Hello dear reader (possibly a future volunteer?), my name is Tobias, I am from Germany and I finished high school this year (2014). Afterwards, I wanted to see something, that I wasn’t familiar with. Something new. So I decided to go to China as a volunteer. I wanted to learn something about the language, the culture and I wanted to help others while doing so. This was my first time traveling outside of Europe and even there I didn’t travel much, so this was a big step for me. However, with the help of Xubo, it has not been nearly as difficult to arrive and live here in China, as I had imagined and I can tell you now: If you have any difficulties in China, any concerns or doubts, don’t worry (be happy). Everything is going to resolve itself after the first few days. You can also “cheat” and ask Xubo for help, instead of figuring everything out by yourself, because they are there for you all the time. My flight was delayed twice for a total of three hours, so I was arriving much later than expected and they normally only pick you up from the airport, if you arrive between 7 am and 7 pm and I was worried about that. No problem. I wrote an email to Athena and Jane was waiting for me at the airport to pick me up. She accompanied me to the flat I would live in for the next four weeks and, on the following days, showed me everything I needed to know. We bought a Chinese SIM-card and that is really important, because it gives you the possibility of contacting not only the Xubo staff, but also the other volunteers you will meet, at all times. Then a metro card, because the metro is the easiest way of getting everywhere in Shanghai and with these two you are basically ready to go and explore the city to your heart’s content. If you stay in the central flat in Shanghai, you also have the benefit of the Xubo office being only 3 floors above the flat, so if you have any questions, problems or concerns, you can just go there and ask them. During the week they are in the office all the time, it is actually quite hard to find a occasion where you can not reach them.

My placement was in the Shanghai Creativity Kindergarten, where I was supposed to teach English to a class of 4-5 year old children. When I was volunteering, I actually wanted to teach in a high or middle school, but unfortunately, there were none available at the time I wanted to stay there (in Shanghai. They had other high and middle school projects in other cities, but I wanted to be in Shanghai), but looking back at it now, I didn’t actually want to leave the kindergarten after only four weeks, because the children and teachers there were just awesome. Always happy (well, as happy as you can be every day :P), always friendly and very helpful, even though only a few of the teachers there can speak English and even they often only know the basics. So don’t expect to be able to communicate with them without difficulties, but you will surely find a way, as did all the others before you. The kindergarten is actually astonishingly well equipped. It is very modern and has a lot of resources such as whiteboards, many different toys, PCs, data projectors, lots of space etc. It is certainly a kindergarten for the wealthy people. I had to teach two different classes. The rest of the time I would stay in one of the classes and play with the kids or watch the classes of the Chinese teachers. That was from 8:30 am to noon, so I had a lot of free time to explore the city. Teaching the kids is somewhat difficult at the beginning, because it is not easy to communicate with them and explain something new to them and you also have to find out what they already know, but you will find a way. After the first week, I felt like I had been doing this for a long time, even though my lessons were still a lot of improvising. When I thought about volunteering back in Germany, I thought about helping in a poor and/or underdeveloped/under-equipped facility, but that is definitely not the case here. I feel like this particular project actually gives more to the volunteer than to the children or the kindergarten. You are a nice bonus and you can have a lot of fun with the kids and they will have a lot of fun with you, but it is probably not what you normally imagine, when you think about volunteering. Still, my time here was, when looking back on it, really nice and I would have also liked to do it for longer than one month. I think the biggest part is the language. If you can speak Chinese or are in the process of learning it, you will have an absolute blast here. I actually tried to study it here, but it didn’t really work, because there was so much to do and to see, you have no time to just sit there and patiently learn Chinese.

Because of that, you have to manage with the basic skills you get from just being here (like numbers, formalities etc.), improvising and Pleco. Pleco is an absolute necessity, if you can’t speak Mandarin. It’s an app for iOS and android that lets you translate everything from English to Chinese and back with the according Chinese characters. You can even write down characters and it will translate them into English and the best part is that it doesn’t require an internet connection. When I was visiting different places in Shanghai like the Bund, Nanjing Road, Pudong, the different monuments and tourist attractions, the fake markets, the museums and so much more or also outside of Shanghai as for example in Suzhou or Hangzhou that can really come in handy. If you want to know what you should visit, just look into a normal travel guidebook and you will probably see the most important stuff, but for the rest, ask the other volunteers. There are always several of them in Shanghai, so you will be able to plan trips with them and ask them what they have done etc. I had something to do every day, I was busy all the time and it was nice. I saw a lot of the city, but I actually find it hard to recommend anything in particular, because it really depends on what you are interested in. Of course, you should do the standard stuff like the Bund, Pudong and East and West Nanjing Road, but I would suggest you get a guidebook and just look for what you like.

The most important piece of advice I can give you, if you are coming to China, is to be open minded and to try things. Really just try things. You may not know what that food exactly is, but you can just try it. What’s the worst that can happen (realistically, come on :D). If you have an attitude like this, everything is going to be very easy, because for the rest, you can just ask Xubo or the other volunteers. But here is some stuff anyway: Taxis are cheap compared to Europe (Germany at least), so you can use them in situations you would normally not use them, but make sure it is a legit taxi, with the sign, the driver ID and all that stuff. If you want to cross the street, you can in many situations (if it is not the BIGGEST road in Shanghai) just cross, but stay predictable and don’t make sudden movements (especially backwards) because everybody is going to drive around you. The metro closes at 11pm, so be careful if you want to go out for the evening. Even though it is Shanghai, there are not that many people that speak English (which was originally the reason why I wanted to be placed here), so: Pleco In the evening, there are street food vendors everywhere (it can be from 6pm to 10pm, or 8pm to 9pm, there are no set times) and their food is really cheap and really delicious. Definitely try it. Try the small restaurants, they may not have the best hygiene, but they are like rooted street food vendors. Cheap and delicious and you always know where you can find them. Even if you don’t like Chinese food, you can get almost everything in the big malls and supermarkets. If you buy something on the fake markets or just on small souvenir stands in front of some tourist attractions, you have to bargain a lot. You can normally take the price they first give you and divide it by at least ten, then you will know for much you can probably get it, even though there are some exceptions. And there is a lot of small advice that seems crucial to you at the beginning, but after a few days you are just used to it, so don’t worry, you have the other volunteers and Xubo. Be open minded and you will have a great and unique time here in China.