FAQS from the China Volunteer Perspective
From Peace Corps Wiki
Will an iphone work in China?
Nearly all volunteers buy cell phones and use them as their primary method of communication with others in China. Many US cell phones do not allow you to change the SIM cards so are not useful in China unless you figure out how to unlock them. If you have a phone in which you can change the SIM card, bring it and just buy a new SIM card. As far as iphones go, China is beginning to open up to them, but they are not the same iphones that are sold in the US and other parts of the world. There are restrictions on WiFi which you may have to research on the internet blogs to find out about. Try contacting Apple directly, they may be most helpful.
What about banking in China?
Do you use a US debit card?
Everyone sets up a Chinese account once they get to their site. Most people bank with Bank of China. However, it is good to know that Bank of America and China Construction Bank have some sort of partnership. So if you bank with B of A, you can withdraw funds from your US account without any fees. Chase and other bank cards can also be used at ATMs in China to withdraw money or even check into some hotels, but contact your bank to see if your cards can be used in China. US bank and credit cards are also helpful for travel outside of China. Within China, credit cards are rarely used for purchasing items. Almost everyone uses cash.
What kind of technology do you have at your work sites?
Do you have document cameras and projectors in the classrooms? Do students use laptops or computer labs?
Some people have media classrooms with projectors and computers. Others have only chalk and a chalkboard. It varies. Some students may have their own computers but nothing is guaranteed. Internet cafes are becoming quite popular around China, so it may be likely that somewhere nearby there will be access to computers for students.
Which is better to keep in touch with home and China contacts - a Yahoo or Gmail account?
For now, gmail is great and widely used by volunteers. The current conflict with China and Google may create problems with that at some point in the futrue, and I believe gmail was blocked for a bit during the summer of 2009. Yahoo is also easy to use and has not been blocked. Hotmail is also accessible in China. Many Chinese use qq to communicate with each other. Some volunteers set up qq accounts. Also, texting is a good way of communicating as many people do not check their email as frequently as we may be accustomed.
How do you communicate with your families and US friends?
Skype is great. Set up a Skype account and ask your friends and family to as well. Also, most volunteers have cell phones. Friends and family can call for about 10 cents a minute on their end and it is free to receive calls. Also, everyone is required to have a land line at their site.
Should I set up a website or is this not a good idea?
Peace Corps asks that you notify them of any website/blog type things that you create as they want to ensure that you do not offend the government or your site hosts. You should think of what you post and how it will be perceived by outside readers. You can create passwords to limit this fear but not totally eradicate it. Also, many blogs and other web 2.0 things are blocked. Many people use proxies in order to access these sites, but it makes it a bit more difficult.
I read in the news China is stopping Facebook.
Facebook, twitter, youtube, blogger, and many other user-generated sites have been blocked since the summer of 2009 if not before. You will learn about proxies or personal vpns once you arrive if you don’t know about them and want to be able to access these types of sites.
What kind of luggage do you recommend - hard side or duffel? I've found light weight bags in both.
Hard suitcase can be easier and harder. Peace Corps reimburses us for train travel when we are traveling on official business. A roller suitcase works most of the time and is less heavy to carry, but can be hard on stairs, etc. A backpack can be useful for traveling within China and in surrounding countries, especially if you are hopping on buses and trains.
Those packing lists include so many heavy items - is it really advisable to pack kitchen items and books?
You can buy most everything you need in China. If you are not in a big city, you can buy things when you go to the PC office in Chengdu or have them sent from home. You also get used to not having everything you did before. If there is one thing you can’t live without, think about packing that. Books are floating around, but not as available as you might like. Ask around to other volunteers and have them sent later if you are really at a shortage. There are also e-readers (like the Kindle), which are more expensive but may be easier to pack. Amazon is also delivering to China now.
When are you free to travel or have visitors?
