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Volunteer in China

Answer your calling by Volunteering in China!
  • Immerse yourself in the beauty and culture of China
  • Trusted by thousands of volunteers since 2006
  • Volunteer teaching English or assist in the conservation of Pandas
  • Most affordable rates starting at $350

Have you imagined yourself taking in the amazing culture of a country completely unlike any other? Are you the type of person who enjoys helping others? When you volunteer in China, not only will your dreams come true as you change your life as well as the people you're helping!

Land of mystery and amazing options for varied travel, China is today, in every sense, adapting and transforming to a fresh new face, one that honors its rich past while it embraces a vast, new world full of hope and modernity. By volunteering in China you can be a part of this fascinating transformation! IFRE offers many volunteer programs based in one of China's most popular tourist destinations. You'll witness stark contrasts between the new and the old, the rich and the poor, a study in the age-old concept of Yin and Yang. The colorful, rewarding opportunity of a lifetime awaits those who volunteer in China with IFRE.

Join us and find your own personal enlightenment experience! Write us an email today for all the fascinating details.

Volunteer Program Dates

Most programs are available year-round. We recommend volunteers begin their placements on a Monday, scheduling their arrival and departure on the weekends. However, due to flight availability, particularly traveling internationally, start dates are flexible. We ask that all volunteers ensure to communicate their arrival and departure plans clearly to their country coordinator to ensure transportation and accommodations are properly arranged.

Volunteer Program Fee (US$)

IFRE Volunteers strives to provide the lowest fees along with transparency to all of their volunteers!

  • Most affordable fees
  • Registered non-profit for tax deductible fees
  • Transparent transactions ensures volunteers they know where their money goes
  • Proven quality and safety

IFRE Volunteers is proud to offer the world’s most affordable fee for international volunteering and as a 501(c)3 organization, your program fee will be tax deductible.

We are proud to focus on the humanitarian aspect of our business, not on profit. We strive to maintain affordable cost, particularly for volunteers; we recognize the value of your donated time and efforts. We remain devoted to maintaining both the quality of the program and the safety of all volunteers involved.

IFRE fees comprise of two separate fees:

  • Application fee of $299 USD (covers advertising, staff/office expenses, etc.)
  • Weekly program fee paid directly to your project (covers room/board, field support, etc).

You will pay your fee directly to host families and projects. In this way, what you pay will go directly from you to the people who deserve it (not for profit).

Duration Volunteer/English Teaching Program China Panda Conservation (CHENGDU)
  1 Week  $350   $850
  2 Weeks   $450   $1,650
  3 Weeks   $550   $2,450
  4 Weeks   $650   $3,250
  5 Weeks   $750
  6 Weeks   $850       Maximum project duration



     - 4 weeks for Panda Project.
  7 Weeks   $950
  8 Weeks   $1,050
  9 Weeks   $1,150
  10 Weeks   $1,250
  11 Weeks   $1,350
  12 Weeks   $1,450
  • Mandatory Comprehensive Travel Insurance $3.49/day

Additional costs for volunteers: International flights, visa extensions, personal expenses on water/soft drinks/entertainment, laundry, telephone, Immunization costs, extra Insurance (if needed).

Arrangement of Room/Food/Supervision

We offer a "home base" in Qingdao, China. Our home base is located in a beautiful area of Qingdao. This area /community is very safe, clean and accessible to local transport. Residing within this community are many business families, high ranked government officials and people with a high social status. It's near to the supermarket and the shopping mall and you can easily walk to the local bus station if you choose to go into town. The nearby internet café, restaurant, police station and supermarket are just 1-3 km away. Our home base accommodations offer volunteers a wonderful place to rest and relax after a day's work or weekend travel. This is the ideal setting for individuals looking for a "home away from home" and the perfect arrangement for sharing your daily experiences with fellow volunteers, or local staff. Volunteers joining Panda Conservation Project will stay in local economy hotel.

Dependent on the season and flow of volunteers, you may be placed with a local host family or with the family of our in-country coordinator. Our host family homes provide similar amenities as our home base, but you will also have your own room. Staying with a host family offers a valuable chance to learn more about Chinese people and their culture. When selecting home base or host families, we were primarily focused on the safety and comfort of our volunteers. In all China volunteer projects, breakfast, lunch and dinner is provided throughout the duration of the project. We offer 3 meals a day of local cuisine (Chinese food). Typically, volunteers eat breakfast and dinner at the home base and have lunch at their project. We offer fresh, nutritious and safe local foods to our volunteers to eat. We also work extremely hard to maintain our facilities in a positive condition.

Most of our volunteer projects in china are within 5-30 minutes away our home base in local bus. China has very strong and reliable system of local bus so you will be traveling to/from in local bus each day. Volunteers at our Panda Conservation project will stay at a modest economy hotel, close to the Conservation Center. We have a strong partnership with this hotel and they treat our international volunteers with kind respect and offer a very safe environment. Internet is available at this hotel. Breakfast - lunch - dinner is provided at a nearby restaurant, which offers very delicious Chinese food. In China, our in-country staff provides highly effective field support. Whether you stay in our home base or with a host family, our coordinators visit you regularly (even day or within 2-7 days) to ensure a successful and happy volunteer experience.

