Gotoco Camp China

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○ Programme types - we run 100 projects, find out more about them here

Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese or any Chinese-language dialect) competency is not a requirement for our programmes, but you can learn Mandarin while you are here.

If you would like Mandarin lessons, make sure you let your programme know before you arrive. The method of learning depends on your level and the exact programme you are on. Most programmes offer more formal lessons twice per week for an hour each time, usually aimed at a beginner’s level, as well as the opportunity to learn informally from Chinese teachers, assistants and friends throughout your stay. Lessons and practise usually principally focus on oral and listening skills, but if you would like to learn some writing then let your programme know before you arrive. Some programmes will offer informal opportunities to learn without formal classes, depending on the teaching schedule. Information on how your programme will provide lessons will be provided at the interview stage. If this is very important to you, then make sure you let your programme and us know what you are looking for.

If you already know some Mandarin, then all of our programmes in China offer you a great opportunity to practise and enhance your language skills. You will have ample time to chat with your fellow teachers and local residents in Mandarin, so do make the most of it! Remember though that your principal purpose is to teach the children English so do make sure you mainly speak English with the students and save your personal language learning for after class. Most programmes will not usually offer more advanced Mandarin reading or writing classes, but if you have particular goals then communicate these before you arrive and your programme coordinator will see what is possible for you.

If you have never learnt Mandarin before, then, while it can be frustrating at first not to be able to understand a lot of what is being said around you, you will become used to this fairly quickly. Learn the words for ‘hello’ (你好nǐ hǎo), ‘thank you’ (谢谢xìe xìe) and ‘goodbye’ (再见zàijiàn) before you come to get the ball rolling and show your Chinese colleagues and Mandarin teachers that you are keen to learn about the local culture and language. You will probably be surprised at how many words and phrases you come to recognise during your time in China. We will also send you a starter pack with some key phrases before you arrive in China.

If you would like to start learning before you come to China, then please contact us for more information. There are great apps available to help you start to learn Mandarin, such as Duolingo, and you can often find language partners either on campus or online on sites such as www.italki.com. Please do use all the resources available to you if you are interested in learning the language!

If you are worried about your language skills, then don’t despair: every programme will assign teaching assistants or programme coordinators who can speak English to you, and many people around town can often speak some English. However, please do remember that English is not ubiquitous in China and that you may need to use body language and other communication methods to make your point at times, especially if you travel independently in rural areas—this is part of the fun of travelling! We recommend bringing a simple phrase book with you to help if you decide to explore China on your own. If you are out and about without a bilingual teaching assistant, it is generally also best to look for younger people if you need help in English as they are far more likely to have learnt English at school.

○ Pre-departure questions - important information for people preparing to join us in China!

Credit/Debit Cards and Cash

While China is miles ahead of most of the world in terms of mobile payments, most places in China do not take credit cards, so you will have to take Renminbi (Chinese currency) wherever you go. There are ATMs where you can take money out, but tell your bank that you are in China and be aware of international fees! Currency cards, such as CaxtonFx, Monzo or from the Post Office (UK), are also a good option to avoid unfavourable exchange rates, and they offer a free online checking account with no fees for international withdraws.

These currency cards work at most banks which accept foreign cards, such as ICBC, Bank of China and China Construction Bank. Bank of America account holders can withdraw money from China Construction Bank free of charge. As a rule of thumb, always let your financial institution know when and where you are going overseas to avoid problems with your bank account.

While China is rapidly changing when it comes to finance and banking, it is still a good idea to carry cash. We recommend bringing a reserve of cash, e.g. C¥1-2000, in case your bank card has any problems while you are here. You can also exchange money at the airport when you arrive, or at banks, but beware bank processes can be more complicated.

Be aware you will need to show your passport when exchanging money. Generally, most major banks in China accept Visa or Mastercard or Amex cards from major foreign banks.

Mobile Payments

China is miles ahead of most countries around the world in terms of mobile payments. Even in small rural villages or up secluded mountains, you can use WeChat or AliPay to pay for goods and services, just by scanning a QR code. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account. Some international cards, such as Monzo, can be used on WeChat, but don’t bank on it: still follow the guidelines for cards and cash shown above as the payment system will usually require you to have a Chinese bank account.

Even if you cannot use it for payments, WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and for making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses also often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.

Find out more about WeChat here. For information on phone and data usage in China, please read this FAQ.

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into an online form on our site, which our partner schools can view for reference.

Each partner school has different airport or train station pick-up plans and you should communicate directly with your Wechat contact (usually the interviewer) for the best plan. We will assist with communication when necessary, but you must understand that it is your responsibility to ensure you have agreed on your pick-up arrangements with your programme team before coming out to China

Arrival

The first thing you’re likely to notice when you arrive (if like >90% of those that join us, you’re not a Mandarin speaker) is how different the language is from English, and how difficult it can be to understand things once you get out of the airport. It’s quite normal to feel overwhelmed by this, but don’t worry! Follow the instructions given by the school for your airport pick-up or the instructions on how you can make the transit yourself. If you can’t see your meeting group rightaway, stay where you are and call one of the numbers given to you by the school or your Gotoco representative. Most transport hubs/tourist sites have bilingual staff in case you need help, likewise many people in China are able to speak some English in case you need to ask for assistance. Please also read this FAQ on Mandarin.

