China is one of my favorite places in the world! But, if we're being honest it was quite the adjustment compared to traveling to Europe or anywhere else I had ever been.
Pst — We have info about volunteering in China that you might be interested in.
Things are really different and weird things happen everyday! Just remember it's going to be different, but you are going to absolutely fall in love with the people, culture and food. Here are things to know before you head out on your first trip to China!
- Public Transportation
- Language Barrier
- Friendly People
- Bargain Shopping
- The Food
- You're A Superstar
There are a lot of different options for public transportation in China which makes traveling as a foreigner there really easy. You've got buses, taxis, walking, metros, bullet trains, slow trains, planes...you name it. Here's just one word of advice - if you are going on an overnight train ride, pay extra for the beds and book it well in advance! If not, you might end up like my ILP group who had a 25+ hour train ride and very uncomfortable, hard seats. Funny story now but it wasn't so much in the moment.
Have you ever heard of a squatter toilet? I remember getting to our apartment with my ILP group on the first night and walking into our bathroom to see a hole in the floor...that's a typical toilet in China! It may seem weird at first, but you'll get used to it and honestly you may grow to like it! Occasionally you will find a western toilet (what we have in the US) but often you will find squatters.
The Language Barrier
One thing that can be difficult in China is the language barrier. Unless you are in a big city not many people speak English. This can make it a little hard especially because signs will be in Chinese characters which adds another challenge. Just know you may get lost when trying to get around and give yourself extra time to get lost! Bigger cities will usually have English translations and a lot more people who do speak English. Little things like having addresses written down in Chinese characters, maps, or translating apps are super helpful!
I had no idea how friendly the people would be in China. They were so kind and willing to help us. It was easy to make friends with the locals. Make friends as much as you can! You willl miss the people greatly when you are home.
Learn to bargain ASAP and shop your little heart out! Bargaining is huge in China and can get you some super great deals. On the downside, you can easily be ripped off. Be careful and be smart! Here are some tips on how to bargain better so you can be prepared for The Pearl Market or any other market you find!
Warning: food in China is NOT like Panda Express! You probably guessed that...but seriously though. I really expected it to be like that! Generally you will eat at the school cafeteria and you might not love all the food you get. Expect a lot of rice, vegetables and chicken and usually not a ton of flavor. Don't get me wrong, it was still good and you'll find stuff you like but it will be an adjustment and I can pretty much gaurantee you won't love everything you're served. Try everything you can to see what you like and don't like. You will definitely find stuff you love and miss it when you get home (like the rice with eggs and tomatoes! Holy cow I'd do anything for some of that!).
Another thing different in China is eating habits. Don't be surprised if you go to a restaurant and the person sitting next to you is loudly slurping noodles from their bowl or spitting out their chicken bones onto the table. It's totally normal there!
China is home to a huuuuge population of people which means you are going to find some crowds, especially on national holidays and in big capital cities. These crowds can be pretty overwhelming, especially if you are trying to wait in line somewhere. Part of the culture is that people don't always wait their turn and often cut ahead to the front, so be assertive because they're going to be!
You're A Superstar
You really feel like you are famous in China! The natives want pictures with you ALL THE TIME because you're a foreigner. It's not uncommon to have a line of people waiting to get a picture with you and of course they're going to show it off to all their friends. This is so funny and totally weird at first. It brings tons of awesome and bizarre stories. With this also comes some down sides like people constantly stopping you or staring at you. We even had people come up to us and try to touch our hair. Seems weird but you will get used to it!
Considering volunteering in China with ILP? Click the button below to learn more about what a semester abroad is like and how it can change your life!