Volunteer Program Free Time

Volunteers have free time for the duration of their volunteer project on weekends and during evenings. While IFRE does not arrange activities during this time off, our local staff, members and coordinators can provide priceless assistance in making appropriate arrangements for travel in China. It's the time for self-discovery and learning. It's time to explore this foreign culture and exotic land. It's definitely time for cultural exploration and sightseeing when in China! Our IFRE local coordinators/staff are available to give you free advice, travel tips and helps to book your travel.

IFRE offers volunteer programs in many exciting cities like Qingdao, Ya'an near Chengdu and Xi'an. In Qingdao, the city steeped in Chinese history, you will discover a modern, clean and one of the most livable cities in China. Xi'an is one of the oldest city in China and the city still contains many treasures of the past including the Bell Tower, the City Wall and the Museum of Terracotta Warrior. Ya'an near Chengdu is a fascinating place to visit. Not only is it home to the panda conservation project, it is a frontier town from where caravans traveled the Erlang Mountains on their way to Tibet, Nepal and even India.

Major FAQ China

Food and Accommodation

What kind of food do we eat in the project?

The food will depend on your placement. If working in a school, food is provided by the school and if volunteering with pandas, food is also provided by the conservatory. Traditional Chinese food should be expected.

Do the accommodations have internet and electricity?

Yes, the hostel, the voluntary service center has internet connection and electricity.

Do we get hot shower in our accommodation?

Yes you will get a hot shower in your accommodation

Is water safe to drink or do we need to buy bottled water?

If you boil the water first it is safe to drink, you do have the option to buy bottled water though.

Is it an issue if I am vegetarian? I am wheat allergic; would it be a problem to the host family?

It won’t be a problem, however please inform your country coordinator of any dietary restrictions prior to your arrival.

Do I get my own room?

Yes, you will get your own room, however if you would like, you can share a room with other volunteer if any as well.

Do the members the project speak English?

Yes, there will be member of the staff whom speak English.

If I arrive with my friend, or girlfriend/boyfriend, can we stay together?

Yes, arrangements can be made for this.

What are the bathrooms and toilet facilities like?

All bathrooms come with a westernized toilet and shower facilities.

What are the laundry arrangements?

Public washing machines are available for your use.

Can I use appliances if I bring them from my home country?

Yes, you can use your own appliances but you will need to get an adapter.

What bedding materials like? Do I need to bring sleeping bag?

One set of bedding is provided, but you can bring your own sheets if you like.

Arrival Information

Which airport do I need to fly in?

Your arrival airport for teaching will depend on where you are assigned, for the Panda Conservation project you will fly into ChengDu Shuang-liu International Airport.

Do you organize airport pick up?

We provide airport pick-up.

Where do I go from airport?

You will be transported to your placement.

What happens if I missed flight or arrived late?

Please let your country coordinator know immediately so that they can make the appropriate alterations to your pick-up.

Who will come to pick up me? How do I recognize the person at the airport?

One of our program members will greet you at the airport displaying a placard with your name.

If my assignment begins on Monday, when should I arrive?

Volunteers generally arrive the Sunday before, however if you need to come in earlier do to flight availability we can assist you with arranging accommodations for a minimal fee.

Who will bring me to the airport for my departure?

Return transportation is not provided through our program, however in country staff will be more than willing to assist you in making arrangements.

Can you help us arrange our flights? Do you recommend any cheapest flights to fly to China?

We do not assist with flight arrangements; however please let us know your flight details once they have been confirmed.

Visa Information

What kind of visa do I need to apply?

A tourist visa will suffice for either volunteer position; however a working or business visa will need to be obtained by those traveling to China for the paid teaching position.

How do I apply for the visa?

You can apply for your visa in any Chinese embassy, and we can provide the documents you need for the application.

How much does it cost for the visa application?

The cost of the visa varies from country-to-country, please consult with your local Chinese Embassy.

Do I need any documents to apply for the visa?

You will certainly need your passport, we are more than happy to assist you with getting the necessary papers for your application.

How long does it take to get the visa approval?

It can take up to 4 working days for the embassy to process the visa and longer if you apply for your visa through a travel agency or use a postal service.

Safety

Is it safe to travel to China?

Yes, it is safe to travel in China.

What are safety measures you take for the volunteers? How can you guarantee volunteers’ safety?

Those volunteering and traveling with IFRE are provided an in-country coordinator who is available at all times to assist in any emergencies.

How can you help volunteers in case of emergency? Is there someone we can get hold of in case if we need immediate help or support?

Our staff is available by phone 7 days a week.

Is it safe to travel alone?

Yes it is safe to travel alone.

Money

Are ATMs easily available?

ATMs are readily available in most locations.

Where should I exchange my money?

Local Chinese banks will have the best exchange rate.

How much money should I bring with me?

The amount of money you bring will depend on your personal spending habits and your placement. Meals are provided, however any additional activities you see yourself participating in will need to be paid for.

What does the weekly program fee covers?

Generally accommodations, food, airport pick-up.

Is it safe to carry cash with me?

Yes, it is safe to carry cash with you.

Communication

How do I contact to the local coordinator?

