Why did you pick this program?
I chose LoPair because I felt that the services provided were reliable and that I could experience China best through their program.
What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?
Do it. People always say that traveling needs to be done when you're young. I don't totally agree with that, but I do know that traveling when you're young is easier. Once people settle down, it's often hard to find the money and freedom to travel. Traveling will shape your world view in a way that can't be done in any other way. I think it is so important to get out of your comfort zone and send yourself into culture shock for a bit. I have learned so much about myself by moving to China.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Don't be afraid to make judgment calls before you come. Think about what kind of kids you want to work with and what kind of family you will be comfortable living with. If you don't particularly like young kids, do not agree to au pair for a family with young kids. LoPair does a good job at placing au pairs in good homes, but they cannot read your mind.
What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?
Wow, thats hard to say, but I think one of my favorites would have to be when I first arrived in China. Here's a story from my personal journal on February 29:
I'm in a hostel. I'm in a hostel in China...this is pretty cool. I got out of bed, dug around in my massive bag for warm clothes, and got dressed. I made my way down the cement stairs in the open air and into the warm lobby. Sitting in a booth by a window, were two beautiful western girls. I recognized them from their pictures on WeChat, the app we had been using to correspond before and after arriving in China. Walking up to them and plopping into the seat across from them I said, "You both speak English." Both girls smiled and said yes.
Sophie, blonde and very English looking had a stunning British accent. Estelle, a classy brunette, was from the outskirts of Paris. We chatted for a bit and they informed me that Michael, the other Brit was around here somewhere. A moment before I arrived, he came flying down the hall, asked for a mop and then disappeared in a flash. We were served a breakfast of toast, bacon, a tomato, and a fried egg. I ate a lot of bread and tomatoes. Also, hot orange juice was served, of which I did not partake. I'm guessing it has to do with the fact that you can't drink tap water in China. Everyone drinks boiled water unless you buy bottled water. Michael appeared in unmistakable London dress. His hilarious outgoing sense of humor was quite captivating.
The driver picked us all up around 8:20 and we headed to LoPair for orientation. Orientation was a lot of sitting and presenting and waiting for the last au pair to arrive. I (praise the lord) had made the last bus to Hangzhou. The last au pair had arrived in Shanghai very late and had to spend the night. About an hour and a half into orientation, someone knocked on the frosted glass door and in walked a sherpa. Two large backpacks were strapped to both sides of this person. He looked like he'd stepped off the pages of an outdoor adventure magazine.
"Hi, I'm Kevin," said the pack-clad individual. He plopped his massive bags down and joined the previously quiet table of au pairs.
Afternoon rolled around and it was time for lunch. Michael was ever so taken with the stunning mountains in the distance. He knew I liked the outdoors and hiking and was asking what gear he needed to hike. He, dressed in fitted pants, combat boots, a black trench coat and cap, seemed rather shocked when I told him that tennis shoes or hiking boots would be fine for this kind of mountain. Michael seemed to avert his desires and became much more content with the idea of writing poetry about the mountains and began to tell us about his writing endeavors. Kevin and I had gone exploring around the hostel, early in the evening, after day two of orientation. I found out that Kevin was from New York State, had previously taken Chinese, and had a basic understanding of it.
The local coordinator arrived at our hostel to take all of us to dinner. We were all starving and ready for some of the ever so interesting food that China’s streets can offer. Walking down the street form our hostel, the coordinator stopped and said, you will have authentic dumplings tonight. He ordered some dumplings filled with seafood or beef with vegetables. I was given noodles.... Don't get me wrong, the noodles are usually awesome, but these were not so awesome. I was also given a cup of hot soy milk (not a fan). I resorted to eating the outside of the meat filled dumplings, leaving little balls of meat for everyone else to eat.
The coordinator left because he had errands to run, so we were free to do as we pleased. Worried that I was still in need of food, Kevin thought we should go try food somewhere else.
All five of us got up and walked down the street. During our earlier explorations, Kevin and I had seen some little places with menus that were basically huge pictures on the wall. The five of us wandered into a small restaurant, greeted with the usual smell of meat and cigarette smoke.
The small group of Chinese people inside were very taken with having a black person and four white people in their place of business. Estelle, Sophie, Michael and I let Kevin to do his thing. He was trying to order rice and vegetables, which proved to be quite a task. We stood inside at first and watched the sign language and Chinese skills between the cook and Kevin. As I caught a glimpse of the kitchen, I began to think that this would probably be my last meal and that death was swiftly heading my way in the form of rice and vegetables. The unwashed dished were scattered around the kitchen with meat and other foods sitting out. After Kevin was conversing for a bit, he was whisked off into the kitchen. Basically deciding that Kevin was going to be roasted and turned into our dinner, we headed outside and sat at a table to wait. Who knows how long it takes to cook a human?
After several minutes, Kevin emerged in a cloud of smoke (totally in tact) with the little pack of Chinese people, cigarettes in hand, following. They offered us all cigarettes, which Michael was already having some breathing issues with. We all politely declined the cigarettes. Sophie's blonde hair was quite the conversation topic, including where we were all from. The five of us sat at a table outside. The Chinese business owners hovered around us in the night air and dim lights cast by the building and street lamps. Finally, the tall slender chef popped out of the building, handed Kevin a steaming bag and we were off.
The steaming bag was opened. A glorious smell arose into the nose of a hungry vegan. Inside were two containers of vegetables and two of rice. I decided that if I was going to die at 19, this was the time and place to do it. Kevin informed us all that after being taken into the kitchen, he hand picked the vegetables. I must admit, the cook did a sensational job and death might have been worth it.
Abigail’s Take on Travel:
Traveling is hard. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that everyday is a basket of roses and cupcakes. There will be days where you feel like crawling into a hold and staying there until it's time for you to fly home, but there are also awesome days. The best days are when you learn things for yourself and crawl into bed exhausted, but satisfied.