When we think of small cities, we think of a population of about 100,000. Small Chinese cities have around one to four million inhabitants -- or about as many as Chicago or Los Angeles. These cities have skyscrapers, functional bus and subway lines (that usually stop running around 10 pm), and plenty of Western shops like H&M, Zara, KFC, McDonald's, and more. What they may lack is a truly bustling expat community, although you won't be the only foreigner in town, or even at your school. For a true challenge, some schools are located outside the city limit and in nearby suburbs. Below are samples of some of our past placements. Please be aware that not all locations might be available for the upcoming program.
Jiaxing lies along the Grand Canal of China, which connects Beijing to Hangzhou, and is most distinguished by its waterscapes. The presence of many lakes and lagoons creates a very distinct, dreamy atmosphere; they also shape the cuisine with a steady supply of water chestnuts and fish, and help to make the surrounding land fertile and green. Jiaxing is also the site of the founding of the Communist Party of China. The town exports high quantities of leather and silk, so be sure to come home in style. Jiaxing dialect, while similar to Shanghainese and the Suzhou dialect, is hard to understand for speakers of Mandarin. However, young people are educated in Mandarin. Winter is dry and chilly while spring is wet – bring an umbrella. You can easily get to Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Shanghai by bus.
Ningbo is a coastal town about two hours from Shanghai by high-speed rail. There is a lot to do, both in terms of highbrow activities like visiting museums, and social activities like going to gym and expat bars with trivia nights. The area is mountainous and fun to explore, and many Educational Ambassadors have enjoyed simply hopping on the bus and seeing where it takes them. If you like seafood, you'll love Ningbo cuisine. Ningbo does suffer from both air and water pollution, although it isn't terrible by Chinese standards.
Yiwu’s spectacular natural beauty, its cliffs and lakes, have inspired poets and musicians for centuries. Its markets, now centralized into one five-story 43,000,000-square foot mall, have inspired dedicated shoppers since the 1600s. The mall differs somewhat from an American megaplex – goods are purchased mainly in stalls, prices are negotiable, and you can find anything from clothing to extension cords. Recently many traders have come from the Middle East, which has shaped the city’s cuisine to some degree. Hangzhou is nearby.
Rui’an is a comparatively wealthy coastal town. Since the year 2000 BC, it has been known for its machine manufacturing; now, 4,000 years later, it has a thriving plastics industry. The town is also famous for its residents going to live abroad, particularly in France and Italy. The lingua franca is the Wu dialect, not Mandarin. The nearest cities are Wenzhou and Ningbo. For an Educational Ambassador's perspective on teaching in Rui'an, check out William O'Brien's photo essay A Hero's Journey.
Wenzhou is a port city about an hour from Hangzhou by high-speed rail, beloved for its sea air and mountain landscape. The foreigner population is minuscule compared to other small cities, but this can be a boon! Plenty of McDonald's and KFCs for when you're craving Western food. Let EA Mackey Landey show you around Wenzhou!
Gourmands are in luck: Chinese people will drive all day to Yangzhou for no other reason than to have a nice meal. Highly recommended are the baozi (dumplings), which may be stuffed with a variety of vegetables, meats, or seafood; and the Yangzhou fried rice. Local tourist spots are also quite beautiful and may inspire you to learn more about the city. (Marco Polo claimed Kublai Khan had him installed as governor here. Veracity? Unlikely). For indoor fun, try your luck in the bar and club scene. Winters are chilly but not arctic; summers are hot and humid. Nearby cities are Nanjing and Suzhou.
Suzhou is a historic garden town, about half an hour from both Shanghai and Nanjing by high-speed rail. Famous for its canals and carefully cultivated gardens, Suzhou has plenty of Chinese culture to offer. The buses will take you everywhere you need to go, up until about 10 pm. For those who want to see the sky, Suzhou is notable among Chinese cities for a lack of skyscrapers and a distinct style of architecture, those Chinese-type houses you always see in books with the sloped tile roofs and whitewashed walls. You will not be the only foreigner in Suzhou, and you may not get as many strange looks as Americans in small towns do. This can be a pro and a con: you can blend in more easily, but you may have to make more of an effort to make Chinese friends.
Nantong is most famous for its skyline, a mixture of old and new buildings that dot the Hua River, which locals refer to as the Emerald Necklace of Nantong. A coastal city, Nantong is warm but breezy, with distinct winter and summer. For social activities, there are many bars and mixers. The closest cities are Nanjing, Shanghai, and Suzhou.
Yancheng borders beaches and salt harvest fields. Nearby, there are also protected marshlands, home to the endangered Pere David deer and the red-breasted cranes, the latter of which make quite a show of arriving each year. The city bus system is very cheap: 1 RMB for a day of unlimited rides. Yancheng is connected by train to Shanghai and Beijing, and by bus to Lianyungang. Weather is considered good, if wet, year-round.
Friendly and walkable, it’s easy to get to know Xuzhou, the fourth-largest city in Jiangsu Province. Its neighborhoods are divided up by specialty: Peixian County is known for its Wushu, a type of martial art, while Qijia Village is famous for its Chinese Chess. Xuzhou sometimes gets light snow in December-February, but quickly warms up soon after. The cuisine is a mixture of northern and southern China flavors but beware of dog meat. Nearby cities include Shandong, Lianyungang, and Shanghai.