All our staff will make sure you have the telephone numbers, email addresses and office address.

How do I contact my family and friends once I arrive in China? How can my family members contact me?

It is best you use email or Skype to contact family and friends.

Can I bring my mobile from my home country? Does it work?

Yes, you can bring your mobile phone from your home country, contact your provider before you travel to China to make sure international calling / texting is unlocked.

Climate

Please provide detailed information on year round climate in the country which consists season you have, average temperature and average rainfall in each month.

All four seasons in Qingdao are mild without extreme hot or cold temperatures. Qingdao air is temperate and humid with abundant rainfall, and the temperature differences during a day are slight. The hottest season is in August with the average temperature of 25.1 C (77.2 F) and the coldest in January with the average temperature of 0.9 C below zero (30.4 F). Autumn and winter in Qingdao are windy; in winter.

Health and Safety

What are the principle health risks in China? Is there any mandatory vaccination we need to take?

Please consult your local physician in regards to any necessary precautions you should take while traveling abroad.

General Questions

Where can I use internet? Is there a place where I can use phone to make a call to my family and friend?

Internet is available for communication; the ability to make international phone calls will vary dependent on your placement.

Could you please provide me the packing list?

  • Camera
  • Mobile phone (you can use mobile phone after changing SIM Card after arrival in China, SIM Card normally costs RMB100Yuan, roughly US$15)
  • Sleeping bag (we offer basic bedding but you are encouraged to bring any of your own linens and such)
  • Sun-block/First-aid kit/Flash light
  • Electricity adapter/converter
  • Footwear (for work and travel)
  • Towel
  • Seasonal clothes
  • Hand disinfectant
  • General medicine (headache, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.)

The complete Step by Step Guide to Volunteering in China

Free China Volunteer Guidebook

download guidebook to volunteer in cambodia
Download Free eBook Now

Welcome to your handbook all about volunteering in China.  In this ebook you will find information about popular projects, organizations and destinations for volunteering in China, and lots of tips to help you choose the right volunteer placement for you. This guide also includes handy hints to help you prepare; learn more about what to expect once there, and safety tips – so you can make the most of your China volunteer adventure.

Chapter 1
Getting started – Volunteer in China
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Chapter 2
Getting ready to volunteer in China
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Chapter 3
Information you must know about the project
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Chapter 4
Arriving and volunteering in China
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Chapter 5
Completion of project & follow up
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Chapter 6
Most frequently asked questions by volunteers
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Chapter 1: Volunteer in China: Getting Started

volunteer in china getting started

Welcome to China.

This amazing country is home to one of the largest populations in the world, offering visitors a fascinating blend of both ancient and finely preserved heritage icons and the comforts of 21st century life.

Labeled as the ‘cradle of civilization', tourists flock to China to enjoy a vast array of temples, relics, ruins and palaces from ancient dynasties and diverse landscapes from deserts, rural farms, and glorious coastlines, to subtropical forests and fast flowing rivers.

When you've had your fill of nature and culture head there are plenty of vibrant cities like Shanghai and Beijing offering fantastic nightlife, from cultural dinner dance shows with lavish costumes to lively discos open all night.  And of course each region has its authentic cooking style, offering countless options for delicious dining.  

While its economic growth benefits some of the population there are many people in China who still live with poverty, pollution and inadequate housing. Outside assistance is much needed to tackle these social and economic problems, which means there are many opportunities to volunteer in China, including projects that work with orphans and disadvantaged children, in the animal conservation field and in education.

Why you should volunteer in China

Whether you are interested in history, culture, nature, delicious food or exploring new cities you'll find something to suit your tastes when you volunteer abroad in China. The opportunity to contribute to ongoing humanitarian work, experience a foreign culture and create lifelong memories are just some of the reasons you might want to choose China as the location for your exciting volunteer abroad project, but there are plenty more.  

You can visit iconic landmarks

Whichever region you choose to volunteer in you’ll have the chance to explore some of China’s ancient treasures. The infamous Great Wall of China spans the entire length of the country, and can be accessed from several different points. There are also dozens of gardens, statues, temples and palaces to explore, especially in Guangzhou, Xi’an and Chengdu.

You will see pandas

China has an abundance of wildlife but is particularly famous for its panda bears. There are many panda conservation projects available to volunteers if you want to care for these soft and cuddly creatures that are an endangered species. 

You will be in foodie heaven

Spread out over 9.6 million square kilometers, China is a collage of multiple languages, cultures and undeniably unique cuisine. Each region has its signature flavors and style of cooking: Sichuan is known for hot and spicy food, Shanghai for its dumplings and sweeter dishes, and Hong Kong for dim sum.  Volunteers living with a host family will have the opportunity to taste Chinese home cooking, and maybe even learn how to make a few dishes.

