China is an awe-inspiring, friendly, and delightful country. Discover this land of striking natural formations and centuries-old temples set amidst gleaming skyscrapers – a land where ancient traditions are being transformed every day by the rapid pace of modernization. Become part of one of the most dynamic and populated societies in the world while you live with a host family and learn Mandarin in an academically elite school.
Your local chapter may organise get-togethers for AFS students or excursions to other cities or regions in China. Also, over the course of the program, AFS staff and volunteers will hold orientations to help you evaluate your progress, help with your cultural adjustment, and make sure things are running smoothly.
Mandarin Chinese (the national language) is spoken by more than 70% of the population and is also used in Singapore and Malaysia. China has 55 different ethnic groups, each with its own language or dialect. Most AFS host families speak Mandarin (and this will be the language used in school) but you may also be placed with a family who speaks Cantonese.
Host Family & Community
Students will be placed throughout China. Most placements (80%) are urban and the remaining placements are suburban. Most participants will be placed in cities on the Eastern half of China, such as Shaanxi, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Sichuan, Henan, Anhui, Dalian, Tianjin and Beijing.
Within the family, both parents usually work outside the home and only have one child, and it is not uncommon for a grandparent to live with the family. Most Chinese families in the cities live in multi-story apartment buildings. All space within the home is generally considered shared. It is likely that you will share a room with a host sibling, but you may also get your own room.
Host families in China, like all AFS host families worldwide, are volunteers and are not paid. They open their homes to students in order to share their community and culture as well as to enrich their own family lives.
The Confucian ethic of proper social and family relationships forms the foundation of Chinese society. The Chinese have a strong sense of family, and they respect hierarchy and interpersonal obligations. Parents expect to know when their children are going out and where they are going. Because parents tend to take a keen interest in their children’s education and expect them to study hard, they will typically set limits on going out or on recreational activities that might interfere with schoolwork. In addition, parents often encourage the active involvement of the school in their child’s upbringing.
Much of a Chinese teenager’s life revolves around his or her school. Students spend a great deal of their day in school engaged in studying and when not at school or engaged in school activities, teenagers get together at friends’ homes, go to movies, watch television or play sports. Soccer, ping-pong, handball, volleyball, basketball, Chinese traditional martial arts, and dance are all popular pastimes.
Chinese teenagers seldom date. Instead, they often socialize with their classmates and go out in single-sex groups. Dates are not unheard of, but neither are they encouraged. Public touching or displays of affection between a male and female of any age is unusual, though it is not unusual for schoolmates of the same sex to walk hand in hand or with an arm around one another.
Chinese diet consists of vegetables, rice and noodles and often a meat dish. Noodles and dumplings are popular in the north, while rice dishes are more common in the south. Chinese cuisine is varied and delicious with a wide spectrum of textures and tastes. Although Western food is widely available, it is often a luxury that is considered expensive.
Here a few examples of some traditional Chinese meals that you most likely try and hopefully enjoy:
• Peking Duck – roasted in a special way and eaten with green onion and the sweet sauce wrapped with a thin pancake.
• Mongolian Hotpot – a Chinese version of fondue
• Jiaozi – pasta-like dough wrapped round pork meat, chives and onions, similar to Italian ravioli.
Following a vegetarian diet in China can be very difficult, as meat is often used as a flavour enhancer, even when it is not directly in the dish. AFS China asks participants to be flexible with their diet and cannot guarantee a vegetarian placement.
Although China is modernizing, chopsticks are still the preferred method of eating utensil. One theory of this is that in Confucianism, chopsticks symbolize gentleness and benevolence, while the fork and knife reflect aggression and are compared to weapons. That being said, the Chinese are very patient and enjoy teaching the proper techniques for eating with chopsticks.
Most AFS participants will be placed in the Senior 1 level (equivalent of 10th grade). AFS students are not placed in the Senior 2 or 3 levels as they are the graduating classes and these students are typically engrossed in studying for university entrance examinations, leaving nearly no time at all for social activities.
Most Chinese schools arrange a special class schedule for AFS students. Generally speaking, AFS students spend their morning taking classes like Chinese language, culture, history, art, and music with other AFSers. They will then spend the second half of the day taking classes with other Chinese students. All Chinese students take classes such as Chinese, math, physics, chemistry, politics, history and geography.
If you are participating in a Year program, you will be offered intensive language classes during the first 3 months of your stay. These classes will be arranged by your local volunteers and be offered through your host high school.
Orientations & Activities
In addition to the orientations that you will participate in domestically, you and your fellow AFSers will have several orientations while abroad.
These required orientations are intended to help you maximize your AFS experience, prevent culture shock and to gain knowledge, skills and a global understanding.
In addition to the orientations, many local chapters organise activities for students and host families throughout the year. These will vary from chapter to chapter but may include parties or excursions to other cities or regions in China. Unlike the orientations, these activities are optional and are not included in the program fee.