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China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities

China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities

Study China’s cultural diversity and minority relations in Yunnan Province and on an excursion to Beijing, while earning up to 10 credits for Chinese language study.

Based in Yunnan Province, home to a rich diversity of minority communities and traditions, this program examines the social, environmental, economic, and cultural factors shaping Yunnan’s and China’s future. Here, you will gain a deep understanding of China’s rich multicultural history and broadened perspectives on the major issues and challenges confronting China today. In addition, you can rapidly advance your Chinese through the program’s language component, which yields up to ten academic credits.

Major topics of study include:

  • The role of traditional Chinese cultures and belief systems in contemporary life
  • Rapid urbanization, agriculture, and social change
  • Health and Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • Tourism and sustainability (cultural and environmental)
  • Preservation and development of China’s minority cultures
SIT combines a rigorous academic program with powerful, hands-on experience to provide participants with a holistic, relevant, lived understanding of China today. Rural life comes alive in the blisters on your hands after a day in the fields. History is spoken in the eyes of those you interview. Language learning is tangled into the city life of your host family.

Nina Whittaker, Kenyon College

At a Tibeten schoolOn this program you will explore the complexity of China’s social groups and develop a deeper understanding of the key social, historical, and cultural issues at work in minority communities.

Highlights include:

  • Initial program orientation in Kunming and the traditional town of Tonghai
  • Studying alongside Chinese students at Yunnan Minzu University
  • Daily taiji exercise
  • Small group language study
  • Excursions throughout Yunnan Province and to Beijing
  • The self-designed Yunnan Exploration Project
  • Homestay in Kunming
  • Minority areas field excursion to Weishan, Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-La, with a rural homestay in the Bai minority village of Shaxi
  • The Independent Study Project (ISP) or continued Chinese language study in lieu of the ISP
  • Final evaluation at the Stone Forest and Jiuxiang Cave area

Each program component exposes you to the complex and varied challenges and opportunities faced by China’s ethnic minority groups. You will engage with a broad array of knowledge centers, and lecturers are drawn from a wide variety of local institutions and organizations.

Institutions we work with include:

  • Yunnan Minzu University
  • Yunnan University
  • Yunnan Normal University
  • Yunnan Social Science Academy
  • Yunnan Art Institute
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Family Health International
  • Kunming Medical University
  • Yunnan Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • The Lijiang Dongba Cultural Research Institute
  • Shaxi Rehabilitation Project
  • Shangri-La Association of Tibetan Culture Preservation
  • Beijing University
  • Tsinghua University
  • Central Minzu University


The program is based in Kunming — Yunnan Province’s largest city and political, economic, and cultural center — and includes periods where you will study on the campus of Yunnan Minzu University and live in a three-week homestay with a family in the city. Kunming is called “the City of Eternal Spring” and is famous in China for its nice climate and good air.

You will attend lectures by local professors and experts in Kunming and during educational site visits to diverse locales. These lectures and excursions will help you deepen your understanding of China’s varied cultures and ethnic minorities.

Through structural language learning and daily interactions with your host families, you will refine your communications skills while becoming acclimated to the local culture. This period provides an introduction to the relevant topical issues China faces today, information you will later build upon during your educational excursions and Independent Study Project.

Chinese Language Study

Chinese language class

While in Kunming, you will undertake 90 class hours of Chinese language instruction. Students at all skill levels receive training in reading, writing, listening, and speaking Chinese.

Through a combination of traditional classroom learning, cultural immersion on campus, and the practical application of language skills in homestays, during excursions, and throughout the Independent Study Project, you can make tremendous progress in your Chinese language skills over the course of the semester.

The language program is distinguished by its excellent teacher-to-student ratio; in addition, you will be partnered with Chinese university students so you can practice Chinese with native speakers and apply what you learn in the classroom to the informal conditions of everyday life.

If you wish to focus on language acquisition specifically, you may, in lieu of an Independent Study Project, pursue an additional 60 hours of language instruction, which includes a language pledge.