If you need to travel from the airport to another location for pick-up, make sure you have clear written instructions in English and Chinese, as well as contact phone numbers. Showing the directions for where you need to go, such as a train station or bus connection, to someone by pointing at the Chinese characters you have written down will help you find your way. Though not everyone speaks English, pointing and miming can still get you a long way.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on your passport and other valuables when leaving the airport and travelling on to your school – with everything else going on, and the fact that you may be tired from the long journey, it can be easy to forget about your valuables. While petty theft is often less prevalent in many parts of China than in the UK or USA, you should always still be very vigilant with all your valuables – especially in transit areas/tourist hubs. It might be a good idea to familiarise yourself with this list of scams that tourists sometimes encounter – http://travelscams.org/asia/common-tourist-scams-china/ transit hubs/ – tourist areas are the usual places where you could encounter these.

If you have any problems, don’t hesitate to ask for help—contact either the Gotoco team or staff from your school (or both). And if there are problems connecting to a phone network, try looking for somewhere with free wifi or calling options, e.g. in the airport, in cafés, or restaurants.

Once you arrive on your programme, your school should arrange for you to register your location with the police. This is a normal procedure for all foreigners in China. Speak to your programme coordinators to make sure you have done everything you need to do, and contact Gotoco if you have any concerns.

Internet access behind the ‘Great Fire Wall’ of China. Banned sites and how to access them?

Wi-Fi is provided on your programmes so you may want to take a laptop or other handheld device to access the internet and prepare lessons well or just chat to your families/friends. As you may know—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Google, Gmail and other foreign sites  and platforms (even Tinder..) are not accessible in China. Prior to entering China, we suggest you get a VPN or take measures to ensure you are able to access alternate means for communication—such as hotmail (if you are a Gmail user, as its banned..) or WeChat prior to coming out.

VPN – the key to access internet without restrictions

If you wish to access Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Google, Gmail and other blocked sites while in China, please configure a VPN now.  If in doubt about whether you can access a site, please check here.

VPN means ‘virtual private network’ it allows you to bypass Chinese internet restrictions, it gives you access to the internet of whichever nation’s IP address you log into. Most universities around the world offer a VPN for free to their students, which is intended for you to be able to access sites that you need to be in campus to view, such as JSTOR and other academic journals. Please contact your university to check if they have a VPN service which you can use. We suggest you get a premium VPN, as outlined below:

Our favourite VPN: Our Beijing office team need access to Facebook etc everyday, we live behind the Great Fire Wall so have some opinions on VPNs which you may find helpful. At present, August 2019, our preferred VPN is this one: https://www.sednax.com/  in our experience, it only works well on Laptops and not phones/tablets. It is very cost effective and works very well in China, but is a little tricky to setup. It has a totally different system to most premium VPNs available it is worth the effort getting setup because we haven’t had a single day in our Beijing office where it didn’t work this year. Otherwise, you can pay around £5 a month for an easier to configure VPN that works on devices and laptops, for those options read the next paragraph (these VPNs mentioned below aren’t recommended by our Beijing office team as they are too unreliable long term, but they would be fine for a short trip/short usage.)

Easier to setup premium VPNs:  If the option above is to hard to setup, then you can pay £5-10 a month for a decent private VPN service. One of the best ones is called Astrill, you can read about it here , for it to work well you will need to purchase the add-ons such as dedicated IP/VIP.  An alternative to Astrill is Express VPN (but it tends not to work so well in China…) both VPNs are easy to setup and work on computers and phones. There are quite a few VPN providers offering service for free, but you get what you pay for… Some premium VPN services also allow you to cancel within 30 days at no cost, which might mean you can use their services and cancel before you are charged. Generally, our Beijing office team finds these popular VPNs to be unreliable but they tend to work a little bit of the time…Unfortunately, any premium VPN service ends up being popular and once it is used alot then the government tried to sniff it out and crack down on it.

Please test your VPN before you head to China, its much harder to get setup once in country: After downloading a VPN and turning it on, it should change your IP address. To test whether it works please first go to this link without it turned on,  and then go there again with it turned on. If the IPs are significantly different then the VPN should be working and will function in China.

Legality:

People often ask us if it is legal to use a VPN in China. This is a fascinating question! Some estimate as many as 10% of China’s population use a VPN, legal issues have only arisen in minority cases for those people selling VPNs. It is very normal among urban, young, student segments of China to use a VPN – so don’t worry!

WeChat

WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.

Many people pay for their goods and services by scanning a business owners’ QR code through their WeChat app. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account.

Find out more about WeChat here. For information on phone and data usage in China, please read this FAQ.

China has a health system that differs significantly from what you may be used to in the West. While there is huge reform going on in healthcare in China, there is currently no system of primary care in place that offers Western medicine—all medical issues that require Western medical attention are treated in large general hospitals.