Dotted with carefully cultivated gardens, the Zen Buddhist Tianning Temple, as well as many other archaeological sites, Changzhou is a charming, centrally-located town. The weather is mild, ranging from a low of just above freezing to a high of just below 90. Changzhou was first settled around 2700 years ago by people. Dinosaurs settled there much earlier and left piles and piles of evidence, which you can view in Changzhou’s Dinosaur Park. The city is located 1.5 hours by high-speed train from both Nanjing and Shanghai if you need to get out and party – sadly, you may find that difficult in Changzhou.
3,000-year-old Wuxi is now a hub of industry and commerce, helping to springboard China’s economy into the twenty-first century. It is one of the top ten tourist cities in China due to its networks of rivers and lakes, including Lake Taihu, famous for its freshwater pearls. Beautiful gardens and ancient caves also dot the landscape. Wuxi is humid/damp year-round, though snow is rare. Sports fans can attend baseball, soccer games, or swimming meets at the local arenas. The city is 1.5 hours from Nanjing and 45 minutes from Shanghai by high-speed train.
Chengde, a mountain town chosen by the Kangxi Emperor as the location for his summer palace, is still famed for its natural beauty. Full of historical sites and fascinating cultural heterogeneity (the Mongol and Manchu ethnic minorities blend with Han Chinese here), there is always something new to discover. Your day-to-day life can include as much or as little of these wonders as you and your teaching schedule allow. Hopefully, you will come here with plenty of energy, and a willingness to explore. Chengde does not have much access to Western foods or soft drinks.
Originally pastureland for Manchu herdsman, Mudanjiang is 4.5 hours from Harbin, 18 hours from Dalian, and 21 hours from Beijing. It is also bordered by Russia and close to North Korea. From October through April, the low temperatures are at, or more likely, way below freezing, so protect your cameras! The city is surrounded by beautiful mountains, allowing for choice skiing. The forests, lakes, and rivers are also considered quite spectacular.
Educational Ambassadors placed in Jiamusi enjoy playing games at the arcade, going to KTV, and practicing hulusi, a wind instrument. There is also a ski resort nearby. If you are placed here, bring a heavy jacket and plenty of long underwear – you’re bordering Siberia! Jiamusi has historically been home to many cultures, and there's plenty of that mix still evident today: along with the Han Chinese, you'll also find Mongol, Hui, Korean, Manchu, and Hezhen ethnic groups. A big plus when you live in such a diverse area is that you have plenty of options if you get sick of traditional Chinese food. The freshwater fish here is especially good.
The seaside town of Jinzhou, like many other Chinese cities, is developing quickly. For now, however, it’s still pretty small. Folks interested in religion may want to take note of the Buddhist folk festivals that take place here every year. If you’d like to know more about the history of Jinzhou (or if you just want a good read), check out Jung Chang’s Wild Swans, which has some descriptions of the city. Any time a craving for western food hits, fear not – there’s a KFC. Although public transportation is available, most people prefer to walk. Due to the extreme northern location, weather can get quite chilly, so bring a heavy jacket. Beijing is three hours away by express train.
Huludao is the city closest to the Shanhai Pass, where the Great Wall meets the Bohai Sea. The coastal environment provides plenty of fresh seafood, including fish, shellfish, and jellyfish. The county is also home to some of Asia’s largest orchards, full of pears, apples, nectarines, and jujubes. Within the city, public transportation is easy and affordable. If you start to go stircrazy, you can reach Beijing in three hours by high-speed train.
Historically, Xinzhou has long been a Buddhist center in Shanxi Province, especially the sacred Mount Wutai, the head of China’s four famous Buddhist mountains. As a teacher in Xinzhou, you will be placed in one of the region’s most well-regarded schools. Xinzhou is bordered by the Yellow River and the Taihang Mountains, and the city landscape is generally rugged and hilly. The climate here is similar to the northeastern United States. The closest city is Taiyuan, half an hour away; Beijing is 2-4 hours away by train.
A small town developing at a breakneck pace, Taiyuan provides critical support to China’s economy. Culture enthusiasts will note that it is home to many ancient temples, shrines, and interesting museums, including the China Coal Museum. There are also many beautiful parks and natural sites scattered in and around the city, most notably the famous Tianlongshan Grottoes and the Longshan Grottoes. Taiyuan's noodle cuisine is nationally renowned. Temperatures from November through March will drop below freezing at night, but go up considerably during spring and summer. By bullet train, you will be 3.5 hours from Beijing.
Luoyang is 11 hours away from Beijing and 17 hours away from Shanghai by train. The closest cities are Xi'an, home of the terracotta warriors, about two hours away, and Zhengzhou. One of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, Luoyang is full of historical sites. The weather never gets too hot, even in the dog days of summer. For religious studies scholars, Taoism originated here. If you get homesick, you can find KFC and McDonald's, but the local food is also quite good.
Named China’s most livable city, locals consider the coastal resort town of Qingdao one of the nation’s prettiest, cleanest cities, due in large part to its beautiful parks and beaches. Qingdao’s first metro line opened last year; you also have many buses and trolleys at your disposal. Due to many years of German presence / occupation, there are Catholic and Lutheran churches; the Catholic church holds mass every Sunday. Winter is cold and windy; summer is warm but generally not too hot. For explorers, a ferry travels to Korea three times a week and to Japan twice a week. Within China, you can reach Beijing in four hours and Shanghai in six by train.