Having one-on-one tutoring with my teachers allowed me to learn more Chinese in a month than I learned in the two years I took Chinese before attending SIT. The language pledge pushed me and inspired me to be more confident by forcing me to step out of my comfort zone and practice my Chinese with locals. While the language pledge was one of the most challenging months of my life, it is what I will remember and treasure most about my experience in Kunming.

Caroline Marso, Occidental College

Chinese Culture and Ethnic Minorities Seminar

This seminar includes three sections: Chinese history and religions, China’s social issues and arts and humanities, and China’s minority issues. The unique minority issues component of the seminar — including excursions, visits, and exchanges with ethnic minority groups — distinguishes this study abroad program from any other in China. This interdisciplinary seminar explores the relationship between China’s central government and the ethnically diverse minority populations of Yunnan. The interactions inherent in the relationship between China’s “peripheral peoples” and an arguably constructed dominant “Han” culture form a foundation upon which questions of autonomy and identity are brought to life in Yunnan and its environs.

Field Methods and Ethics Seminar

classroom in China

During this phase of the program, you will participate in educational excursions throughout Yunnan Province. You will witness the region’s struggle, as it increasingly becomes a major focus of both domestic and foreign tourism, to achieve a balance between developed tourist areas, such as Dali and Lijiang, and more remote sites that retain a strong sense of cultural integrity. By living with a local family in a rural farming village, you will learn about the cultural traditions that define and sustain these diverse communities. 

Excursions relate directly to the program’s Field Methods and Ethics seminar, which instructs you on the techniques, methods, and ethics necessary for successful research. Throughout this section of the program, you will develop ideas for your Independent Study Project (ISP) and will learn to properly refine your research topics.  

Independent Study Project

In the final month of the semester, you will undertake either an Independent Study Project (ISP) or additional language training.

The ISP provides you with an opportunity to critically examine a topic, community, or situation related to Chinese culture or ethnic minorities in China.

Previous ISP topics have included, but are not limited to:

  • Social customs of minority groups
  • Evolution of the free-market system in ethnic minority regions
  • Philosophy and practice of taiji
  • Role of civil society in environmental management and conservation
  • Investigation of family and religious practices of the Hui
  • Naxi Dongba shaman practices
  • Structure of the extended family in the context of China’s family planning system
  • Growth and inequality in modern China
  • Domestic tourism and its impact on Dali and Lijiang
  • Preservation and renewal of Tibetan arts
  • Healthcare challenges in China
  • Traditional Chinese painting, music, and medicine
  • Buddhist philosophy and practice

Alternatively, you may use this time to pursue one month of additional language study in lieu of the ISP. If you pursue this option, you will spend this period participating in intensive and often one-on-one language instruction, which includes taking a language pledge.

Access virtual library guide.

The interdisciplinary coursework in the China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities program informs students on all aspects of life in China, including the environmental, health, and political spheres. Seminars conducted in both English and in translation include lectures by Chinese academics, researchers, development workers, and experts in the fields of history and religion, social issues, arts and the humanities, and minority issues. During the final month of the semester, students leverage their field study experience and research skills to complete their ISP.

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Chinese Culture and Ethnic Minorities Seminar – syllabus
(ASIA 3000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
An interdisciplinary course conducted in English, with required readings, examining China’s cultural complexity and the key social, economic, environmental, and cultural factors shaping and sustaining China’s minority communities. Lecturers are drawn from institutions such as Yunnan Minzu University, Yunnan University, Yunnan Normal University, NGOs in Yunnan, Yunnan Arts Institute, Yunnan Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Kunming University of Science and Technology, the Lijiang Dongba Cultural Research Institute and Shangri-La Association of Tibetan Cultural Preservation.

Field Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH 3500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
A course in the concepts of learning across cultures and from field experience in preparation for the Independent Study Project. Material includes cross-cultural adaptation and skills building; project selection and refinement; appropriate methodologies; field study ethics and the World Learning / SIT Human Subjects Review Policy; developing contacts and finding resources; developing skills in observation and interviewing; gathering, organizing, and communicating data; and maintaining a work journal.

