China: Mandarin Language Intensive 6-Week, Sample Itinerary

This is a sample itinerary. No two Dragons courses are the same. Every itinerary considers the unique strengths of the instructor team and interests of the student group.
WEEK 1 After our arrival in Beijing, China’s capital, we depart the city for a small village below a remote and un-renovated section of the Great Wall. Within hiking distance of the wall, we stay in a small family-owned guesthouse here and begin getting to know one another, learning about ensuring our health and safety during the course, and get a sense of where and how we’ll spend the next several weeks together. After taking advantage of the quiet and natural beauty of the village, we board a bus to travel back to the city of Beijing and spend a couple of days exploring some of the many historical and cultural treasures it has to offer. We hear about life in the city from an American living there who began his study of Chinese with Dragons many years ago, navigate historic hutong neighborhoods, and stop by an artist’s studio in one of Beijing’s thriving art districts. One of our goals on this program is to steer clear of the usual tourist destinations, but Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world and site of a long list of major events in contemporary Chinese history is a place we will visit and try to understand from several different perspectives. Next, we board a flight for Kunming, Yunnan, “south of the clouds” in China’s southwest. Arriving in Kunming we meet the language teachers who remain us for the rest of our time in China.
WEEKS 2 & 3 For now, Kunming is just a stopover on our way to our rural home-stay village in western Yunnan – an area called Lashihai, about an hour by road from the town of Lijiang. Here, we settle into the routine that we keep for most of the remainder of our time together. Language teachers will assess students and divide the group into small classes according to level. Each weekday morning until lunchtime we attend class, focusing on listening and conversation skills that we can use immediately during the afternoons and evenings. In the afternoons, we spend time helping with household and farm chores with our host families and exploring the area as a group. Lashihai is an ethnically Naxi area. In addition to Chinese, many Naxi people also speak Naxi language and have maintained strong traditions. Host families live in traditional wooden homes built around cobblestone courtyards and this is one few places in China where many older people still wear traditional dress. Experiential learning activities and trips during our afternoons and weekends may include teaching English to local children, visiting a large Tibetan Buddhist monastery just a bike ride away and learning about the lives of the monks and religious practice in Lashihai, short treks to nearby ethnically Yi villages, a trip to Lijiang to learn about it’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage site and how tourism has transformed the town, and visiting a local NGO working to promote the use of biogas in the area.
WEEKS 4 & 5 It’s usually difficult to say goodbye to our home-stay families in the village, but this week it’s time for us to move on and experience a very different lifestyle: urban life in the city of Kunming. We arrive by train in Kunming and meet our new home-stay families here. Kunming is sometimes called the “City of Eternal Spring” because of its mild weather, clean air (especially relative to other cities in China today) and abundant native plants and flowers. In Kunming, we continue with our weekday morning language classes. Classes are held in our Kunming Program House, a short walk from the city’s famous Green Lake Park, and a comfortable space where we meet each morning, attend class, and sometimes hold group meetings or host guest speakers on a wide variety of topics of interest to the group in the afternoons. In the afternoons, students also work on Independent Study Projects (ISPs) taking advantage of our strong network of contacts and mentors in the city. Early in the program, instructors discuss interests and ideas with each student. ISPs can take on all different forms, from studying an aspect of traditional culture (e.g. calligraphy, a martial art, dance, a musical instrument, tea culture) to academic research on Chinese history or social issues, to partnering with a local NGO focused on issues like labor migration or environmental issues, to a creative photography or writing project. Evenings and weekends are spent with host families – the best opportunity of all to build language skills and experience day-to-day life with a Chinese family.
WEEK 6 Over the course of the summer, the instructors gradually step back, allowing the group to take more leadership. This culminates in a 4-5 day student-led expedition. Don’t panic, by this time you’ve had lots of opportunities throughout the course to gain valuable leadership skills and take ownership of your own experiences. The student group will be responsible for all aspects of this expedition and work with the support of the instructors to plan an amazing travel experience in Yunnan – a province abundant in natural beauty and ethnic diversity. Past groups have trekked through Tiger Leaping Gorge, to the mountains of Yunnan’s far northwest, visited the elaborately terraced rice farms of the southeast and the jungles of Xishuangbanna, bordering Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. Finally, we spend our last few days together outside the city of Kunming in what we call Transference, reflecting on everything we’ve learned and experienced together and preparing for our return home!