This can mean long waits, distant journeys and high treatment prices for those hoping to get seen to for minor ailments . The primary care that is offered usually comes in the form of pharmacies that specialise in Chinese medicine. There are certainly benefits to both systems, however if you are used to Western medicine we suggest coming to China with a well stocked first aid kit so that you can treat yourself for minor issues such as

  • colds or influenza
  • minor wounds, such as blisters
  • mild food poisoning, such as traveller’s diarrhoea
  • headaches

Please also be sure to have enough medicine to cater to any long standing conditions you may have. It will be hard to acquire replacement medications in country. Among other things be sure to be well stocked on

  • asthma inhalers
  • nasal decongestant sprays
  • EpiPens
  • other prescription medication

Participants on our programmes often comment on how much safer China feels than the UK, Canada and the USA. Though people typically have a great time in China, you should still exercise a sensible level of caution and be prepared: be careful and sensible and avoid taking any unnecessary risks. Keep your valuables safe and secure at all times. Raise any concerns about the security of your accommodation with your programme coordinator and contact Gotoco if you need more assistance.

Neither our organisation nor our partner schools can accept liability for any difficulties that you may encounter–but naturally we will do all we can to assist in any way possible. We have provided placements to hundreds of participants over the years, and never yet encountered any major problems.

Before coming, make sure you have photocopies of your passport information page, visa and travel/health insurance policy. Keep the copies in a different place to the originals so if you lose your bag, you can use them to get a replacement. Foreigners are supposed to carry their passport round with them in China, but we recommend only carrying photocopies of your passport and visa, to reduce the risk of losing these important documents. You can use a driving licence or other national ID for entry into bars, if necessary.

Be careful crossing roads—there are normally multiple lanes of traffic and cars/bikes/scooters/buses to watch out for. The volume of traffic is generally quite high, but also quite stop-start and motorists are generally ready to slow down for pedestrians and bikes if necessary, but ensure you make eye contact with the driver and are certain they will stop before stepping into the road. Generally it is best to wait until the road is quiet before crossing, as you would at home. Make sure you follow all traffic signals.

Always be alert and aware that the rules of the road are different to what you’re used to. Use of car horns is very common and can be irritating when you’re not accustomed to it, but it helps to warn others that a vehicle is coming, rather than being used infrequently (as in the UK) as a sign of danger or extreme annoyance.

The most common hassles travellers run into are instances of petty theft at tourist sites and traveller’s diarrhoea. We suggest you

  • exercise normal caution
  • avoid suspicious situations
  • take care of your belongings
  • do not eat anything suspect
  • carry a basic first aid kit
  • use common sense
  • do not break any local laws

Check out this link which has been recommended by previous travellers.

For more information, check

  • travel advisories of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office accessible here
  • travel warnings section of the U.S. State Department at (202) 647-5225
  • travel advisories of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control at (877) FYI-TRIP or online here

Chinese food is delicious and there are usually plenty of delicacies to choose from—spicy and non-spicy, hot and cold, savoury and sweet. Be prepared to try new things, even if you have no idea what they are exactly. The food in China is very different from the dishes you might be used to seeing in Chinese restaurants at home in Europe or North America, so don’t be surprised if the food you’re presented with looks very unfamiliar. It’s all part of the experience and most of the time you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

If you think you’ll miss English food, maybe bring a couple of things with you from home—Marmite, biscuits, crisps and chocolate all help reduce any cravings for home comforts. Tea is also a good example of something which you can get in China but isn’t quite the same as it is in the UK, so if you’re addicted to English Breakfast Tea maybe consider bringing teabags. There will be plenty of opportunity both to try new foods and to buy things which you recognise from home. Supermarkets contain some interesting surprises and can be fun to explore. The variety of flavours of crisps is particularly impressive, ranging from standard flavours to more diverse ones like yoghurt and cucumber.

If you are vegetarian or have any food allergies or dietary requirements, you should ask one of your contacts at the school how to communicate this to others. Get your manager to write it down in Chinese and English, and carry it with you at all times.

If you have a nut allergy, make sure you communicate this clearly before any meals and have it written down to show restaurants. Peanut oil is used quite commonly in China and you must be very careful to avoid it, if you have allergies.

It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.

Avoid drinking tap water in almost all locations in China. Bottled water is readily available and you should always make sure you have enough water overnight or if you’re going on activities. This is especially true in rural areas, where shops might close earlier in the evening or you might have to wait for transport into town—stock up on large bottles of water to make sure you always have enough.

Hot or boiled water is also more common than cold water. Many Chinese people much prefer drinking hot water to cold, claiming health benefits, and you will find that you are often given boiled water in restaurants. This water is fine to drink, but if you feel uncomfortable then bottled water is usually available for purchase. You may also be surprised by the benefits of hot water with lemon and ginger when you’re feeling a bit run down or tired! You might also want to purchase a flask if you would like to save money (and plastic!) by boiling water for your own consumption.

In terms of other drinks—please enjoy the variety on offer, with many soft drinks being different to what you might be used to at home, although all the regulars like Coca Cola are also available. If you’re in Beijing and like fizzy drinks, then make sure you try Arctic Ocean (Běibīngyáng 北冰洋)! Otherwise, all sorts of bottled drinks are available throughout the country; first time visitors usually get excited about the delicious range of flavoured teas, soy milk drinks, ‘Bubble Milk Tea’, hot tea and, of course, alcoholic beverages.

