China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities

Educational Excursions

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

Day Trips and Excursions
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 Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital
  • 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, students 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
Students 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, students meet top Chinese academics and learn about Chinese identity and central government policies on minorities. Lecturers may include faculty drawn from Beijing’s best institutions of higher education, including Beijing University, Qinghua University, or China’s Central Nationalities University. Their lectures may focus on such diverse topics as:

  • Dual structures in China: city/country, Han/minorities
  • Government minority policies and relationships among China’s ethnic groups and nationalities
  • China's reproductive policy and its implementation
  • Ethnic identity in China

Furthering students’ understanding of ethnic minority relations over time, students visit historically significant sites such as the Great Wall, the Tibetan temple of Yonghegong, and the Forbidden City built by the Manchu Qing Dynasty.

The Beijing excursion deepens students’ 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 students 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 group visits to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, students engage in a day-long group field study project in Beijing and also have time to discover on their 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.

Student with a Lama at Songzanlin Monastery in Zhongdian

Minority Areas Field Excursion in Yunnan
The 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. Students 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 students to myriad possibilities and contacts for their ISP.

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


Students identify a site or sites they would like to explore, and, individually or in small groups, arrange their own travel to these destinations, where they explore the area and interact with residents over the course of approximately five days. On their return, each small group presents the skills and field study methods they used during the process of problem-solving, locating food and lodging during their travels, and, in individual papers, each student discusses incidents during the project that led to a greater understanding of some aspect of China’s dominant and ethnic minority cultures as well as their own culture.


Costs Dates



Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Kunming

Language Study: Chinese

Prerequisites: None

View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)


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