You can explore landscapes and nature

China has some of most breathtaking natural scenery in the world; with landscapes as colorful as the country’s traditional fabrics and clothing. The Danxia ( red clouds) landscape in the northwest, also known as the rainbow mountains, is a popular spot for photographers. You’ll also be visually inspired by  locations include the Li River, the Red Land of Dongchuan (land of red flame) and the Zangye Danxia Landform, a colorful rock formation dating back  600 million years

You can experience holistic medicine

Influenced by Buddhist culture and other Eastern philosophies, China offers access to many natural and preventative treatments, including massage therapy and reiki, at very affordable prices. Meanwhile, traditional Chinese medicine is available to help with pretty much every illness you may need treatment for,

You get the rewards making a difference brings

When you volunteer in China you will be working with communities of people in desperate situations who really need assistance, especially if you’re working with orphaned or disadvantaged children. You can help shape their future in a positive way, and the results will be very obvious if you choose a project helping children for your volunteer in China Experience.

You’ll experience personal growth

Volunteering abroad offers you a deeper and more intense experience with a country than you’d get on a short tour or backpacking trip, because as well as see-ing the sights you’ll be doing something worthwhile on a daily basis. You’ll discover things about yourself that you didn’t realize, and develop a true sense of humanity and maturity that comes from activating a giving spirit. There’s a sense of personal fulfillment and satisfaction that comes from turning travel into true contribution.

You can immerse yourself fully in the culture

As a volunteer in China you'll be living and working with locals, eating the same food and catching glimpses of everyday life that tourists and travelers can never hope to experience. Being part of the fabric of society offers a unique and precious opportunity to learn about the real China, and what matters to the people who call it home.

What are some popular volunteer projects available in China?

Despite its fast growing manufacturing industry and matching rise of the super-wealthy China is still a developing country, and one where poverty still limits the life chances of a large section of the population.

 There is a great demand for volunteers to join a variety of projects, all of which aim to make positive changes in the lives of the most needy.

Almost all programs include accommodation and some offer Mandarin language classes as a bonus. The most popular volunteer projects in China include:

Childcare

There are care programs available at kindergartens, centers for children with disabilities and children’s hospitals. The goal of these programs is to help children develop their social skills and to expose them to new cultures and ideas.

Additionally, volunteers on the kindergarten programs assist the normal school staff with various educational and creative activities, while those working with children who have special needs provide both education and nursing care, along with organizing physically and mentally stimulating activities for them to enjoy.

Teaching

With China’s exponential growth in recent years, English education has become highly valued,  however many public schools simply don’t have the resources to provide quality language programs.

 Chinese government schools need volunteers to help students develop their conversational English skills, and provide a level of quality that the non-native English speaking teachers cannot offer.

Volunteers should be enthusiastic, open minded, caring and patient, and formal teaching training is helpful, though not a definite requirement. 

Health

Medical volunteer opportunities are available in hospitals, clinics and some public health institutes. The objective of these programs is to make a substantial improvement to the overall quality of healthcare,

Opportunities include providing play therapy for hospitalized children, psycho-social support to elderly patients and involvement in public health community outreach programs.

Panda Care

The chance to work with pandas is a truly unique opportunity, and one which is only available to volunteers in China. Panda Conservation centers are dedicated to nurturing the lives of these adorable animals, of which only 1,600 remain in the world.

Volunteers will have a chance to prepare food for and feed the pandas, clean their enclosures and the nursery and perhaps even conduct some research into their habits and health.

Community Work

Local community projects provide shelter, education, medical care and counseling to young children from broken homes, as well as education and rehabilitative care to mentally disabled teenagers and adults.

Volunteers help with the day-to-day care of preschool children and toddlers: teaching them English, feeding them and leading songs and games. Volunteers for individuals with disabilities will befriend the care center visitors and organize a variety of activities, including sport, artwork, educational games, cooking and IT work.

Where are some popular places to volunteer in China?

China is a huge country, with volunteer opportunities available in areas with varying climates, landscapes and cultural styles. Since the choices can be overwhelming here are some of the more popular destinations which may help shape your search, but certainly doesn’t have to define it:

Beijing

Beijing is the capital of China and the nation’s political, cultural and educational center. It’s located in northern China, and is home to 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and of course the Great Wall.  

Wangfujing Street is a major shopping hotspot, with both cultural products and imports from around the world, and a popular night market offering unusual snacks. Beijing also offers a diverse and lively nightlife, cultural events and excellent restaurants..

Popular volunteer projects in Beijing include: childcare, teaching, disability work, orphanage care, community development and sustainable living solutions.

Shanghai

Located on China’s Central Coast, Shanghai is the country’s biggest city and a thriving global financial center.  At the heart of the city is the Bund, a well-known waterfront promenade lined with colonial buildings, while right across the Huangpu River is an ultra modern skyline featuring the Shanghai Tower and Oriental Pearl TV Tower.

Shanghai is a thriving metropolis with excellent restaurants, hotels and nightlife, however its popular acrobatic shows for tourists is the big stand out nightlife entertainment feature, and not to be missed. 

Popular volunteer projects in Shanghai include: medical work, teaching, community development, medicine, law, dentistry and childcare.

Xi’an

Xian is located in central-northwest China and is famous for the Silk Road, the Huaqing Hot Springs and the amazing Terracotta Warriors. It’s a city that wears its history with pride, yet is also incredibly progressive in its strive for western development.

Popular volunteer projects in Xi’an include: teaching, orphanage care, panda conservation and  care for people with special needs.