If you drink alcohol, then please take note: occasionally venues (usually glitzy nightclubs and bars) might sell adulterated hard spirits, which can give you a bad hangover or make you very inebriated. There have also been stories of people being poisoned by adulterated spirits, so do be careful. However, most locations are perfectly safe, you should just make sure to be careful to always know what you are drinking, as you should anywhere in the world, and always drink in moderation.

You may also be introduced to Báijiǔ白酒—China’s famous rice spirit. It is occasionally referred to as ‘white wine’ or ‘rice wine’. Please drink with moderation, it is stronger than most spirits you are used to! People in China tend to be very hospitable, and in the evenings might treat you to rounds of drinks—be sure to know your limits and drink sensibly.

It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.

○ What is China like? Useful tips and insights for your time in China

Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese or any Chinese-language dialect) competency is not a requirement for our programmes, but you can learn Mandarin while you are here.

If you would like Mandarin lessons, make sure you let your programme know before you arrive. The method of learning depends on your level and the exact programme you are on. Most programmes offer more formal lessons twice per week for an hour each time, usually aimed at a beginner’s level, as well as the opportunity to learn informally from Chinese teachers, assistants and friends throughout your stay. Lessons and practise usually principally focus on oral and listening skills, but if you would like to learn some writing then let your programme know before you arrive. Some programmes will offer informal opportunities to learn without formal classes, depending on the teaching schedule. Information on how your programme will provide lessons will be provided at the interview stage. If this is very important to you, then make sure you let your programme and us know what you are looking for.

If you already know some Mandarin, then all of our programmes in China offer you a great opportunity to practise and enhance your language skills. You will have ample time to chat with your fellow teachers and local residents in Mandarin, so do make the most of it! Remember though that your principal purpose is to teach the children English so do make sure you mainly speak English with the students and save your personal language learning for after class. Most programmes will not usually offer more advanced Mandarin reading or writing classes, but if you have particular goals then communicate these before you arrive and your programme coordinator will see what is possible for you.

If you have never learnt Mandarin before, then, while it can be frustrating at first not to be able to understand a lot of what is being said around you, you will become used to this fairly quickly. Learn the words for ‘hello’ (你好nǐ hǎo), ‘thank you’ (谢谢xìe xìe) and ‘goodbye’ (再见zàijiàn) before you come to get the ball rolling and show your Chinese colleagues and Mandarin teachers that you are keen to learn about the local culture and language. You will probably be surprised at how many words and phrases you come to recognise during your time in China. We will also send you a starter pack with some key phrases before you arrive in China.

If you would like to start learning before you come to China, then please contact us for more information. There are great apps available to help you start to learn Mandarin, such as Duolingo, and you can often find language partners either on campus or online on sites such as www.italki.com. Please do use all the resources available to you if you are interested in learning the language!

If you are worried about your language skills, then don’t despair: every programme will assign teaching assistants or programme coordinators who can speak English to you, and many people around town can often speak some English. However, please do remember that English is not ubiquitous in China and that you may need to use body language and other communication methods to make your point at times, especially if you travel independently in rural areas—this is part of the fun of travelling! We recommend bringing a simple phrase book with you to help if you decide to explore China on your own. If you are out and about without a bilingual teaching assistant, it is generally also best to look for younger people if you need help in English as they are far more likely to have learnt English at school.

Credit/Debit Cards and Cash

While China is miles ahead of most of the world in terms of mobile payments, most places in China do not take credit cards, so you will have to take Renminbi (Chinese currency) wherever you go. There are ATMs where you can take money out, but tell your bank that you are in China and be aware of international fees! Currency cards, such as CaxtonFx, Monzo or from the Post Office (UK), are also a good option to avoid unfavourable exchange rates, and they offer a free online checking account with no fees for international withdraws.

These currency cards work at most banks which accept foreign cards, such as ICBC, Bank of China and China Construction Bank. Bank of America account holders can withdraw money from China Construction Bank free of charge. As a rule of thumb, always let your financial institution know when and where you are going overseas to avoid problems with your bank account.

While China is rapidly changing when it comes to finance and banking, it is still a good idea to carry cash. We recommend bringing a reserve of cash, e.g. C¥1-2000, in case your bank card has any problems while you are here. You can also exchange money at the airport when you arrive, or at banks, but beware bank processes can be more complicated.

Be aware you will need to show your passport when exchanging money. Generally, most major banks in China accept Visa or Mastercard or Amex cards from major foreign banks.

Mobile Payments

China is miles ahead of most countries around the world in terms of mobile payments. Even in small rural villages or up secluded mountains, you can use WeChat or AliPay to pay for goods and services, just by scanning a QR code. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account. Some international cards, such as Monzo, can be used on WeChat, but don’t bank on it: still follow the guidelines for cards and cash shown above as the payment system will usually require you to have a Chinese bank account.

Even if you cannot use it for payments, WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and for making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses also often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.

Find out more about WeChat here. For information on phone and data usage in China, please read this FAQ.

Once your programme is confirmed, you will be directed to buy flights and upload your arrival and departure information into an online form on our site, which our partner schools can view for reference.

