China Semester: South of the Clouds, 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.
Weeks 1-4 After arriving in Kunming and spending our first night greeting each other, eating some delicious local food and going over some fundamental health and safety info, we board a train for the historic town of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage site in an ethnically Naxi area at the foot of Yunnan’s Jade Dragon Snow Mountains. From Lijiang, we travel to an area named for the lake at its center, Lashihai, to continue our orientation. In a Naxi village in Lashihai, we live with farming families now very familiar to Dragons after years of friendship. We spend our days learning some basics of life in China, getting to know the villagers, hiking in the surrounding hills and visiting nearby monasteries and historic sites. During our time here we also spend a few days trekking at nearby Laojun Mountain and begin our study of ethnic identity, religion and development in China. From Lashihai, we travel further into Yunnan’s northwest, an area known for its striking geological formations and the vast biodiversity of the Three Parallel Rivers Protected Area. By the end of our travels here, we have interacted meaningfully with and learned about China’s multiple ethnic groups, including Naxi, Lisu, Pumi, Yi, Tibetan, and Han. We have observed and participated in a range of cultures, seen some breathtaking scenery, gone through challenges as a group, and heard local perspectives on tradition and change through fireside conversations.
Weeks 5-8 We arrive back in Kunming to begin month-long urban home-stays with families who embody both traditional values as well as lifestyles and perspectives shaped by modern living and China’s blistering pace of change. Our time in Kunming is structured around morning Mandarin classes in our very own classroom space, afternoon group and solo lessons and activities around the city, and Independent Study Projects (ISPs) with mentors, organizations, or solo. During this time, we have a chance to really get to know Kunming, each other, and also have some plain old-fashioned fun. No longer on the road, we fall into our routine and get used to the pace of life in this relaxed city, at the same time working hard to take ownership of our learning of the language and our ISPs. The student group also takes on more responsibility and we have opportunities for student-led excursions and activities.
Weeks 9-11 Before we know it, our time in Kunming has come to an end. After thanking our language teachers, showing appreciation to the families that welcomed us, and having our last interactions with friends and Independent Study Mentors, we gather our gear and set out again on a second travel phase. We head north through metropolises that will feel much more daunting than laid-back Kunming, learning along the way about development issues such as labor migration, and the environmental challenges facing China. We also stay connected to rural areas, both Han and ethnic minority-dominated, and continue our exploration of local lifestyles, traditions, and philosophies. During this second travel phase, students continue to take on more responsibility for the course, specifically in regard to logistics and the focus of our learning and investigations. Finally, we are ready for “Expedition Phase”, a student-led expedition that brings us to our final destination: Beijing. In China’s capital, a journey that has taken us thousands of kilometers across the diverse expanse of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and experiences that we call China comes to a conclusion. In our final few days together, we leave the city of Beijing behind and retreat into the shade cast by the Great Wall and the hills over which it crawls. In a cozy family-run guesthouse, we look back on our journey. We reflect on the days we traveled together, show appreciation for the people we shared the journey with, and set our intentions for integrating the lessons we’ve learned into our future perspectives and endeavors. Then, it’s time to depart for home…in time, each of us will discover the ways that this trip has shaped us and reshaped our views of China and the world.