Beginning Chinese – syllabus
(CHIN 1000–1500 / 6 credits / 90 class hours)
Intermediate Chinese – syllabus
(CHIN 2000–2500 / 6 credits / 90 class hours)
Advanced Chinese – syllabus
(CHIN 3000–3500 / 6 credits / 90 class hours)
Emphasis on speaking and comprehension skills, as well as introductory reading skills, through classroom and field instruction. Based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing, students are placed in beginning, intermediate, or advanced classes. Language instructors are certified in teaching Chinese as a foreign language and use a variety of interactive communication-based language-teaching techniques. All SIT language instructors have completed ACTFL OPI training.

During the final month of the program, students may choose between the following:

Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR 3000 / 4 credits / 120 class hours)
Conducted in Yunnan Province or in another approved location appropriate to the project. Sample topic areas: social customs of minority groups; evolution of the free-market system; philosophy and practice of taiji; investigation of family and religious practices of the Hui; Dongba shamans; textiles and handicrafts of the Naxi and the Miao; the structure of the extended family in the context of China’s family planning system; domestic tourism and its impact on Dali and Lijiang; the role of civil society in environmental management and conservation; growth and inequality in modern China; preservation and renewal of Tibetan arts; healthcare challenges in China; traditional Chinese painting, music, and medicine; Buddhist philosophy and practice.

Browse this program’s Independent Study Projects / undergraduate research.


Intermediate Chinese – syllabus
(CHIN 2004–2504 / 4 credits / 60 class hours)
Advanced Chinese – syllabus
(CHIN 3004–3504 / 4 credits / 60 class hours)
Guided Self-Instruction in Chinese – syllabus
(CHIN 4004 / 4 credits / 60 class hours)
Pursued in lieu of the ISP, this intensive one-on-one or one-on-two Chinese language course is conducted during the last month of the program; combined with the required six-credit language course taken earlier in the program, this course gives students the chance to earn up to ten language credits in one semester. Students also sign a 24-hour Chinese language pledge for the duration of this course.

* Chinese language study can be pursued in lieu of the standard, research-based Independent Study Project.

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Day Trips and Excursions

Songzanlin monastery

The China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities program includes numerous educational day trips and extended excursions designed to complement and enhance classroom study and field-based activities. Day trips and excursion experiences are deepened through frequent discussion and reflection sessions led by students and the academic director.

Day trips near the city of Kunming may include:

  • A lecture on Islam in China held at a local mosque during Friday prayers
  • An introduction to Buddhism given in a Buddhist temple complex
  • An introduction to Christianity in China given at a small Miao (Hmong) Christian village
  • An explanation of Traditional Chinese Medicine at Yunnan Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • An introduction to and demonstration of the Beijing Opera at a local cultural institute
  • A visit to Kunming’s Flower and Bird Market
  • An introduction to and demonstration of traditional Chinese music and instruments at Yunnan Art Institute
  • A talk on China’s ethnic minorities and China’s minority policies at the Yunnan Nationalities Museum

During day trips and excursions, you may witness firsthand a Dongba shaman go into a trance; the agile and fluid motions of a Daoist master; the selfless dedication of workers at a Tibetan orphanage; an audience with a reincarnate Tibetan lama; and choral singing at a Christian Miao (Hmong) minority village.

Beijing Excursion: Minority Relations in Historical Perspective

You will travel across China to the capital city of Beijing, where Yunnan Province’s great ethnic diversity is placed in both historical and contemporary perspective. Through a combination of lectures, educational site visits, and a small group field study project, the striking ethnic and historical contrast between Beijing and Yunnan Province becomes clear.

In Beijing, you will meet top Chinese academics and learn about Chinese identity and central government policies on minorities and will also learn about the ethnic and cultural history of Beijing through experiential learning in the city itself. Lecturers may include faculty drawn from Beijing’s best institutions of higher education, including Beijing University, Tsinghua University, or China’s Central Nationalities University. Their lectures may focus on such diverse topics as:

  • China’s rapid urbanization and its impact on local communities
  • Government minority policies and relationships among China’s ethnic groups and nationalities
  • China’s reproductive policy and its implementation
  • Ethnic identity in China

Students at the Great Wall

Furthering your understanding of ethnic minority relations over time, you will visit historically significant sites such as the Great Wall, the Tibetan temple of Yonghegong, and the Forbidden City built by the Manchu Qing Dynasty, when the Manchu minority ruled China.