Each partner school has different airport or train station pick-up plans and you should communicate directly with your Wechat contact (usually the interviewer) for the best plan. We will assist with communication when necessary, but you must understand that it is your responsibility to ensure you have agreed on your pick-up arrangements with your programme team before coming out to China

Arrival

The first thing you’re likely to notice when you arrive (if like >90% of those that join us, you’re not a Mandarin speaker) is how different the language is from English, and how difficult it can be to understand things once you get out of the airport. It’s quite normal to feel overwhelmed by this, but don’t worry! Follow the instructions given by the school for your airport pick-up or the instructions on how you can make the transit yourself. If you can’t see your meeting group rightaway, stay where you are and call one of the numbers given to you by the school or your Gotoco representative. Most transport hubs/tourist sites have bilingual staff in case you need help, likewise many people in China are able to speak some English in case you need to ask for assistance. Please also read this FAQ on Mandarin.

If you need to travel from the airport to another location for pick-up, make sure you have clear written instructions in English and Chinese, as well as contact phone numbers. Showing the directions for where you need to go, such as a train station or bus connection, to someone by pointing at the Chinese characters you have written down will help you find your way. Though not everyone speaks English, pointing and miming can still get you a long way.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on your passport and other valuables when leaving the airport and travelling on to your school – with everything else going on, and the fact that you may be tired from the long journey, it can be easy to forget about your valuables. While petty theft is often less prevalent in many parts of China than in the UK or USA, you should always still be very vigilant with all your valuables – especially in transit areas/tourist hubs. It might be a good idea to familiarise yourself with this list of scams that tourists sometimes encounter – http://travelscams.org/asia/common-tourist-scams-china/ transit hubs/ – tourist areas are the usual places where you could encounter these.

If you have any problems, don’t hesitate to ask for help—contact either the Gotoco team or staff from your school (or both). And if there are problems connecting to a phone network, try looking for somewhere with free wifi or calling options, e.g. in the airport, in cafés, or restaurants.

Once you arrive on your programme, your school should arrange for you to register your location with the police. This is a normal procedure for all foreigners in China. Speak to your programme coordinators to make sure you have done everything you need to do, and contact Gotoco if you have any concerns.

Activities depend on your location. In areas such as Yangshuo in Guangxi, you can go kayaking, hiking and caving in your spare time. Everyone will have the offer to join us here once their programme ends in another location.

In urban areas such as Beijing and Shanghai, you can spend afternoons at tea shops, go and see acrobatics or explore historical treasures. Please discuss the sites in your location with your programme contact once we confirm your location.

We encourage all of our volunteers to travel China as much as they can after finishing their programme. We can help you work out where you want to travel and point you in the right direction. Travelling to Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Macau and back into China counts as leaving China and re-entering, so, if you plan to visit these places during your stay, you will have to make sure your visa permits this before planning your trip. You can learn more about visa requirements by reading our FAQ on crossing the Hong Kong and Macau borders.

Our base in Yangshuo, where you will end your time in China with us, is a great place to launch further travel from, as it and neighbouring Guilin have abundant high-speed rail links across southern China, including to Guangzhou, Shenzhen and across Guangdong province, as well as to Changsha in Hunan or Guiyang in Guizhou, among others. A popular route with past Gotoco-ers would see you start by visiting the beautiful Longji rice terraces near Guilin, before travelling north to Zhangjiajie, a stunning national park in Hunan province, whose scenery inspired the Hallelujah mountains in Avatar, and then on west to Chongqing or Chengdu in Sichuan province.

We can offer travel recommendations based on how much time you have and whether you’d rather visit busy urban centres, see beautiful nature, travel to places off the beaten trail, sample culinary delights, or explore cultural relics. From Yangshuo, you could also travel down to southeast Asia, as Vietnam is only a roughly 8-hour bus journey from Yangshuo.

We’re always here to guide you in planning your trip!

Internet access behind the ‘Great Fire Wall’ of China. Banned sites and how to access them?

Wi-Fi is provided on your programmes so you may want to take a laptop or other handheld device to access the internet and prepare lessons well or just chat to your families/friends. As you may know—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Google, Gmail and other foreign sites  and platforms (even Tinder..) are not accessible in China. Prior to entering China, we suggest you get a VPN or take measures to ensure you are able to access alternate means for communication—such as hotmail (if you are a Gmail user, as its banned..) or WeChat prior to coming out.

VPN – the key to access internet without restrictions

If you wish to access Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Google, Gmail and other blocked sites while in China, please configure a VPN now.  If in doubt about whether you can access a site, please check here.

VPN means ‘virtual private network’ it allows you to bypass Chinese internet restrictions, it gives you access to the internet of whichever nation’s IP address you log into. Most universities around the world offer a VPN for free to their students, which is intended for you to be able to access sites that you need to be in campus to view, such as JSTOR and other academic journals. Please contact your university to check if they have a VPN service which you can use. We suggest you get a premium VPN, as outlined below:

Our favourite VPN: Our Beijing office team need access to Facebook etc everyday, we live behind the Great Fire Wall so have some opinions on VPNs which you may find helpful. At present, August 2019, our preferred VPN is this one: https://www.sednax.com/  in our experience, it only works well on Laptops and not phones/tablets. It is very cost effective and works very well in China, but is a little tricky to setup. It has a totally different system to most premium VPNs available it is worth the effort getting setup because we haven’t had a single day in our Beijing office where it didn’t work this year. Otherwise, you can pay around £5 a month for an easier to configure VPN that works on devices and laptops, for those options read the next paragraph (these VPNs mentioned below aren’t recommended by our Beijing office team as they are too unreliable long term, but they would be fine for a short trip/short usage.)