Chengdu

Located in southwest China, Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan province, famous for its spicy Sichuan peppercorn flavored cuisine. It’s home to a giant panda research institute where visitors can view these endangered animals in their natural habitat. You can also see the world’s largest Buddha (Leshan’s Giant Buddha) and the Wenshu Temple, one of the 4 major temples of Zen Buddhism.

Popular volunteer projects include: panda conservation, teaching, medicine, dentistry and law.

 

What is the best season to volunteer in China?

As each region of China often has different weather conditions throughout the year there is no one good time to volunteer, it really comes down to your personal weather preferences. October is the exception, being pleasantly warm and dry, but it is also the most popular with tourists, and a more expensive time to travel to and around China than other months would be.

Chapter 2:  Volunteer in China: Getting Ready to Volunteer

Getting Ready to  Volunteer in china

You’ve successfully chosen the right project – now it’s time to take some essential pre-travel steps to prepare for your once in a lifetime experience of volunteering in China. Your volunteer contact should provide you information on visa requirements and health precautions, but there are plenty of other things you need to find out or double check for yourself.

It's best to organize these things as soon as possible as some take time. To help you get started we've put together a list of the main things a volunteer heading for China needs to think about and prepare for. These include:

Visa

As a traveler from any foreign country you will need a visa to enter China. Many volunteers apply for a tourist visa, (good from 30 – 90 days with multiple re-entry options.), but some sources claim rules implemented in 2015 require a special type of work visa to be secured. As visa situations change regularly always check the current situation with a Chinese consulate before making plans.

Some volunteer agencies also offer paid teaching work in China, and if you pursue those opportunities it's best to check out the website of your country's Chinese consulate for details of the necessary documentation needed, and the costs involved.

Passport:

You must have a passport with at least six months validity when you enter China, and the pre-travel visa stamps require 1-2 blank pages. If your passport needs to be renewed, or you don't have one at all you must be sure you can secure it prior to traveling.

Vaccines

Most travelers to China have Hepatitis A and typhoid shots to protect problems if contaminated food or water is consumed. These are especially important if you plan to volunteer or travel in isolated rural areas. Consult a physician or personal healthcare professional for more advice.

Air tickets

Airfare is one of the major expenses for volunteers, so make the most of all the options available to find a reduced price fare. Long distance flights are never going to be cheap, but there are plenty of handy price comparison sites available that save you doing all the research yourself. Some also offer a fare alert option, should the ticket price change.

Booking in advance, travelling off-season and being a little flexible with dates are other ways to find a cheaper ticket.

Raising money

Unfortunately, volunteering abroad involves a lot of expenses (program fee, ticket, visa, vaccination, and personal expenses. If you don’t have sufficient funds why not do some fundraising to get cash to fund the project.

Reach out for assistance – you are trying to make a difference in the world, and there are likely to be people in your life who would be thrilled to support the cause. In the world of social media that we live in it has never been easier to raise money for a personal fundraiser, particularly for a volunteer project.

Go Fund Me, You Caring and Rally.org are some of the well known fundraising sites that give you the platform to create a campaign that shines light on your project. A sincerely written, detailed project description will garner support from the people who are able to donate. 

Suggested books to read

From personal memoirs to straight up travel guides, there are lots of books on China available for you to buy or borrow from the library  Tried and true titles from publishers such as Fodor’s and Lonely Planet will help you get your bearings, and get ideas for places to visit in your free time, and as most are available in digital format they're very portable.

To scratch beyond the surface take a look at some of the following titles before you head for China: China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power (Nicholas Kristof and Cheryl Wu-dunn); Understanding China (John Bryan Starr) and A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (Yiyun Li.)

Packing tips – what to bring

Even though you’ll be living in a host home, you’ll undoubtedly do some traveling – which may mean packing clothes for both warm and cold weather, as well as city and country living. Do enough research on the varying climates across this huge country before you leave so you can properly plan what to take.

Apart from clothes there are a few basic items you most likely need to get into your luggage, including:  

  • Passport
  • Cash – US dollars are always handy, especially in small bills. Buy Chinese currency once there.
  • Air, train and cruise tickets (as applicable)
  • Travel insurance information
  • Itinerary
  • Guidebook
  • Credit cards & travelers checks for emergencies
  • Any toiletries you consider essential (deodorant, lotion etc)
  • Chargers and/or batteries for your electronic items
  • Camera
  • First aid kit
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Wristwatch
  • Raincoat/umbrella
  • Towel
  • Contact lenses with case and cleaning kit
  • Swimwear
  • Travel alarm o’clock
  • Personal Entertainment system e.g. MP3
  •  

Gifts for your project

We recommend that you bring a small gift to give to project staff and your host family. This doesn’t have to be expensive; something that represents your country is always good, or stationery, books or games if you're working with children. It’s a nice way for them to remember you after you leave.

Chapter 3:  Volunteer in China: Information You Must Know

Gather lots of information so you know what to expect while volunteering

Before you arrive in China to begin your volunteer program it’s crucial that you know exactly what is expected of you. Use the checklist below to remind yourself of all the things you should know for sure. 