The Beijing excursion deepens your understanding of remote Yunnan’s place in the modern Chinese nation and throughout imperial times, thus clarifying the distinct roles played throughout China’s history by the majority Han Chinese, as well as by northern ethnic minorities, and their political, military, and cultural contributions to modern China.

Corollary goals of the Beijing excursion include giving you a taste of China’s millennia-old urban sophistication, a clearer idea of the fast pace of modernization in China’s largest cities, and an appreciation of the high degree of China’s political centralization. To that end, in addition to enjoying group visits to UNESCO World Heritage sites, you will engage in a day-long group field study project in Beijing, and you will have time to discover on your own a plethora of Beijing’s great places, including the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, the Olympic Bird’s Nest, fascinating markets, and many museums.

Minority Areas Field Excursion in Yunnan

Child gazing at skyThe two-week minority areas excursion involves deep and varied experiential learning opportunities in the Yi and Hui Autonomous County of Weishan, the Bai areas of Dali, the Naxi ancient town of Lijiang, and the Tibetan areas of northwestern Yunnan. The itinerary changes each semester to include less-visited sites and rural areas vital to understanding modern China’s vast diversity and many inequalities. You will engage with local residents through visits to religious temples and monasteries, nature reserves, local markets, orphanages, schools, and factories. Immediately preceding the Independent Study Project (ISP) period, this excursion forms the core of the travel portion of the program and exposes you to myriad possibilities and contacts for your ISP.

Yunnan Exploration Project

The Yunnan Exploration Project, a self-designed independent study and travel period in Yunnan Province, allows you to build upon concepts learned in the thematic seminar and to utilize your Chinese language training. The project also develops your flexibility and confidence in your ability to conduct fieldwork in China and prepares you for logistical challenges you may encounter during future assignments outside the classroom, during your Independent Study Project, and on future visits and study in China.

You will identify a site or sites you would like to explore, and, individually or in small groups, will arrange your own travel to these destinations, where you will explore the area and interact with residents over the course of approximately five days. On your return, you will present the skills and field study methods you used during the process of problem-solving, locating food and lodging during your travels, and, in a paper, you will discuss incidents during the project that led to a greater understanding of some aspect of China’s dominant and ethnic minority cultures as well as your own culture.

Lu Yuan, PhD, Academic Director

Lu YuanDr. Lu Yuan holds a PhD in international / Chinese studies from the University of Technology, Sydney. After receiving her BA in Chinese literature and journalism from People’s University, Beijing, Lu Yuan worked for seven years as a journalist with Xinhua, the official news agency of China, and as editor of the publication Chinese Journalist. From 1989 to 1990, Dr. Lu was a Parvin Fellow on a journalism training program sponsored by the East-West Center at the University of Hawai‘i. She taught Chinese at Banaras Hindu University in north India as part of her MA degree work in Chinese language teaching from SIT Graduate Institute (the School for International Training).

In addition to her visits to Tibet and the minority regions of Mongolia, Ningxia, and Yunnan, Lu Yuan spent three years in Kathmandu, Nepal, while her husband, Sam, co-directed the SIT Nepal program.

As academic director, Lu Yuan has overseen the entire SIT China program since its inception in the fall of 1994. In addition to giving lectures, advising students, and coordinating academic seminars, Dr. Lu also plans the program’s educational excursions and works to ensure that students’ academic needs are fully met. She obtained certification as an ACTFL OPI tester (Chinese language) in 2015. Lu Yuan has also served as the academic director for the summer Community Health and Traditional Chinese Medicine program since 2004.

Zhao JieMr. Zhao Jie, Language Instructor and Program Assistant

Born in Shanghai and raised in Kunming, Zhao Jie received a bachelor of science degree from Yunnan University in 2003 and a master of science from Yunnan University in 2006. Fluent in both Chinese and English, Zhao Jie has a particular interest in paleontology and has conducted research and published extensively in this field. He has been in charge of international affairs on projects with both the University of Leicester (UK) and the Natural History Museum of Sweden. He has been teaching at Yunnan Normal University and Yunnan Minzu University as a Chinese language teacher since 2001 and has worked as a language teacher and program assistant for the SIT China/Yunnan program since 2002. Zhao Jie completed the training workshop for ACTFL OPI tester certification in January 2014.

