The political capital of an emerging Chinese superpower, Beijing increasingly finds itself at the center of the global stage. With over 20 million inhabitants, today Beijing is the third most populous city in the world and the cultural and educational heart of China. Individuals who choose to volunteer in Beijing will find that the city remains a place defined by both tremendous wealth and widespread poverty. Volunteers from all over the world are thus happily welcomed to lend a hand in China’s rapidly modernizing society, beginning at the center of it all, in Beijing.
Volunteer Programs in Beijing
Though China is a burgeoning economic powerhouse, it remains very much a developing country in the daily situation of its most ordinary citizens. In the wake of a recently massive urbanization movement that continues to sweep through the country, millions of Chinese migrant workers have descended upon Beijing from rural areas in search of work. Naturally there are many who have been left behind, and so volunteering opportunities in Beijing provide a variety of placements where volunteers can aid in social work and community building.
Healthcare, education, and infrastructural development are all popular areas of volunteer work in Beijing. There are many orphanages, community centers, and homes for the elderly or for individuals with disabilities, which are understaffed and in continued need of extra help. Other volunteer opportunities in Beijing will expose volunteers to a variety of projects throughout the city, including planting gardens, building projects, and working for sustainable solutions.
Individuals do not generally have to speak Chinese to volunteer in Beijing, although you will undoubtedly pick up some useful phrases while volunteering in China. Many volunteer opportunities in Beijing will combine community service projects with some form of language study to help volunteers learn the language. Summers are hot, and combined with Beijing’s poor air quality can make life in the city stifling at times. Still summer volunteering in Beijing, lasting from a weeks to a few months, remains the most popular time for volunteering abroad in Beijing. Many volunteer programs offer placements year round as well, so individuals can choose exactly when they’d like to complete volunteer work in Beijing.
Life in Beijing
One of the most attractive parts of Beijing for foreigners is the epic scale of history which remains a very much a preserved part of city life. From Tiananmen Square to the Imperial City center to the Great Wall only an hour away, Beijing is a fantastic gateway to Chinese cultural history. Beijing also boasts an exciting nightlife, state-of-the-art performance centers, and a plethora of other cultural opportunities for volunteers who are more inclined towards modernity. Needless to say, individuals who volunteer in Beijing will never have to worry about becoming bored.
Life in Beijing will come on quite hectically to the unacclimated international volunteer. The city is densely populated and runs at a fast pace. Do not expect neat orderly lines to form, especially at the more crowded tourist destinations of Beijing. The subway, while cheap and tremendously efficient, can become extremely crowded during rush hour. Quickly though, you will grow accustomed to the chaos, and be navigating through even the busiest marketplaces like a local.
Another element which may come to strongly influence everyday experiences for a volunteer in Beijing is how quickly the city is globalizing. Though the capital city still remains distinctly Chinese in most aspects, the country is rapidly Westernizing in an effort to industrialize its way out of poverty. Volunteers may notice see many familiar eateries, boutiques, and brand names lining the city streets. Friendly locals will also frequently approach you, genuinely interested in your perspective on their country or wanting to practice their English language skills. It is an extremely exciting time to join in the movement through volunteering in Beijing.
Costs & Affordability
The official currency in Beijing is the Chinese Yuan (CNY), which runs at about 6.5 CNY to $1. Beijing is a very affordable city, but be careful because many items, which are considered to be Western luxuries, can be relatively marked up. Also recognizable brands (i.e. Starbucks) tend to be significantly more expensive than other available local options. Meals are cheap and subway rides only cost 2 CNY generally, making transportation throughout the city very affordable. Plane travel is also quite reasonably priced, making the rest of the country easily accessible from Beijing’s international airport.
Accommodations & Visas
While volunteering abroad in Beijing most volunteers will have accommodation arranged by their volunteer program provider. Both homestays and apartment style living are popular options for volunteers in Beijing, each one providing an entirely different “home” environment. Homestays are a nice way to intimately familiarize yourself with Chinese culture by living with a family, and home cooked meals aren’t to bad either. Apartments are generally affordable as well, and offer the opportunity to lead a more independent existence during volunteer work in Beijing. Research the details of your volunteer program in Beijing early on to see what type of housing will be made available.
Since China has a closed government in many respects, obtaining the right visa to volunteer abroad in China can be a bit confusing. If you are going to volunteer in Beijing for less than six months you will likely need an L visa, and if you are volunteering for more than six months you will likely need a Z visa. Most volunteer programs in China will help organize your visa, so have no fear!
Benefits & Challenges
Beijing is an increasingly important global city, but one that also suffers from a variety of social and infrastructural ills, hence the city needs volunteers who can lend their support and help remedy the issues.
Exposing oneself to an entirely different culture is always challenging, but the reward you bring home from volunteering abroad in Beijing will transcend any temporary inconveniences.
Doing good where it is needed is the essence of volunteerism, and by volunteering in Beijing volunteers will have the unique opportunity to discover personal fulfillment in one of the most breathtaking and culturally rich cities on earth.