Find out:

  • The name of your project
  • The exact location, address and contact details including; phone, email, website and social media message page.
  • What you are required to do on a daily basis  (duties, job roles, responsibilities)
  • The hours of operation, break times, and what your general schedule will look like
  • If there is a dress code
  • About any rules, regulations or guidelines you must adhere to
  • How many people you will be responsible for (especially if working in an orphanage or school.)
  • How you will get to and from your project

The number of staff and other volunteers working on the project

Learn about your host family or shared volunteer housing

Your host family will play a key role in your overall happiness, comfort level and quality of experience while volunteering.  Before you leave it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with them and learn as much as possible about their home structure, culture and way of life; as this will also make it easier to bond with them when you arrive. 

Some projects provide shared housing for their volunteers, while others favor hostels. These laces operate slightly differently, so you should talk to your volunteer organization about the details.

If you are staying with a host family you should try to find out about the following:

  • How many family members live in the house?
  • What are their ages, genders and relationships to each other?
  • Have they hosted volunteers before? If so, can I get references from past volunteers?
  • What is their religion, and how does that carry over to their home life?
  • Do I get a separate bedroom?
  • Can I expect a hot shower? What kind of toilet do they have?
  • How can I do my laundry?
  • What are their meal times?
  • Can I have an occasional guest (boy/girl) come to visit?
  • Are there any house rules for volunteers?
  • How far is it from my project, and is it acceptable to come home very late?
  • How far is it from bus or train stops? Will it be easy to go exploring on weekends?

Get connected with your local support team

You are leaving your home country (and comfort zone) to travel to the vast country of China, where you might be in a major city like Beijing or a more rural, remote area. Either way it is crucial to find out about the local support available to you when you arrive, just in case you need any help with or advice about your project or host family.

It's best to contact your organization and get all the information and contact details possible, including some names. Their office address, phone numbers and email addresses. Regardless of how big or small a local presence they have, there should be individuals living close to your project who can help you manage any situation that should arise. 

Make a final call before leaving

Before you begin your adventure you may well have compiled a  list of questions you still need answers to. If so you can easily ask these when you make a last minute call to your volunteer organization to check all is in place for your arrival.

Here are a few important things to check and ask about:

  • Make sure they have your flight and contact information.
  • Confirm that someone will be at the airport, where you should meet them and how you can identify them (gender, physical description, etc).
  • Ask about current weather conditions so you know what clothing to travel in.
  • Confirm all details about your project and host families; ask any questions that matter.
  • Provide them with your emergency contact information, if you haven’t done so already.

Chapter 4: Volunteer in China: Arriving and Getting Started

Cultural shock while volunteering in cambodia

Volunteering in China involves a heady experience of new ideas, culture, people, language and climate. Maximize this amazing opportunity by embracing everything, and maintaining realistic social and environmental expectations.

The more you can prepare for what you may see, hear, taste and smell the smoother your transition will be. And although at times you might feel disheartened to see other people in desperate situations try to keep in mind that every day you spend on your project contributes to the overall positive impact the volunteer program has on the community.

How to make your volunteer China experience rewarding

Do plenty of research about the local climate, so there are no surprises when you arrive.  If you’re traveling to a south or coastal region between April and June expect a lot of rain, and possibly some tropical cyclones (typhoons) which happen periodically until November. China is also prone to earthquakes. Ask your coordinator for your project about specific weather expectations to compliment any facts you find online.

Have a reasonable set of expectations in terms of communication, travel and basic amenities. Don’t compare everything to western standards; depending on where you are, transportation might be limited, and you might not find the same services you are accustomed to or brands/products you are used to buying in stores back home.

Do not try to impose your own cultural values on others. Remember that you are a visitor to a new culture with its own set of customs and values, which are different but equally valid as yours. Sharing information about your culture is a good thing, but don’t make the mistake of giving unwanted advice or suggestions to children or people you’re working with.

Learn at least the basic of the language. In parts of China you might have a hard time finding someone who speaks English, even police officers, bank executives or other businesspeople. If you can learn a few words and phrases you'll find it easier to get by.   Always carry a dictionary/phrasebook and a card with your temporary address written in the local language on it in case you get lost and need help.

Remember that China is still a developing country. Don’t expect to find luxury living conditions, and understand the limits of everything from transportation to safety. It's possible that your host family might not have comforts like heat, air-conditioning, western plumbing, and so on.

Enjoy the local culture and food. Be adventurous and try some freshly cooked street food and small local restaurants which are popular with Chinese people. You should also make sure you see some of the traditional Chinese cultural events in your region, such as  dance performances or festivals.

Be positive, cheerful and patient. You are there to help others as a volunteer, and even though you are making a positive difference to people’s lives it might not be easy for them to quickly adjust to you, especially if they are children in desperate situations.  Be compassionate and don’t take any less warm reactions personally. If you approach your tasks with the right attitude people will warm up to you faster.

Have fun, and remember that everything is an adventure.  Take everything in your stride; buses might not arrive on time and places and people might be different from what you expected. Think of these hiccups as good stories to tell once you get home.

Safety while volunteering in China

Before you leave check official websites for current travel warnings in China, and the region you are heading for specifically..Register your arrival and new contact details with your embassy, in case they need to contact you in an emergency situation.