Luo XiaoleiMs. Luo Xiaolei, Language Program Coordinator

Born and raised in Kunming, Luo Xiaolei received a bachelor’s degree in English from Yunnan University in 1989. She worked as office staff and as a translator for the Foreign Affairs Office of Yunnan University as well as for companies in Zhuhai and Hong Kong from 1989 to 1997. She has been teaching Chinese to foreigners at Yunnan University, Yunnan Normal University, and Yunnan Minzu University since 2002 and has been teaching SIT students since 2003. Ms. Luo has served as an SIT language program coordinator since the fall of 2007. Luo Xiaolei completed the training workshop for ACTFL OPI tester certification in January 2014.

Zhou YanMs. Zhou Yan, Student Affairs Coordinator

Ms. Zhou Yan, of Yi nationality, was born in Yun County, Yunnan Province, a remote minority area. Ms. Zhou obtained a bachelor’s degree in English from the Xian Foreign Languages Institute, one of the most well-known schools in China, in 2008. She returned to her home province and joined SIT’s staff following graduation. She has served as student affairs coordinator with the SIT program in China since the spring of 2008. Zhou Yan obtained certification as an ACTFL OPI tester (Chinese language) in 2015.

Language instructors include:

Huang SuyingHuang Suying, Language Instructor

Born and raised in Kunming, Huang Suying received a bachelor’s degree in English from Yunnan University in 2001. She taught Chinese to foreign students and English to Chinese students at Yunnan Normal University from 2001 to 2008. Since June 2008 she has been teaching SIT students on both semester and summer programs. Huang Suying obtained a Certificate of Mandarin Chinese Qualification in 2001 and a Certificate of Teaching Chinese as a Second Language in 2006. She completed the training for ACTFL OPI tester certification in January 2014.

Zhang Xian, Language Instructor

Born and raised in Kunming, Zhang Xian received a bachelor’s degree in Chinese literature from Yunnan Normal University in 2006 and a master’s degree in Chinese linguistics from Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Zhang Xian taught Chinese to high school students in Thailand from 2006 to 2007 and taught Chinese to foreign students at Yunnan Normal University from 2007 to 2008. Since September 2008 she has been teaching SIT students on both semester and summer programs except for the period when she was pursuing her master’s degree in Chinese linguistics at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Zhang Xian completed the training for ACTFL OPI tester certification in January 2014.

Wang JuanWang Juan, Language Instructor

Born and raised in Yunnan Province, Wang Juan, a Hani nationality received a bachelor’s degree in teaching Chinese as a second language from Beijing Language University in 2006.

Wang Juan taught Chinese at Tai Haad School in Thailand from July to August of 2005 and taught Chinese to foreign students at Yunnan Normal University from 2006 to 2008. Since April 2008 she has been teaching SIT students on both semester and summer programs. Wang Juan obtained a Certificate of Mandarin Chinese Qualification and a Certificate of Professional Chinese Proficiency in 2004. She completed the training for ACTFL OPI tester certification in January 2014.

Xiao HuaguoXiao Huaguo, Language Instructor

Born and raised in Hubei Province, Xiao Huaguo received a bachelor’s degree in English from Yangtze University in 2004.

Xiao Huaguo worked for Yunnan New World Foreign Language School from 2005 to 2008, teaching English to Chinese elementary school students. He also worked for Yunnan Art Institute from 2008 to 2009, teaching English to freshmen and sophomores majoring in English. From March to June of 2009, Xiao Huaguo taught Chinese to foreigners at Kunming Dongfang Language School. Since June 2009 he has been teaching SIT students on both semester and summer programs. Xiao Huaguo earned a Certificate of English Proficiency, testing at the advanced level, in 2003 and a Certificate of Accreditation in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language in 2010. In 2015, Xiao Huaguo obtained certification as an ACTFL OPI tester (Chinese language).

