China – Kristin Johnson (2011)

Kristin Johnson holds a masters degree in public health from Boston University. Kristin worked in rural China with the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Treatment Support Project. Her work included expanding strategies to promote the adherence to life-saving HIV medications and developing community health worker training programs. Kristin received a $1500 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.

Here are Kristin’s travel safety tips:

Travel in China is both extremely rewarding and challenging. The people are extremely hospitable, the food selection is vast and delicious, and every corner offers a new adventure. Chinese people tend to be very curious about America, so be prepared to discuss American culture, politics, and economics. Don’t be surprise if you are asked for personal opinions about topics that you might not typically discuss with a new acquaintance. Also, make sure to use these conversations to ask about China, as people will be eager to tell you about their local traditions and culture as well.

Perhaps the most immediate challenge is language. Outside of the major cities most people do not speak English therefore you may want to consider studying Chinese as part of your pre-departure preparations. For me, the population density and the constant attention of being foreigner in rural China was sometimes exhausting. It is not uncommon for strangers to ask to take a photo with/of you, however this is merely an expression of their curiosity; you may be the first American that they have ever met. Also, Chinese cities are very large, generally much larger than most major American cities, so take care to find a map and perhaps plot out your destinations in advance, particularly if your don’t speak Chinese. Pollution in China is also immediately evident by the air quality and the thick layer of smog that covers most cities. While it might not be possible to tackle this problem alone, it is of course best to dispose of trash in proper waste receptacles.

In terms of security, China is generally a very safe country, however that said please take all the standard travel precautions, including making copies of your passport, securing your belongings, carrying some money and leaving some behind, and informing someone of your itinerary. Also, it is always advisable to check in with the US Embassy and to check for updates for the Department of State. Access to certain parts of China may be limited to foreigners so be respectful of these rules. Infectious disease risks vary by region therefore it is best to visit your local travel medicine clinic, but as a general rule always drink bottled water and food that is well cooked. The greatest threat to travelers is automobile accidents; therefore it is best to use China ’s very efficient train system for long distance travel. When purchasing train tickets ask for a “soft sleeper,” which is compartment with a mattress, this will be far more comfortable than the seating. Additionally, take extra care when crossing the street as traffic in China in not likely to stop for pedestrians.

Given all of this, soak up as much local culture as possible. If it is a culinary adventure you seek China will not disappoint you- from insects to a mind boggling assortment of meats, vegetables and tofu the options are endless. China has vastly different culture from region to region therefore your experiences with be most rewarding if you meet and travel with local people. Be safe and enjoy your travels in China.