My dad used to work for a partner company to this program so when I wanted to take a gap year this was the clear winner of ideas. It also afforded me the opportunity to learn mandarin, which as someone who has only studied Romance languages was an enticing option. Alongside learning a new language I got to work with children here in a way that’s meaningful and really has an impact on them which I loved.
Shannah is someone who has always loved adventure. Combined with her love of language and photography, travel has always been a large and exciting part of her life.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
I only had to organize my own visa, everything else was sorted by the program. Flights, the family I would stay with (though I did get the final say) insurance, you name it they either covered it or would help me sort it myself. They also had online seminars (webinars!) before leaving and throughout the trip to help with common questions and worries.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Come with an open mind. I think this is important for anywhere when traveling but especially when coming to China. The culture is so vastly different you have to be prepared to accept things that may seem so strange or even rude to you. Having said that the orientation week really helps you settle in and know what to expect. I really enjoyed having such a dramatic shift in my surroundings and culture, definitely would recommend this experience to everyone. Obviously there have been difficulties as there would be in any situation but in my opinion they’ve just added to the experience.
ALSO don’t be afraid to say “No!” when people ask for photos or your number.
As a foreigner in China people are always asking for selfies or contact details but if you’re uncomfortable with it don’t be afraid of offending them and saying no.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
An average day is hard to describe as each family have their own schedules and expectations. At the beginning of my time here I had a lot of free time, I would only teach for around an hour each evening and then two mornings a week I would have two and a half hours of Chinese lessons. After a month or two though we decided the youngest child was old enough to start lessons so my days got busier and more like some of my friends schedules.
I wake up at 7:30 and look after the smallest child for two hours, talking to her in English, singing simple songs, playing games etc just to get her accustomed to words and phrases so she’ll find it easier to learn English later on. I then have the afternoons to myself before looking after her again for two hours in the evening. Her brother comes home from school around 6 and I help him with his homework before teaching him French for an hour and a half. Like I said at the beginning though, days vary from week to week as well as family to family.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
I’ve been making trips alone since I was around 15 so I wasn’t hugely worried about this experience. I think my main worry was the length of time I would be away and how I would deal without my family. I’m not sure I overcame it as much as it wasn’t as big of an issue as I expected. The fast pace of life, with lessons and responsibilities and exploring the city helped with not missing my family too much. Additionally, the Chinese lessons are with other au pairs who are having the same experiences as you so bonds form quickly and the friendships are amazing both for making life more enjoyable here and for helping when homesickness hits.
What’s your favorite story from this experience?
I think one of my favorite stories actually took place during my second week here. One of the touristy highlights of Shanghai is The Bund, a stretch of river bank where you get an awe-inspiring view of the skyline of Shanghai. This is actually really close to my mandarin school so after my second lesson, I wandered down East Nanjing Road (another famous part of Shanghai) to The Bund.
While I was there a Chinese lady came up to me and asked if I would mind taking a photo of her and her friend in front of the view, once I had agreed to and she thanked me I replied ‘you’re welcome’ in Chinese (pronounced bùkèqi). She and her friend were so impressed, they thought I’d been learning Chinese for months and were so interested in my life and time in China. We talked for a little while and then they taught me some more Chinese and took me with them to a traditional tea festival. Translating all the information for me so I could be part of the experience and just generally being wonderful.
The whole experience was just amazing and the three Chinese people that took me were so friendly and so open. It really changed the way I looked at the people around me and made me much for open to talking to strangers and making friends here.