China is a massive country encompassing mountain ranges, rivers, grassland, lakes, deserts, coastlines, and metropolitan cities. In cities, ancient traditions merge with a fast-paced, modern culture. But it's also full of opportunities for high schoolers to spend meaningful time abroad.

Whether you're studying Chinese to get a jump start in an internationally minded career or volunteering in rural China, the pool of high school programs in China is almost as big as the country itself.

So step outside of your comfort zone, experience a unique way of life and spend time in China!

China is great for students who are interested in economics, business, finance, learning Chinese, experiencing a unique culture, and eating great food.

Language & Culture Immersion Programs

Language immersion programs in China are offered all times of the year. They range from one semester to a full year or just during a winter or summer break. Determined students can benefit from these courses by receiving high school or even college credit.

Accommodations are usually organized with a host family, providing students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the culture and Mandarin, the national language, adding a boost to their educational experience.

In the summer time, teenagers also have the option of participating in a language summer camp to really nail down their language skills.

Youth Travel Tours

High school students who want to travel through China over summer, spring, or winter breaks should look into teen travel tours. These trips are well organized so students get the most out of their short time abroad through Chinese language and culture courses, sightseeing at historical attractions, and taking classes. Most tours have themes like environmental conservation, community service, cooking, or adventure.

Volunteer Programs

There are several different types of projects that high school students can get involved in through a volunteer program in China:

  • Assist with English teaching or conversation
  • Panda conservation
  • Community development

Student Visa

Students from most countries will need to obtain a visa before arriving in China. Visa requirements for China differ depending on what you’re doing, how long you’re staying, and what country you’re from, so it's definitely a good idea to consult the embassy's website well in advance.

High schoolers planning to study and stay less than six months need an F visa. Those not studying can apply for a tourist or L visa. Generally, your study abroad, tour, or volunteer program will assist you in obtaining a visa since it can be a tricky process to navigate on your own. At the very least, they'll point you in the right direction.

Housing

The program you select will determine your housing options while in China. Homestays are common with language and cultural immersion programs. This allows students to engage with the resident culture and become a part of a local family.

Volunteer programs may provide apartments, dormitory accommodations, or a homestay. Teen travel tours frequently provide participants with hostels or shared hotel rooms.

Costs

If you’re traveling from North America to China, flights can vary from $1,100 to $1,300 USD depending on the airport. Those coming from Europe can pay $650 to $800. Major international Chinese airport hubs include Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Beijing.

China is inexpensive compared to North American and European countries. And with the economic struggles it is currently facing, China is becoming increasingly affordable for foreigners. Plan to budget about $20 - 30 per day for personal expenses, like souvenirs, cell phone credit, snacks, or any meals that aren't included in your program's fees.

Program costs in China fluctuate depending on length of stay, type of housing, and included amenities. Prices can range from $400 for two weeks volunteering to $4,000 for a summer immersion program.

Packing Tips

Packing for China depends entirely on what time of year you’re visiting and where you’ll be. Also consider that China is a massive country, so living farther north, and further from the equator, will be overall chillier than living in a more southern destination. The summer months (June, July, August) are hot while the winter months (December, January, February) can be quite chilly.

Also keep in mind that if you're staying for an extended period of time, some items, like shoes in your size, might be hard to find while in China. For more details, you'll likely find some good tips on our packing list for teachers in Asia.

Summer

  • Breathable and UPF (sun resistant) clothing
  • Sunscreen and insect repellent
  • A hat

Winter

  • Warm/waterproof jacket
  • Boots
  • Layers

Always

  • Solid walking shoes for outdoor adventures
  • A power converter
  • Feminine hygiene products for the duration of your time there
  • Contact solution (if you wear contacts) or glasses

Staying Healthy in China

It's recommended that travelers obtain hepatitis, yellow fever, typhoid, tetanus, and rabies vaccinations before traveling to any developing countries. Diseases like tuberculosis, hepatitis A and B, influenza, measles and typhoid are common in China. Medical facilities in China are not up to Western standards, especially in rural areas. Payment is frequently required in advance of treatment, even in emergency situations. Air pollution is a problem in many major cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu and Guangzhou.

Stay away from animals you don’t know in China as they may carry rabies. Only drink bottled water and ensure that your food is properly and completely cooked. Traveler’s diarrhea is common, especially when first arriving to a new country, so stay hydrated and see a health professional or talk to your program leader if symptoms don’t abate after a week.

Safety Considerations

High school students traveling in China should not have major problems if they follow general safety guidelines. Violent crimes are uncommon in China but some petty annoyances, like pickpocketers and scams are more of a concern.

If you're in a crowded tourist destination keep your valuables secure from pickpockets.

Scam artists have been known to invite foreigners to tea and then leave them with exorbitant bills. Others call and claim to be Chinese police officers in need of a funds transfer to resolve an identity theft claim. Do not wire any money if you receive a call like this and, instead, contact the Public Security Bureau.

Though it's unlikely that you'll be taking a taxi on your own, if you do end up using taxis, always request to use the meter and get a receipt. Wait to pay your driver until after you and your bags have left the taxi. Avoid unlicensed “black cabs.”

Counterfeit currency is an issue, so it is best to use smaller bills or exact change when dealing with taxis. Only use ATMs at trusted institutions.

Contributed by Alecia Weaver

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