Easier to setup premium VPNs:  If the option above is to hard to setup, then you can pay £5-10 a month for a decent private VPN service. One of the best ones is called Astrill, you can read about it here , for it to work well you will need to purchase the add-ons such as dedicated IP/VIP.  An alternative to Astrill is Express VPN (but it tends not to work so well in China…) both VPNs are easy to setup and work on computers and phones. There are quite a few VPN providers offering service for free, but you get what you pay for… Some premium VPN services also allow you to cancel within 30 days at no cost, which might mean you can use their services and cancel before you are charged. Generally, our Beijing office team finds these popular VPNs to be unreliable but they tend to work a little bit of the time…Unfortunately, any premium VPN service ends up being popular and once it is used alot then the government tried to sniff it out and crack down on it.

Please test your VPN before you head to China, its much harder to get setup once in country: After downloading a VPN and turning it on, it should change your IP address. To test whether it works please first go to this link without it turned on,  and then go there again with it turned on. If the IPs are significantly different then the VPN should be working and will function in China.

Legality:

People often ask us if it is legal to use a VPN in China. This is a fascinating question! Some estimate as many as 10% of China’s population use a VPN, legal issues have only arisen in minority cases for those people selling VPNs. It is very normal among urban, young, student segments of China to use a VPN – so don’t worry!

WeChat

WeChat, a mobile app similar to Whatsapp, is highly popular in China. It will be invaluable during your time in China for communicating with the team at your school and making friends locally, so we urge you to download it now. Not only is it useful for messaging friends and family, businesses often give discounts to customers following their WeChat account.

Many people pay for their goods and services by scanning a business owners’ QR code through their WeChat app. However, this requires you, the user, to link your bank account or add money to your account.

Find out more about WeChat here. For information on phone and data usage in China, please read this FAQ.

China has a health system that differs significantly from what you may be used to in the West. While there is huge reform going on in healthcare in China, there is currently no system of primary care in place that offers Western medicine—all medical issues that require Western medical attention are treated in large general hospitals.

This can mean long waits, distant journeys and high treatment prices for those hoping to get seen to for minor ailments . The primary care that is offered usually comes in the form of pharmacies that specialise in Chinese medicine. There are certainly benefits to both systems, however if you are used to Western medicine we suggest coming to China with a well stocked first aid kit so that you can treat yourself for minor issues such as

  • colds or influenza
  • minor wounds, such as blisters
  • mild food poisoning, such as traveller’s diarrhoea
  • headaches

Please also be sure to have enough medicine to cater to any long standing conditions you may have. It will be hard to acquire replacement medications in country. Among other things be sure to be well stocked on

  • asthma inhalers
  • nasal decongestant sprays
  • EpiPens
  • other prescription medication

For many volunteers the participation in assistant teaching is by far the most enjoyable and rewarding part of their China experience. You should have been informed before arriving about the age, level of English and number of students you will be helping to teach (if not, the school should happily tell you what you need to know). It might be a good idea to have a think about any teaching materials you might like to bring with you—stickers and sweets are usually pretty popular and can help to control a noisy class. The students are generally very enthusiastic, and both they and the teachers will be really grateful to you for giving up your time to assist in the teaching of English. The most important qualities are enthusiasm, patience and commitment to your role. English culture and language may be just as unfamiliar to the children as Chinese is to you, so bear this in mind and adapt your lessons as needed.

 

Teaching methods in China are generally very different from language teaching in England; while the language lessons you may be used to will likely have incorporated games, creative tasks and group work, the way English is taught in China is quite focused on rote-learning. Often, lessons consist of ‘drilling’ (you’ll have learnt this in your TEFL course–this is a method of teaching whereby a teacher reads a word/sentence and the students repeat it back to them numerous times). You might therefore be surprised by how enthusiastically the children respond to games and other fun teaching methods (or perhaps by their reluctance to get involved), as it might be the first time they have been taught in this way.

 

Similarly, you might be asked to help out in lessons by simply reading out of a textbook and asking the children to repeat back to you. This may seem a bit boring or ineffective, it is the method which the students will likely be used to and most confident with. Feel free to innovate! The schools are usually happy for you to bring in your own ideas too, and as you spend more time with your classes you will start to get to know which methods work best.

 

Read through the Gotoco TEFL documents carefully before you come out and start to prepare lesson plans based on information provided by your schools. The TEFL course includes general teacher training, as well as China-specific tips on class management, school hierarchies and effective practices.

China has a huge population, but with less diversity than many North American or European countries—so foreigners do stand out. This is particularly true of smaller cities where Western visitors are rarer. In certain places, you might be some of the first foreign or Western people your students have ever met, or at least got to know. Similarly, many older Chinese people won’t have travelled much or at all, and so will be even more likely to be surprised when they see you.

