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Rice paddy terraces

Tentative Itinerary


As we eagerly await your introductions here on the Yak board, we wanted to present you and your families with a tentative itinerary for your semester in China!

Note—this itinerary will change. The intended flexibility allows us to travel with the locals, to off-the-beaten-track locations that often do not have fixed bus schedules. It also enables us as instructors to use the core curriculum and program components to create a course that is based on both our passions and your interests. As we get to know all of you, we will be able to create an educational experience that takes into account the unique nature of each group, rather than asking groups to fit into an impersonal schedule of sites and activities. Expect and prepare to embrace occasions when you will not know the changes happening beyond the next few days, and trust that as we reevaluate and readjust the itinerary, it is with the intention of supporting an evolving you, and your increasing ownership of the course.

That said, we are excited to share with you a general overview for this fall semester:

September 17th – 20th: Orientation near the Great Wall.

Here the Ming-dynasty wall is not maintained as a tourist destination, and bears the weathered scars of the last 700 years. We’ll be staying at a cozy family-run guesthouse, where the bulk of our orientation activities will take place. Over the course of several days you’ll get to know each other and learn what this Dragons course will be all about. We’ll give important information on staying safe, clarify your reasons for coming on this trip, and work to create a group culture that will support and push each individual over the next three months.

September 21 – 22: Beijing

Next stop is Beijing, where we will spend two days exploring China’s political, cultural, and educational center. We will continue with orientation activities and getting to know each other, while also visiting some of the city’s most important historical sites.

September 23rd -24th: Xi’an

On the 23rd, we’ll find ourselves in the ancient capital and of Xi’an, the start of the Silk Road. Xi’an has long been a crossroads for people from throughout China, Central Asia, and the Middle East, and thus a hub of diverse ethnic identities and religious beliefs. During these two days in Xi’an, we will explore the incredible cultural and religious diversity of this ancient city and how it has changed over the centuries.

September 25th -26th: Zhongnan Mountains

We will continue our exploration of Chinese spiritual traditions as we trek through the nearby Zhongnan mountains, which has been a popular dwelling place for Daoist hermits for over 2000 years. Centuries ago, these were the mountains that inspired Laozi’s Dao De Jing; in the past few decades, these ancient Daoist traditions have been revived by discontented city-dwellers in pursuit of a simpler life, giving a fascinating glimpse into modern China’s search for meaning and purpose in an ever-changing world.

September 27th – October 10th: Eastern Qinghai province.

From Xi’an we’ll head further west into Qinghai province and spend two weeks in the northeastern foothills of the Tibetan Plateau. In the capital city of Xining, we’ll have an introduction to Tibetan language, culture, and religion in preparation for our travels to more rural parts of the province.

From Xining, we will travel to Labrang Monastery, one of the most renowned Tibetan monasteries in China, and home to the largest number of monks outside of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Following this will be our first homestay of the course in the Sangke Grasslands, where we will stay for 4 days.  The community that we will live with is nomadic, meaning that they live in different parts of the region in different seasons.  Families in this community sleep in tents and spend much of the day caring for the sheep and yaks that they raise…students will participate with families in their daily chores and activities.

To experience another side of Tibetan life, we will then spend one week in a farming village (non-nomadic) on the top of a mountain near Langmu Monastery. Throughout all of this time, there will be plenty of time to explore the surrounding areas with homestays, trek through beautiful mountains and plains, and experience local life in nearby temples and monasteries.

Oct 11-16- Chengdu and Surrounding Areas

After a day-long bus ride from Langmu Monastery, we will arrive to Chengdu, one of the fastest-developing cities in the country. Chengdu is known for its incredible food (it is one of only 10 cities designated by UNESCO as an official city of “food heritage”), and we will use food as our primary lens for understanding issues related to urban planning, development, and sustainability in modern China.  For the last two days of our time in Chengdu, students will plan and lead a short expedition to surrounding areas. Students will decide among a number of incredible sites in close proximity to Chengdu, including Emei mountain, Qingcheng Mountain, Leshan, Dujiangyan, etc.

October 17th – November 17th: Kunming.

After a month of extensive travelling and diverse experiences, we’ll make our long-awaited arrival into Kunming, city of eternal spring. We will move immediately into a month-long stay with local families who embody traditional values as well as lifestyles and perspectives shaped by modern living and China’s blistering pace of change. Our time in Kunming will be structured by morning Mandarin classes, afternoon group and solo lessons and activities around the city, and Independent Study Projects (ISPs) with mentors, organizations, or alone. You’ll fall into routine and get used to the pace of life in this comfortable metropolis, but also push yourself through your ISPs to take ownership of your city experience.

November 18th – November 24th: Manzhang, Xishuangbanna

As the winter season begins in central and northern Yunnan, we’ll be moving south to the prefecture known as Xishuangbanna that borders Vietnam and Laos. This region is known for its distinctive culture which blends traditional Dai culture (the peoples of Laos and Thailand) with Han Chinese culture. Here we will stay with homestay families in a village called Manzhang where we will personally witness the fascinating interactions between Dai and Han culture that make this region so unique. Weather permitting, we will embark on a 1-2 day jungle trek in the rainforests near Jinuo village.

November 25th – December 2nd: To be determined…

After our fourth and final homestay in Xishuangbanna, we’ll gather our gear and set out again on a second travel phase. This phase of travel will be completely participant-led; students will be responsible for all logistics and learning content during our travels. For this reason, our destination for these 8 days is yet to be (student-)determined…

December 3rd – 6th: Transference and Farewell!

As we celebrate the end of our expedition, we’ll start looking back at this journey that has taken us across thousands of miles, through a diverse expanse of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and experiences throughout the Middle Kingdom. We’ll 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 from China into our future selves. Then it will be time to head to the Kunming airport, where you’ll head home or go on your next adventure!