Other lecturers include:

Dr. Duo Lin, HIV/AIDS Expert

Duo Lin has earned medical degrees in Kunming and London. Since 2002, he has been involved with research, public health, and health education related to HIV/AIDS, intravenous drug use, and sexual transmission of disease in Yunnan, including among ethnic minorities, and in those areas bordering Southeast Asian countries. He is currently the manager of the Yunnan Province HIV/AIDS Asia Regional Project, sponsored by the Australian government and has participated in and managed other local and regional projects concerning the spread and control of HIV/AIDS. He has contributed to numerous publications and has served as a consultant and participant in national and international conferences on the subject. Since 2006, Duo Lin has been a senior lecturer and ISP advisor for the SIT China semester program and a senior lecturer with the SIT China summer program.

Associate Professor Xiong Bin, Lecturer on Regional Economics and Business

Xiong Bin has degrees in international business and management, as well as in English, from universities in Yunnan and Thailand, and she has lectured at universities and worked in private businesses in both China and Thailand. She is currently an associate professor of management and economics at the Kunming University of Science and Technology. Her specialty is in regional economic development and international business and management. Her participation in numerous international collaborative research projects and conferences concerning the important and rapid economic development involving China’s Yunnan Province and the adjoining Southeast Asian countries of the Greater Mekong sub-region has led to numerous published articles and papers, and she has won awards for the quality of her teaching. Xiong Bin has been a senior lecturer and ISP advisor for the SIT China semester program since 2002.

Professor Shen Haimei, Anthropologist

Dr. Shen Haimei is a professor of anthropology at the Yunnan Provincial Ethnology Research Institute, Yunnan Minzu University. Her research interests include Yunnan local history, women/gender studies and ethnicity in southwest China, HIV/AIDS and public health, and the trafficking of women and transnational Asian female immigrants in China. Her two authored books, her numerous articles in Chinese and English, and her editorial works and translations have embodied these interests and have become important resources for the anthropological and historical understanding of Yunnan’s unique peoples, as has been indicated by the various fellowships she has held at universities in the US, the UK, and Singapore. Professor Shen Haimei has been a senior lecturer and ISP advisor with the SIT China semester program since 2002.

Professor Yang Hui, Anthropologist

Yang Hui received her education in anthropology and political science in China and the United States. She is a professor with the Institute of Anthropology and Ethnology at Yunnan University. She has taught courses in sociocultural anthropology at undergraduate and graduate levels and has been a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley and a visiting professor in Hong Kong. Her numerous published articles, edited works, translations, and ethnographic documentary films have focused on Yunnan and Yunnan’s minorities in particular, and she remains an important contributor and authority in these fields, as well as in the fields of tourism in ethnic minority areas and economic development among transnational minority groups in Yunnan and Southeast Asia. Professor Yang Hui has been a senior lecturer and ISP advisor for the SIT China semester program since 1998.

Professor Yang Fuquan

Professor Yang is a member of the Naxi ethnic nationality. He holds a PhD in Chinese ethnic history and culture and is a professor with and vice president of the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences in Kunming, as well as the director of the Local Historical Studies Department of Yunnan Province. He is the author of 28 academic books and more than 150 articles on topics concerning identity and relationships between traditional knowledge systems and biodiversity conservation, cultural conflict, and cultural change among the ethnic peoples of Yunnan, especially concerning the Naxi ethnic group. He has given lectures and presentations in Germany, the United States, Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, and elsewhere. He has acted as a leader and coordinator of several international research projects focused on traditional resource management, indigenous knowledge systems, cultural conservation, biodiversity protection, and ecotourism issues in the ethnic minority areas of Yunnan. Professor Yang Fuquan has been a senior lecturer and ISP advisor with the SIT China semester program since 1999.

Professor Dan Smyer Yu, Anthropologist

Dr. Dan Smyer Yu is distinguished professor and director at the Center for Trans-Himalayan Studies, Yunnan Minzu University. He joined SIT as a guest professor in spring 2015. Dr. Yu received his PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of California at Davis. Prior to his joining Max Planck, he was a New Millennium Scholar and the associate director of the Ethnic Minority Study Center of China at Minzu University of China. He also taught and held research positions at the University of California, Davis; the Graduate Theological Union, San Francisco Theological Seminary; Sacramento City College; and the Center for the Pacific Rim, University of San Francisco.