A natural consequence of this is that foreigners can get treated with great hospitality and locals tend to be very friendly, generous and curious about you. The same impulse means it is common for visitors to be stared at or have their photos taken without permission. People may take photos of you, sometimes subtly and sometimes not. You might get asked to pose for photos, particularly with children, or people might simply take a photo of you while you’re not looking. This will probably become quite normal to you after a while, but can be a bit strange the first few times—remember that nothing negative is normally meant by it, you’re just more noticeable and unfamiliar. Whilst it may cause awkwardness in some cultures to realise that someone has noticed you staring at them, in China this often isn’t the case; again, nothing is meant by it.

Participants on our programmes often comment on how much safer China feels than the UK, Canada and the USA. Though people typically have a great time in China, you should still exercise a sensible level of caution and be prepared: be careful and sensible and avoid taking any unnecessary risks. Keep your valuables safe and secure at all times. Raise any concerns about the security of your accommodation with your programme coordinator and contact Gotoco if you need more assistance.

Neither our organisation nor our partner schools can accept liability for any difficulties that you may encounter–but naturally we will do all we can to assist in any way possible. We have provided placements to hundreds of participants over the years, and never yet encountered any major problems.

Before coming, make sure you have photocopies of your passport information page, visa and travel/health insurance policy. Keep the copies in a different place to the originals so if you lose your bag, you can use them to get a replacement. Foreigners are supposed to carry their passport round with them in China, but we recommend only carrying photocopies of your passport and visa, to reduce the risk of losing these important documents. You can use a driving licence or other national ID for entry into bars, if necessary.

Be careful crossing roads—there are normally multiple lanes of traffic and cars/bikes/scooters/buses to watch out for. The volume of traffic is generally quite high, but also quite stop-start and motorists are generally ready to slow down for pedestrians and bikes if necessary, but ensure you make eye contact with the driver and are certain they will stop before stepping into the road. Generally it is best to wait until the road is quiet before crossing, as you would at home. Make sure you follow all traffic signals.

Always be alert and aware that the rules of the road are different to what you’re used to. Use of car horns is very common and can be irritating when you’re not accustomed to it, but it helps to warn others that a vehicle is coming, rather than being used infrequently (as in the UK) as a sign of danger or extreme annoyance.

The most common hassles travellers run into are instances of petty theft at tourist sites and traveller’s diarrhoea. We suggest you

  • exercise normal caution
  • avoid suspicious situations
  • take care of your belongings
  • do not eat anything suspect
  • carry a basic first aid kit
  • use common sense
  • do not break any local laws

Check out this link which has been recommended by previous travellers.

For more information, check

  • travel advisories of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office accessible here
  • travel warnings section of the U.S. State Department at (202) 647-5225
  • travel advisories of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control at (877) FYI-TRIP or online here

Most major cities have subway systems, and smaller cities or rural areas have buses and trains. Ask for information on public transport, including how and where to buy tickets, from your programme coordinators.

For longer journeys, your programme coordinators will be able to help you plan your trip and purchase tickets, although you will usually need to pay for yourself unless it is for a programme activity.

The train network in China is vast and often inexpensive, with both regular and high-speed trains crisscrossing the country daily. It is well-worth trying out a high-speed train while you are there, and an overnight sleeper train is a must! If you are travelling to and from Yangshuo at the end of your time in China, then consider getting a slow train on the way there and a high-speed train on the way back (or vice-versa). Beware that tickets often do sellout quickly, so talk to your programme coordinators about buying tickets well in advance.

If you need any extra assistance, do not hesitate to contact your Gotoco representative.

Chinese food is delicious and there are usually plenty of delicacies to choose from—spicy and non-spicy, hot and cold, savoury and sweet. Be prepared to try new things, even if you have no idea what they are exactly. The food in China is very different from the dishes you might be used to seeing in Chinese restaurants at home in Europe or North America, so don’t be surprised if the food you’re presented with looks very unfamiliar. It’s all part of the experience and most of the time you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

If you think you’ll miss English food, maybe bring a couple of things with you from home—Marmite, biscuits, crisps and chocolate all help reduce any cravings for home comforts. Tea is also a good example of something which you can get in China but isn’t quite the same as it is in the UK, so if you’re addicted to English Breakfast Tea maybe consider bringing teabags. There will be plenty of opportunity both to try new foods and to buy things which you recognise from home. Supermarkets contain some interesting surprises and can be fun to explore. The variety of flavours of crisps is particularly impressive, ranging from standard flavours to more diverse ones like yoghurt and cucumber.

If you are vegetarian or have any food allergies or dietary requirements, you should ask one of your contacts at the school how to communicate this to others. Get your manager to write it down in Chinese and English, and carry it with you at all times.

If you have a nut allergy, make sure you communicate this clearly before any meals and have it written down to show restaurants. Peanut oil is used quite commonly in China and you must be very careful to avoid it, if you have allergies.

It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.

Avoid drinking tap water in almost all locations in China. Bottled water is readily available and you should always make sure you have enough water overnight or if you’re going on activities. This is especially true in rural areas, where shops might close earlier in the evening or you might have to wait for transport into town—stock up on large bottles of water to make sure you always have enough.