The first semester is generally from late August/early September to January 1 or early January. Then there is generally PC training. You are then free until March 1. The second semester starts in March and ends in late June. In between your first and second years of service, volunteers participate in a two week teacher training program. Then you are free from mid July until school starts. This being said, PC has various rules about vacation days that you will learn at the end of PST.
What is the laundry situation?
Most volunteers have their own washing machines in their apartments. Very few have a dryer, and most people hang their laundry outside to dry. You can buy detergent here; Tide is pretty popular. Something that may be useful, though, is a good stain remover. Dry cleaning is also available in almost all places.
Do you have roommates in your apartment?
No, we don't typically share our apartments with any roommates. In fact, Peace Corps regulations state that we can't have any roommates. There is one exception though, where the school didn't have two apartments for their two Volunteers, but they did have one huge one. So for this one site, there are two Volunteers living together (but they were asked first if they'd be willing and able to do it--- and now they say they can't imagine it any other way).
What exercise options are available?
Most sites have some kind of gym option. You'll pay between 70 and 200 RMB per month for membership, depending on your site. I actually have a gym where I paid 588 RMB ($75) for 12 months. It has treadmills, weights and various exercise classes. I also regularly use my school's track to go running. Some people go running on the streets, but I'm not brave enough for that! (Too many stares, cars and too much pollution)
Have you had friends/family visit?
Yes! My parents came to visit me this past January. It was kinda hectic preparing for it, finding the flights, getting the visas, etc. But once it was all taken care of, it was great. They were here for only a week, but I think it was enough. My school was so happy to have my parents come visit, they hosted a pretty awesome "banquet" (nice, fancy dinner in a nice hotel) for my parents.
Do you wear contact lenses there or just glasses as they suggest because of pollution?
Many PCVs wear contacts regularly. But you absolutely should bring the glasses that Peace Corps suggests. Each site has different air quality. If you bring both contacts and the glasses, they you'll have the option to decide for yourself what you're most comfortable doing.
How much luggage did you bring?
I brought one big bag with wheels for all of my clothes, books, etc. I also brought backpacker's backpack for long trips here during the holidays. And I brought one school-type backpack that also holds my laptop. This bag is big enough for day trips and weekend trips, so it has also been really convenient. While here, I have bought a couple of bags that I use for my daily commute to school and stuff. They're really cheap.
Are feminine hygiene products hard to come by?
Tampons are VERY hard to come by typically, but you can find the OB kind in the bigger cities (our regional capital has them in the pharmacies). Pads are the regular commodity here, and are of good enough quality. I personally brought a year's worth of tampons with me from the States, and haven't regretted it.
Are the students friendly?
Students are SOOOOO friendly! They are very polite, and maybe a little timid, especially in the beginning. Some students are "too friendly," and PCVs wish they'd be given more space. Other students aren't assertive enough, and some PCVs wish the students would be more proactive in initiating relationships with the PCV.
Have you ever felt under-prepared for the teaching assignment portion?
I have never felt under-prepared for the teaching assignment, though I do go through waves of thinking I could be doing a better job--- that goes with the territory. Especially when my motivation is low, I think my teaching really suffers. But that is true with most jobs. Typically, the fact that you are a foreign teacher gives you TONS of "street cred" with the students, so you have a lot of leeway. (But if you just don't care about the job, students will pick up on that, and its a pretty bad experience for everyone involved--- this has happened with some PCVs, but the only reason was their own level of commitment to the job). So if you care about being a good teacher, that's enough! Everything else will absolutely fall into place.
What can I pack for my mental health?
Save room in your luggage for or arrange for shipping of seemingly non-essential items, but which are necessary for you to continue with your hobby. For example, photography equipment, musical equipment, yoga gear, cooking utensils or ingredients, sports equipment, art supplies, or any other supplies necessary. While some of this you can buy in China, sometimes it's nice to have something with a little personal history. Also, don't make all your packing practical, bring a few clothing items that make you feel like “yourself.”