Dr. Yu is an anthropologist specializing in the studies of religious revitalizations, charismatic communities, commercialization of religious spirituality, and the relationship between eco-religious practices and place making in contemporary China. His research interests include religion and ethnic nationalism, religiosity of state ideology, religious conversion, religion and ecology, sacred landscapes, pilgrimage studies, religion and mental health, religion and peacebuilding, visual anthropology, and religious use of digital media. Currently, he is writing his second book concerning the intersections of religion, nation, and nationalism in the context of modern Sino-Tibetan interactions. It addresses how land, place making, nostalgia, modernity, imagination, and representation are entwined in both rural and urban settings of contemporary China.

Professor Zhao Yuzhong, Anthropologist

Professor Zhao is a member of the Bai ethnic nationality. He holds a PhD in ethnology, from the Institute of Ethnic Studies, Yunnan University. Dr. Zhao is currently a professor of anthropology at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Kunming University of Science and Technology (KUST). He was a research associate at the Department of History, the Hong Kong Chinese University, and the South China Research Center, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology from 2010 to 2011, and a visiting scholar in the Department of Anthropology, Cornell University at Ithaca, New York, between 2011 and 2012. Dr. Zhao has written numerous books and articles concerning Yunnan’s ethnic cultures and has led many important research projects on ethnology and anthropology in Yunnan, especially on the Bai ethnic group. Professor Zhao has been a senior lecturer and ISP advisor for the SIT China semester program since spring 2015.

The China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities program includes two different homestays, allowing you to experience daily Chinese life in both urban and rural settings.

Kunming Homestay

learning a game from homestay familyYou will spend three weeks with a family in urban Kunming, exchanging cultural information and insights and interests. Through this experience, you will gain a far deeper understanding of China’s increasingly complex and economically stratified society. When possible, you will be placed in a home with a family that shares common professions and interests related to your Independent Study Project (ISP) topic. In many cases, the homestay family becomes an important contact for students as they explore the role of ethnic minority cultures for their ISP.

Shaxi Rural Homestay

In the rural Bai nationality farming community of Shaxi, you will experience a more traditional way of life. You may help your host family with daily chores, including farming, milking, and producing goods to be sold at the local weekly market. You will gain firsthand knowledge of minority cultures and witness the profound changes occurring as a result of increased development and tourism. This homestay lasts for four to five days.

Other accommodations during the program include hostels, educational institutions, or small hotels.

A diversity of students representing different colleges, universities, and majors study abroad on this program. Many of them have gone on to do amazing things that connect back to their experience abroad with SIT. Learn what some of them are now doing.

Recent positions held by alumni of this program include:

  • Graduate Student (MA in theological studies), Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Researcher, The Stimson Center, Washington, DC
  • Graduate Student (MA in Chinese studies), Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan


Program Dates: Spring 2016

Program Start Date:  Feb 21, 2016

Program End Date:    Jun 4, 2016

The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Nov 1, 2015


SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $14,920

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Social issues and humanities
    • Minority issues
    • History and religions
  • Field Methods and Ethics and Human Subjects Review
  • All educational excursions to locations such as Dali and Lijiang, Tibetan areas of Zhongdian and other rural locations, Beijing, and the Great Wall, including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
  • Intensive language instruction in Chinese
  • Language textbooks and reading materials for the academic seminars
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period
  • Local transportation

Room & Board: $3,580

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Kunming), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.
  • All homestays (three weeks in Kunming and several days in the rural Bai community of Shaxi)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses: $ 130

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: Not yet available.

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


SIT, 1 Kipling Road, PO Box 676, Brattleboro, VT 05302-0676
802 258-3212, 888 272-7881 (Toll-free in the US), Fax: 802 258-3296 

SIT was founded as the School for International Training and has been known as SIT Study Abroad and SIT Graduate Institute since 2007. SIT is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc. (NEASC) through its Commission on Institutions of Higher Education

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