Hot or boiled water is also more common than cold water. Many Chinese people much prefer drinking hot water to cold, claiming health benefits, and you will find that you are often given boiled water in restaurants. This water is fine to drink, but if you feel uncomfortable then bottled water is usually available for purchase. You may also be surprised by the benefits of hot water with lemon and ginger when you’re feeling a bit run down or tired! You might also want to purchase a flask if you would like to save money (and plastic!) by boiling water for your own consumption.

In terms of other drinks—please enjoy the variety on offer, with many soft drinks being different to what you might be used to at home, although all the regulars like Coca Cola are also available. If you’re in Beijing and like fizzy drinks, then make sure you try Arctic Ocean (Běibīngyáng 北冰洋)! Otherwise, all sorts of bottled drinks are available throughout the country; first time visitors usually get excited about the delicious range of flavoured teas, soy milk drinks, ‘Bubble Milk Tea’, hot tea and, of course, alcoholic beverages.

If you drink alcohol, then please take note: occasionally venues (usually glitzy nightclubs and bars) might sell adulterated hard spirits, which can give you a bad hangover or make you very inebriated. There have also been stories of people being poisoned by adulterated spirits, so do be careful. However, most locations are perfectly safe, you should just make sure to be careful to always know what you are drinking, as you should anywhere in the world, and always drink in moderation.

You may also be introduced to Báijiǔ白酒—China’s famous rice spirit. It is occasionally referred to as ‘white wine’ or ‘rice wine’. Please drink with moderation, it is stronger than most spirits you are used to! People in China tend to be very hospitable, and in the evenings might treat you to rounds of drinks—be sure to know your limits and drink sensibly.

It is not uncommon for foreign visitors to suffer low intensity traveller’s diarrhoea during their time in China, please consider having medication to cater to this if it occurs, and drink plenty of water.

Many cities in China suffer from severe air pollution, while some in northern and western China also suffer from sandstorms sporadically throughout the year. Environmental issues are at the top of the central government agenda, although vested interests at the local level can limit implementation. We all hope the pollution will reduce more quickly than they are at present, but for now be sensible about doing vigorous exercise if air pollution is high.

The risks of air pollution shouldn’t be an issue for anyone on our programmes, partly because pollution peaks in winter (due to coal burning, central heating and other factors), but also because the major risks are for those who have had long-term exposure (think in terms of years, not weeks).

Download an AQI (air quality index) app to monitor local air pollution, and consider investing in a face mask to wear on certain days. If you want an effective mask, it should be N95 certified as anything that isn’t doesn’t filter out the most problematic particles of pollution.

As you will only be exposed to the pollution for a short period over the summer, you do not need to be too concerned, but it is always advisable to keep it in mind when planning runs or outdoor activities. It is usually advisable to avoid intense physical exercise or to wear a mask when pollution is high.

As a guide, 15[unit] pm2.5 is deemed healthy by the WHO, while many Chinese cities consistently reach 100[unit] or more. Do also check your home city’s air pollution index, it might be higher than you think!

It is perfectly natural to have times when you miss home comforts, family, or friends, especially if it is your first time travelling abroad alone. As well as comfort foods that you bring with you from home, western restaurants and groups of expats, especially other foreign teachers in your school, are there to help you feel more at home and relaxed. Throwing yourself into activities and meeting new people can often help lift you much more than staying in your room and calling home. That said, it is good to keep regular contact with home (even if more for your parents than for you!).

Get your family and friends to download WeChat before you come to China. WeChat will be a much more reliable mode of communication than WhatsApp or other messaging services which are often blocked or slower in speed in China. Remember: you will need a VPN for Facebook, Twitter and Google, making them slower than normal, and while Skype does work, it is not as reliable or efficient as WeChat.

Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese or any Chinese-language dialect) competency is not a requirement for our programmes.

Every programme will assign teaching assistants or programme coordinators who can speak English to you, and many people around town can often speak some English. However, please do remember that English is not ubiquitous in China and that you may need to use body language and other communication methods to make your point at times, especially if you travel independently in rural areas—this is part of the fun of travelling! We recommend bringing a simple phrase book with you to help if you decide to explore China on your own. If you are out and about without a bilingual teaching assistant, it is generally also best to look for younger people if you need help in English as they are far more likely to have learnt English at school.

You can learn Mandarin while you are in China on your programme. If you would like Mandarin lessons, make sure you let your programme know before you arrive. If you’d like to learn more about the lessons in China, then please head to this FAQ on learning the language.

If you’re new to Mandarin, then while it can be frustrating at first not to be able to understand a lot of what is being said around you, you will become used to this fairly quickly. Learn the words for ‘hello’ (你好nǐ hǎo), ‘thank you’ (谢谢xìe xìe) and ‘goodbye’ (再见zàijiàn) before you come to get the ball rolling and show your Chinese colleagues and Mandarin teachers that you are keen to learn about the local culture and language. You will probably be surprised at how many words and phrases you come to recognise during your time in China.

If you would like to start learning before you come to China, then please contact us for more information. There are great apps available to help you start to learn Mandarin, such as Duolingo, and you can often find language partners either on campus or online on sites such as www.italki.com. Please do use all the resources available to you if you are interested in learning the language!