Always carry a charged cell phone with you, with numbers for your embassy, the local police, your in-country coordinator and your host family's numbers. Any specific local safety advice will be available from your coordinator.

While volunteering, use the buddy system; travel in groups, especially after dark, and don’t walk alone through forests, mountains or anywhere remote. Use your common sense and trust your instincts; if you feel unsafe in a particular location, leave that place immediately, or call the police or your country coordinator. 

As you would anywhere, be wary of strangers who stop you to chat in the street. There is a common scam operating in China which involves foreigners being befriended and taken to a tearoom, only to be presented with an astronomical bill to pay.

Finally, be mindful of your health; always bring sunblock, water and insect repellent to minimize sun burn, dehydration and bug bites.

Do's and don'ts when volunteering in China

Do

  • Respect local culture and tradition, especially in relation to dress codes and public behavior. It's best to be polite and nonjudgmental about the customs or rituals you come across, even if they seem strange to you.
  • Travel in your free time. If you want to see more of the country than a day or weekend trip can offer make time to stay around for a while after your project ends.

Enjoy your work. A happy volunteer is a good volunteer; approaching each task with enthusiasm will motivate others, and help maintain a positive atmosphere on the project.

  • Try to learn something of the Mandarin language, it will make your experience much richer and could be a useful tool further down the road too. If language isn't your thing try a cooking class, or take up a new hobby like calligraphy. Your goal should be to take something away from this experience that can be useful to you down the road.
  • Respect your host family’s traditions. Be aware of their religious and cultural customs, from how they dress to foods they eat or holidays they observe. Blend in as much as possible, without compromising your own identity of course.

Don't

  • Comment on or complain about the limitation of the project.  You might not get your ideal schedule, and there might be certain tasks that volunteers simply cannot do, usually due to rules and regulations imposed by someone in authority, so try to deal with this as just one part of the experience.
  • Get frustrated easily – you are there to be a role model, often to people in difficult situations.  If another volunteer is difficult to work with resist the urge to openly criticize or respond. Practicing the art of patience isn't easy but it's worthwhile. 
  • Try to impose western values; share only those things from your home country that could add to their education in a positive and inoffensive way. 
  • wear very short dresses or revealing clothing, or show affection in public. China is quite a conservative culture.
  • comment on the limitations of developing countries or criticize anything about the local people, customs or lifestyle – you are there as a guest.

Culture shock

You are planning to travel across the globe, to a place completely different from your home country, in a different time zone, with a new and probably unfamiliar language and different cultural norms and values. There's no wonder most people will experience culture shock at some point.

The good news is that culture shock is generally a temporary condition, and it can be managed once you identify its existence. Here are some tips on ways to pinpoint and deal with culture shock while volunteering in China:

  • If you are uncomfortable in a situation, try to evaluate what’s really bothering you. Is it the people, things or surroundings at that moment that are making you ill at ease, or is it something entirely different?  Once you know what the problem is it's easier to put it into perspective and to discuss it with others.
  • There is a potential friend in every small group of people.  Bond with other volunteers and try to make genuine friendships.  Offer your support to them whenever possible, for they are likely experiencing similar emotions to you, being out of their home country.
  • Don’t take anything too seriously or personally.  People’s values are different, especially when it comes to age, gender or social habits.  Try not to let people’s attitudes or beliefs get the best of you, instead, try to find common ground with people. Learning their language or participating in cultural arts or activities is a great way to bond with people.
  • Get enough rest, and find a way to exercise if that is the normal routine you are used to.  Many times exhaustion and lack of good physical condition can affect your mental state of mind. Avoid this by staying healthy.
  • Skype with your family and friends back home, whenever possible.  Modern technology allows you to see, hear and interact with your loved ones whenever you have time and a wireless signal – free of charge.  Take advantage of this opportunity to beat the homesick blues.

Things to Do in China

As a volunteer in China you are making an invaluable contribution to society, but don't forget to take some time off and enjoy some of the amazing things China offers. Here are a few ideas on things to do and see while there.

  • Travel and Explore! Regardless of where you’re living, try to make it to at least a few of these places before heading home: The  Great Wall of China,  Forbidden City, Terracotta Army, Li River, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Jiuzhaigou, Ming Tombs, Giant Buddha, Huangshan and Jingshan Park, to name a few.  Bring a travel guide to learn about each region and pick an area to explore once your project is completed.
  • Learn the language.  Mandarin takes years to learn so don’t expect to master it in a few weeks or months, but it's entirely possible to pick up some useful symbols, words and phrases.  If your program offers free or discounted classes take advantage of the opportunity.
  • Learn to cook local food. Chinese food is quite eclectic, so you're bound to find plenty of things you would like to try and make. Take a cooking class if you have time, or have a friend or member of your host family teach you how to make a few dishes.
  • Bring a decent camera and get passionate about photography – after all, you are going to see some of the most picture worthy landscapes and historical sites in the world. If you have some knowledge of photography, this is a great chance to develop your skills.
  • Go to local festivals; this is a free and easy way to experience the specialty food of your area, as well as local songs, dances and crafts. Keep an eye on relevant websites or local newspapers for details of scheduled events, or use a guidebook to learn about festivals in other cities and regions.

