China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities

Gain a deep understanding of cultural diversity and minority relations in Yunnan Province and on an excursion to Beijing, while earning up to 10 Chinese language credits.

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. From the program base in Kunming, Yunnan’s capital city, and on excursions throughout the province, students engage with academic institutes, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other local organizations to understand a range of critical issues, including:

  • 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)

In Yunnan, a typical semester may include meetings or lectures with  academic and NGO leaders from Yunnan Nationalities University (Yunnan Minzu University), Yunnan University, Yunnan Normal University, Yunnan Social Science Academy, Yunnan Arts Institute, Yunnan Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital, the Lijiang Dongba Cultural Research Institute, and the Shangri-La Association of Culture Preservation. This extensive network in Yunnan is complemented by a mid-semester excursion to Beijing where students gain a national perspective on the program theme.

In addition to gaining a deep and rich cultural perspective on China today, students receive unique insight to Yunnan’s role as an NGO hub as well as the evolution and modes of operation by which NGOs and other local organizations work with the government in order to accomplish key objectives.

Intensive Chinese Instruction
Students rapidly advance their Chinese language skills through the program's intensive language component, which yields six academic credits. Interested students may also choose to undertake an additional 60 hours of intensive Chinese in lieu of the traditional Independent Study Project, granting them a total of ten language credits. The program’s academic director and language faculty have completed ACTFL OPI training and are in the process of achieving ACTFL OPI Tester Certification.

Excursions to Dali, Lijiang, Zhongdian (Shangri-La), and Beijing
Program excursions bring students into close engagement with local scholars; medical and development professionals; and Daoist, Buddhist, Islamic, and Christian religious leaders. Learn more about the program’s excursions.

Living with host families — through the program’s two homestays — students experience daily life in urban and rural settings.

Students discover China's rich multicultural history and gain broadened perspectives on the major social, cultural, and economic challenges and opportunities confronting China today.

The excursion to China’s capital, Beijing, enriches students’ understanding of Yunnan Province’s place in China’s history and the relationship between central government policy regarding ethnic minorities and the lived experiences of Yunnan’s minority groups. In Beijing, students meet prominent academics and visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, along with Tiananmen Square and other significant locales in this metropolis.

Yunnan:  A Cradle of Cultural and Biological Diversity
The China: Chinese Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities program is based in southwest China's Yunnan Province, known for its exceptional cultural diversity and impressive natural beauty. Home to 25 of China's 55 officially recognized minority groups, the region's complexity challenges the erroneous belief of many that China is home to a monolithic culture.

Sharing its border with Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar, Yunnan Province is uniquely situated where South, Southeast, and East Asian cultures intersect, all in a diverse topography ranging from the snow-capped Himalayan foothills to semitropical rainforests. Boasting more than 18,000 plant species, the region is also home to an outstanding array of animal life, including the Asian elephant and the rare Yunnan golden monkey.

Within this diversity, ethnic minorities, cultural organizations, government officials, and nongovernmental organizations work to ensure sustainable futures for Yunnan’s minority communities and identities.


The Yunnan Exploration Project gives students the opportunity to travel independently and develop skills that will be useful to them on their Independent Study Projects. Ruth Donaghey (Providence College) went on a guided trek into a rural area for her Yunnan Exploration Project in spring 2012 Read more about Ruth's experience.

Elizabeth Reynolds “SIT not only introduced me to minority issues in China, minority craft, and thangka painting, but provided contacts and tools necessary to conduct independent field research and compile a successful Fulbright application.”

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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