Pros & Cons of Volunteering While Studying in China
Studying Chinese in China is no easy undertaking. You can expect to have four+ hours of classroom time per day, and that's before you factor in all of the homework, reviewing, and prepping you'll be doing independently. Let's not forget to add having fun with your new friends and stuffing your face with delicious local Chinese dishes.
But we get it: you are a go-getter, and you want to make the absolute most of your time in China. You want to learn by doing, and you want exposure to different facets of what it means to be "Chinese" at the turn of the 21st century. You feel busy is best and know that in order to really maximize your experience, you'll need to tack on some extra curricular activities!
One tried and true method from international-students-past is to tack on a part time volunteer gig in addition to their Mandarin language studies. But what is the best fit for you? Read on as we compare the pros and cons of volunteering while studying in China.
Let's first examine the positive externalities of doing volunteer work in addition to studying Chinese.
Volunteering helps others.
(DUH!) Not only will you be able to put your Chinese language skills to good use, you'll be able to do some good along the way. You'll be able to spend your free time dedicating it to benefitting others, whether you are at an orphanage teaching English, befriending marginalized people in China's society, playing with migrant children, or working on a farm dedicated to sustainable, organic growing methods.
Volunteering makes you feel good.
A benefit of volunteering worth acknowledging is it makes you, in turn, feel good. Helping others is a wonderful way to spend your time, and makes you feel fulfilled, grateful, and purposeful. You'll also be spending your time meeting more Chinese people in a less formalized setting, and thus deepen your understanding of the culture.
More exposure to Chinese culture.
For better or worse, volunteering in China means you'll be able to cultivate a strong understanding of the country's social services. Yes, China is developing at a rate faster than most other countries, but it is still a country full of impoverished people in need of service, an environment that is quickly dwindling, and a number of other issues needing attending.
Volunteering isn't all fun and games. Let's weigh the cons of service learning in China.
How much impact are you truly having?
Unless you are able to commit a substantial amount of time to contribute, you might be causing more problems instead of helping resolve some. In most cases, even having some steady, stable help for a short period of time is worthwhile for the organization. However, it is the volunteer's responsibility to examine the project and determine if the service work will in fact do "good" and not detract from the organization's long-term, overall success.
China's social security system is a bit of a mess.
There is little social security established here, and the government and the locals often overlook people who are differently-abled mentally and physically. Orphans too seem to be forgotten, and little financial and human resources are available to help eradicate the problems. You might find that you experience "compassion exhaustion" throughout your volunteer work, finding more and more issues the deeper you go, while gaining the unfortunate understanding of how complex solving these social problems truly is. But the hard is what makes it great, right?
Less time to devote to studying Chinese.
While you will be using your Chinese in real life, you will still be sacrificing extra hours that could otherwise be devoted to formal Chinese language study. Depending on your current level of Chinese, you may find that volunteering is not the best use of your time - you should instead be building up your Chinese word bank and completing more intensive study versus extensive.
So, what do you think?
We think volunteering in China is pretty cool, especially if you are student looking to make the most of your experience. When studying in China through China Study Abroad, we are able to help find you a volunteer placement at a nearby NGO. Depending on your altruistic interests, we can help match you with an organization whose cause and mission is something that aligns with your goals.