Chapter 5: Volunteer in China: Completion of Project & Follow Up

Congratulations, you have had an amazing experience that many people can only dream of, and leaving it all behind will likely leave a void in your life that is hard to fill. The good news is that although your official volunteer in China program has ended you can maintain a connection to the project and country in various ways.

You could become an ambassador for volunteering abroad, and encourage family, friends or strangers to think about doing something similar. If you can't talk to people directly then sharing your experiences in a blog or an article for a local newspaper will reach a wide contemporary audience, and become a long lasting resource.

Giving honest feedback to your organization about your project can really help others make a decision. You can also leave reviews on general review websites and forums, and help potential volunteers feel confident about making the decision to go ahead and sign up.

Chapter 6: Volunteer in China: Most Frequently Asked Questions

How will I get from the airport to my host family/volunteer house?

In almost all cases, your volunteer project will arrange to have someone pick you up from the airport and take you to your host family or other accommodation. Please make sure your country coordinator has all of your flight information, and get their local phone number and contact information too, just in case.

Will there be support from staff in country?

Yes, almost all programs should have in-country staff able to assist you. Find out what type of specific support you will have, and how you can get in touch with them. Make sure to get their full contact information before you go.

How many other volunteers will be participating with me?

This depends on your organization. Big projects will probably have many volunteers and smaller ones will have fewer. Certain seasons are also more popular with volunteers in some countries. It's a good idea to find out more about how many others will be around so you know what to expect.

If I volunteer with my friend can we be placed in the same project and housed together?

Joining the same project isn't likely to be a problem, unless there is a pre-requisite such as language ability which one of you doesn't have. In terms of accommodation, in many cases this can be arranged too, but you should give your volunteer organization advanced notice of your special request.

Are meals and housing provided?

If you are placed with a host family your program fee will cover 2-3 meals a day at their place, but if you are staying in a hostel or shared volunteer house then food may not be provided. Check which applies to you directly with your coordinator.

I am a vegetarian will that be a problem?

In most cases no, but it's still a good idea to check and make sure.

Will my host family be able to speak English?

Mostly yes, particularly the younger members of the family who probably study English in school. Check with the organization about this if it matters to you.

Can I travel to other cities during my days off?

You are actively encouraged to use your days off to see the sites of China, and your program coordinator can offer you tips and suggestions.  Try to travel with other volunteers if you can, and make sure to look into transportation schedules and travel times to make the most practical decisions, particularly for day trips where time is limited.

Do I have to bring my own bedding and mosquito nets?

Most organizations offer a basic bed, but bring what you think you’ll need to feel more comfortable (foam mattress cover, pillow, etc). Unless you are planning to take a camping trip to the sub-tropic areas of China you probably won’t need a mosquito net.

What if I don't speak the native language?

In many cases this won’t be a problem, as local staff will speak English. However,  in some cases proficiency in the local language is essential to join a project, and even if not having even a basic understanding of Mandarin Chinese will help you get around and do things when not at the project site.

How will I get to my project every day?

It depends on the distance from your accommodation. If you can't walk between them you will probably travel by train or bus. You can find out more about this from your organization, and also confirm if your project travel expenses are covered or not.

Can I speak with a volunteer who has worked on my project in the past?

Yes, this absolutely helps in getting specific answers to any questions you have and useful tips about the area and the work. You should ask your organization for contact details of a few people.

What does the accommodation look like, are there pictures?

If you want to have a general sense of where you’ll be living it's best to ask your volunteer organization for photos or a description.

What kind of food will I eat while I'm there?

If you’re staying with a host family in China it’s likely that you’ll eat the traditional cooking that’s unique to that area, or regular Chinese food. When you know where you'll be placed you can do some research about the food that may be on offer.

How many hours per day will I be volunteering?

In general most volunteers work around 4-6 hours a day, but of course this will depend on the project you’ll be working on. Check with your organization for full details.

How much money do I need to bring?

Of course this depends on your spending habits, but volunteers in China usually find $50/week to be sufficient for extra food (on top of meals provided by the host family) and other basic expenses.  If you want to travel on your time off consult local travel guides for the specific costs of places you’d like to visit. 

China - Volunteers' Reviews

I would like to thank IFRE and Jeff Gao for the opportunity to observe the practice of Traditional Chinese medicine in Binzhou and Liaocheng. The highlight of the trip was visiting Dr Gu in Liaocheng and asking questions which will benefit my practice. Even though he is extremely busy he found time to invite us into his home and talk about the practice of Chinese medicine. A very humble and delightful man. I was equally impressed with my interpreter in Liaocheng. She has a good command of the English language and was able to translate, without to many problems, Chinese medical terminology. Even though our two cultures are different in many aspects I found the Chinese very friendly and accommodating, and a pleasure to be around. One aspect of the trip I enjoyed was the food and plan to incorporate some aspects into my own personal life. I also want to thank Jeff and his circle of friends who afforded me the opportunity to meet some individuals who made the trip worthwhile. Overall, the trip was informative with respect to my practice and experiencing the Chinese culture, and would recommend the trip to those interested in Chinese medicine and culture.

Jim Reinhart

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