China

Living Conditions

Communications

Mail

Mail takes a minimum of 10 days to arrive in China from the United States. Some mail may arrive having been opened. Advise your family and friends to number their letters and to include “Airmail” on their envelopes. Your address for the first two months will be:

“Your Name”
U.S.-China Friendship Volunteers
Sichuan University – Mail Box 278
No. 29 Wang Jiang Road
Chengdu, Sichuan 610064
China (PRC)

In general, wait until you know what your permanent site address will be and then have your packages sent directly there.

Telephones

Communicating by telephone in China is relatively easy and inexpensive. Each Volunteer must have a telephone. If you are calling from outside a major city, it may take longer for access to an open line. Most Volunteers use local calling cards and Skype or other VOIP services for international calls and cost about 10 cents a minute.

Internet

All Peace Corps/China Volunteers will have access to email and the Internet, although connections can be weak or sporadic. Although some Volunteers will have access from home, others use department offices or Internet cafes near their school's campus. If you decide to bring a computer or any other expensive electronic equipment, we strongly recommend you purchase personal property insurance.

Housing and Site Location

Volunteer sites in China are located from within Chengdu, where the Peace Corps office is located, to up to 1,200 kilometers (744 miles) away. Many Volunteers live on the campus of the college/university to which they are assigned and the school provides housing. All sites have hot water heaters for showering. However, in the winter, there is an occasional water shortage when water may not be available for hours at a time. Electricity is fairly constant, but power failures do occur, especially in winter. China’s residential electric system is 220 volts, 50 hertz. Appliances and electronic equipment manufactured for the U.S. market are usually rated for 100 to 120 volts and 60 Hz. To use this equipment in China, you must have a step-down transformer a device that lowers the incoming voltage of 220 to 240 volts to 110 to 120 volts). Most computers will run on both 110 and 220. Plug adapters are available in China. Volunteers live in local faculty housing or in apartments. These residences have a living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and sometimes a study.

Living Allowance and Money Management

Volunteers receive a monthly allowance in local currency that is sufficient to live at the level of the local people. The allowance covers food, housing, household supplies, clothing, transportation to and from work, utilities, recreation and entertainment, and incidental expenses. Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to live at a level that is comparable with that of their host country counterparts. The Peace Corps discourages Volunteers from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home. However, Volunteers often wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. For this, credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs. 

Food and Diet

Chinese food varies greatly from the Cantonese-style food that is typically found in major cities in the United States. Sichuan, Chongqing, and Guizhou dishes are much spicier and may take some getting used to, though mild dishes are also available. Gansu dishes are milder. The staple in Sichuan, Chongqing, and Guizhou is rice. Pork is also served at almost every meal. Although vegetables abound, eating in restaurants can be difficult for vegetarians because meat is often mixed in with dishes featuring tofu or vegetables. The staple in Gansu is noodles, and beef and mutton are the major meats. Sichuan and Chongqing dishes also tend to be oily. Cooking your own food is cheaper and healthier than eating in restaurants. Every Volunteer in China has access to a kitchen with a refrigerator and a stovetop.

Transportation

Daily travel in many parts of China, including many, but not all, of the areas where Volunteers serve, is often by bicycle. Although Peace Corps/China does not provide bicycles, many Volunteers use them as their regular means of transportation. The Peace Corps requires each Volunteer to wear a bicycle helmet and will issue one if needed. You are not allowed to drive any motorized vehicle during your service in China or when you travel to other countries where there is a Peace Corps program. You are not allowed to ride on the back of motorcycles or other motorized vehicles. Buses and minibuses are also a common form of transportation, and bus service is available within and among all cities and small towns. Bus transportation, due to the poor condition of some roads, lack of regular vehicle maintenance, and schedule changes, is not always reliable, so contingency planning is important. Taxi service via cars is available in every city. Long-distance travel occurs by air or by train. Although there is regular air service to most cities in China, official travel is almost always by train. Train service is reliable and there are sleeper car options for overnight trips.

Social Activities

The Chinese are generally friendly and pleasant people, but it is sometimes difficult for foreigners to integrate into Chinese society. Until fairly recently, social contact between Chinese and most foreigners was limited to business relationships. Despite the increased opportunities for interaction, because of markedly different expectations about friendship roles, it can be challenging to become friends with a Chinese person in a way that Americans typically define friendship. Intimate relationships between Chinese and foreigners, depending on the nature of the relationship, the location, and the parties involved, can be sensitive and potentially controversial. Life in western China is generally much slower than life in the United States. Current Volunteers recommend taking the initiative in joining activities outside of work, such as learning Chinese calligraphy, kung fu, mah-jongg, or the board game Go (weiqi); joining a sports club; or inviting friends and colleagues to go out for karaoke. Your Volunteer experience will be much richer and fulfilling if you readily look for cultural-sharing opportunities at your site.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

Based on accepted norms for teachers in China, Peace Corps/China has adopted a dress and appearance code for Volunteers, which is required during pre-service training, teaching time, office hours, important social activities, and while visiting the Peace Corps office in Chengdu. When participating in athletic activities, you are encouraged to wear modest sports clothes. Appropriate dress includes collared shirts (not T-shirts) and pants for men (short-sleeve shirts are recommended for summer); blouses, knee-length skirts, dresses, or dress slacks for women; and sturdy sandals or closed shoes (not rubber thongs). To meet Chinese expectations, teachers must dress conservatively. No hats should be worn during sessions or while teaching; no earrings for men and only one earring in each lobe for women; no body piercings for men or women; and any tattoos must be kept covered at all times. Male teachers are expected to have neat hair. Thus, short haircuts that are neat and well-kept are required. Short shorts, revealing or tight clothing, military-style clothing, spaghetti straps, or flip-flops should not be worn. Walking shorts (knee length) or culottes, clean jeans and T-shirts, and sandals are acceptable casual dress.