me to visit Shanghai, Haikou and Sanya. I find it very interesting how your perspective of a place changes depending on who you go with. I certainly would have never been able to afford the luxury my host family treated me to on our travels. For me a seven star hotel was as alien a concept as China was, so I've certainly had my fair share of experiences here.
One of my favourite, and most surreal, experience was taking part in a Chinese television programme. Through Lo Pair, my host family and I were invited a show called Afternoon tea. It was a long, and bizarre day, but ultimately incredible, getting to be on a TV set. I've never had the opportunity in England, and no body I know can say they've been on Chinese TV. Getting to share that experience with my host siblings was the cherry on the cake. It's something I doubt they'll ever forget.
During my stay I've found the Lo Pair staff helpful and supportive. Due to the language barrier I've had a few communication problems, however they were quickly resolved by the Local co-ordinator. I'm lucky to be placed in the same city as the main office, and whenever I visit there is a friendly welcoming atmosphere. There is always someone to talk to regardless of what issue you may have.
Despite the three day ordination period, which is very insightful and gives you time to get to know other au pairs, I feel more could be down in regards to the culture clash. Many issues that arise from living so close with other people, can be rooted in simply not understanding the other culture. In my mind more culture training should be given to both parties so that they know what to expect. Often Au Pairs expect this programme is like au pairing in the western world, and they need to understand before they start that the Chinese hold very different values. I also feel the host families to be encouraged to communicate more directly what they expect of their Au Pair.
I would strongly advise you read the programmes recommendation for what to pack, as it is very helpful. Personally I'm kicking myself for not bringing a debit card for booking hostels. Other than that though I've always had what I've needed, or been able to find it easily. All placements are in big cities, or close by to them, so finding what you've forgotten is not a problem.
All in all I would certainly recommend this programme for fellow school leavers, or gap year takers. My confidence has boosted by coming here, being able to navigate a strange new place, where I don't know the language has left me feeling ready to take on anything. The educational part of the programme is also effective. I really enjoy my mandarin lessons, and despite the difficulty of the language have made faster progress than I have done with any other language. Plus with China being so up and coming, it's a vital skill to put on your CV.