Big cities are the same the world over: fast-paced, exciting, and chock full of English speakers. While they offer the widest variety of entertainment and gastronomic opportunities, you may have to look hard to find places to develop your Chinese. Big cities can be a strain on your budget, and commutes can be lengthy, but there's always something going on: a new district to explore, a crowd of people practicing taiji, a popular new hotpot restaurant. Below are samples of some of our past placements. Please be aware that not all locations might be available for the upcoming program.
Large, but not as large as Shanghai or Beijing, Nanjing is mainly accessible via a large bus network, although there are several subway lines. All public transit closes at ten or eleven. The city is home to many historical sites, such as the city wall, the Nanjing Massacre Museum, and Sun Yat-Sen's mausoleum, alongside many karaoke joints and expat bars. Nanjing is considered one of China's furnaces: in the summer, temperatures regularly top 100 degrees. However, the weather October through April or May is quite cool. Exciting things can happen in Nanjing -- things like appearing on TV or mastering kung fu.
Located in the south of China, Changsha is close to Guangzhou and Shenzhen. The buses and taxis can get you anywhere you need to go. The city is famous for its spicy food, which rivals Sichuan food in popularity. There are some interesting sites nearby that make for nice day trips. If you want to hang out in the city, there are plenty of nightlife and international cuisine. Climate wise, the area is humid in spring and summer, while winter here is cold and dry.
Far, far north, Changchun is close to Russia and still filled with Russians. You can reach Beijing in 8 hours and Shanghai in 32 hours by train. The closest cities are Harbin and Jilin, also Russian-influenced and cold. Filled with automotive factories, Changchun is quite industrial. Bring your jacket -- the winters are long and cold, perfect for ice skating and skiing. The public transit network is extensive but may be difficult to get the hang of.
Nicknamed Ice City, Harbin is probably best known for its yearly Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, in which teams of ice artisans chisel beautiful statues with blocks of ice taken from the Songhua River. From November through March, Harbin is essentially a giant ice playground, equipped with every winter sport imaginable. Aside from outdoor activities, Harbin also boasts a number of interesting cultural pieces: it is a UNESCO City of Music, it has many Russian restaurants and bathhouses, you can visit a synagogue and a cathedral, and there is quite a variety of cuisine, including Korean and Russian. Harbin is eight hours from Beijing and twelve hours from Vladivostok, Russia.
Shenyang is that rare mix, both an industrial capital and home to three UNESCO World Heritage sites – the imperial palace of Jurchen chieftain Nurhaci and the tombs of his two sons. The city has many museums, including a wine museum, and for the philistines, plenty of ice skating rinks and ski resorts, as well as tons of bars. Local cuisine is described as “heavy on the garlic.” If that’s not your cup of tea, there are also plenty of Korean and Mongolian restaurants. The city boasts two train lines and a comprehensive bus system, all quite affordable. Bring a heavy jacket, as temperatures drop far below zero in the winter. The closest cities include Beijing (5 hours by train), Dalian (3-4 hours), and Changchun (2 hours).
Widely acknowledged to be one of China's most beautiful cities, Hangzhou is full of both natural wonders and historical sites. It is an hour away from both Nanjing and Shanghai and also quite close to Suzhou, another interesting city. There is a great bus network that you can track on your mobile phone. It is easy to get around the city without speaking Chinese. For fun, you can take a boat ride on the beautiful West Lake. There are KFCs and McDonald's if you get homesick, as well as many other types of foreign food.
Zhengzhou is five and a half hours from Beijing, six hours from Shanghai, and two hours from Xi'an and the Terracotta Warriors. The public bus and the taxi should get you everywhere you need to go. The city is home to the Shaolin Temple, the site of ancient Chinese kung fu, as well as some fun parks and temples. While the nightlife here is relatively low-key, there are definitely opportunities for KTV (karaoke) and some beers.
Shijiazhuang has developed rapidly over the past decades, with its population exploding to over ten million. In the midst of this expansion, administrators saw the need for aesthetic improvements, and so the city is now surrounded by a bright green moat and 20 well-maintained parks. If a stroll through the park isn’t enough of a workout for you, the region is also replete with hiking trails, including the nearby Taihang Mountain. Weather is typically dry with sandstorms in spring, but temperatures don’t fall too far below freezing or peak above 90. The city is a transportation hub, the point of intersection for many train lines, including the Beijing-Guangzhou Railroad.