This program is being modified for fall 2020.
Changes include later arrival dates preceded by a one- to two-week online component.


Health, Environment, and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Discover China’s rich multicultural history and indigenous strategies for achieving community health and environmental protection in Yunnan Province and Beijing.

At a Glance





Language of Study


Courses taught in



Sep 14 ‎– Dec 22

Online Component

Sep 14 ‎– Sep 25

On Site Component

Sep 27 ‎– Dec 22

Program Base


Critical Global Issue of Study

Global Health & Well-being

Global Health & Well-being Icon


Why study traditional medicine in China?

This program has been modified with a later in-country start date preceded by one to two weeks online. The online portion will include: program orientation; introductory activities to get to know your academic director and local program team; faculty-led sessions; guest lectures to provide the theoretical frameworks for the course and historical background to the sites and partner organizations; readings; preliminary assignments; and discussions about independent study projects and, if applicable, internship opportunities. We will also have online discussions to debrief sessions and prepare you to join faculty, local team, and peers in country. 

Live in beautiful Kunming, the “City of Eternal Spring.” In this green hub of sustainability, home to 25 ethnic minority groups, you’ll be immersed in Chinese culture and get to know Chinese people from different walks of life. Learn about Traditional Chinese Medicine and practice skills such as Chinese massage, acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, and herbal medicine under the guidance of medical professionals at the Yunnan Provincial Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital.

Travel throughout Yunnan — to the Daoist mountain Weibaoshan, the ancient city of Dali, the town of Shaxi on the ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Route, Lijiang World Heritage site, and Zhongdian Tibetan area — to study the role of indigenous knowledge in health preservation, environmental protection, and sustainable development. In China’s ancient capital, Beijing, you’ll see the Great Wall and Forbidden City.

You’ll also receive 90 hours of Chinese language instruction. With a combination of classroom learning, cultural immersion, and practical application during homestays and excursions, you can make tremendous progress in your Chinese language skills over the semester.


  • Spend several days in Beijing and see the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.
  • Earn up to ten Chinese language credits with ACTFL-certified instructors.
  • Practice Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques.
  • Exam health related social issues and challenges.
  • Explore rich minority healing systems and indigenous healthcare practices.
  • Choose from three course options: research, internship, or language study.





Begin your semester in China’s capital, Beijing, where you’ll see the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. You will also have the chance to see the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, the Olympic Bird’s Nest, markets, art districts, and museums during the one-day self-designed Beijing exploration activity. Meet top Chinese academics to learn about Chinese identity and central government policies on healthcare and environment protection and visit Beijing CDC to understand the government healthcare policies, integration of modern technology and traditional healthcare practices, healthcare access, and environmental health issues. You’ll see China’s millennia-old urban sophistication, witness the fast pace of cultural change, and get a sense of China’s political centralization.

Indigenous Healthcare in Yunnan

Embark on a two-week excursion focused on indigenous healthcare practices at the intersection of food, environment, and health. In a diverse range of community settings — temples and monasteries, nature reserves, markets, cultural preservation organizations, villages, schools, and factories—you’ll get to know the local people. In the process, you’ll get insight to indigenous health practices within the Yi and Hui Autonomous County of Weishan, the Bai areas of Dali and Shaxi, the Naxi ancient town of Lijiang, and the Tibetan areas of northwestern Yunnan. You’ll also visit clinics and explore Bai herbal medicine, Tibetan medicine, and Naxi Dongba traditional healing practices.

Day Trips

Get a deeper understanding of China’s cultures and health and environmental issues during multiple day trips around Kunming. Destinations vary from one semester to the next, but common ones include a Buddhist temple, an organic farm, Kunming’s Flower and Bird Market, Yunnan Traditional Chinese Medicine Museum, and western and TCM hospitals. You may learn Five Animal Movements from a monk and how to make medicinal tea at the TCM hospital. You may observe the agile motions of a Shaolin Kungfu master, experience a demonstration of TCM diagnoses at a TCM clinic, and see a demonstration of the Beijing Opera at a cultural institute.

Yunnan Exploration Project

In this self-designed independent study and travel period in Yunnan Province, you’ll build upon concepts learned in the thematic seminar and utilize your Chinese language training. Individually or in a small group, will arrange your own travel to a site or sites of your choosing, where you will explore the area and interact with residents over the course of approximately five days. You’ll develop your flexibility and confidence in your ability to conduct fieldwork in China and handle logistical challenges you may encounter during future assignments outside the classroom, during your Independent Study Project, and on future visits to China. On your return, you will present on the everyday skills and field study methods you used to solve problems and successfully navigate China. In the presentation, you will discuss key moments during the project that led to a greater understanding of some aspect of China’s Han and ethnic minority cultures as well as your own culture.

Stone Forest and Jiuxiang Scenic Region

Enjoy a relaxing program wrap-up in the Stone Forest and Jiuxiang Scenic Region, where you’ll be surrounded by the magnificent limestone formations of the Stone Forest and where you’ll get to go inside Jiuxiang Cave.

Please note that SIT will make every effort to maintain its programs as described. To respond to emergent situations, however, SIT may have to change or cancel programs.



Access virtual library guide.

This program’s interdisciplinary coursework informs students on all aspects of life in China, with special emphasis on the environmental and health spheres as they relate to broad societal trends and specific ethnic minorities in Yunnan Province. Seminars are conducted both in English and in translation and include lectures by Chinese academics, researchers, development workers, and experts in health and healthcare, environment studies, history and religion, social issues, arts and the humanities, and minority issues. During the final month of the semester, students complete an Independent Study Project, internship, or intensive language study.

The following syllabi are representative of 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.

Please expand the sections below to see detailed course information, including course codes, credits, overviews, and syllabi.

Key Topics

  • Traditional Chinese cultures and beliefs in contemporary life
  • Health and Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • Chinese minorities’ healing systems and views on health preservation
  • Ethnic minority tourism, cultural change, and environmental sustainability
  • Historical, religious, and social factors shaping Chinese healthcare
  • Indigenous knowledge in healthcare and environmental protection

Health, Environment, and Indigenous Knowledge Seminar

Health, Environment, and Indigenous Knowledge Seminar – syllabus
(ASIA 3000 / 3 credits)

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 Chinese society and China’s minority communities. The course also examines challenges associated with China’s health and environmental issues and governmental, community, and individual strategies underway to assess and manage them. Outside the classroom, experiential learning is integral to this seminar. Lecturers are drawn from institutions such as Tsinghua University, 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

Field Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH 3500 / 3 credits)

A course in the concepts of learning across cultures and from field experience in preparation for the Independent Study Project or Internship and Seminar. Material includes cross-cultural adaptation and skills building; project selection and refinement; appropriate methodologies; field study and internship 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 1006–1506 / 6 credits)

Intermediate Chinese – syllabus
(CHIN 2006–2506 / 6 credits)

Advanced Chinese – syllabus
(CHIN 3006–3506 / 6 credits)

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 and are certified-ACTFL OPI testers of Chinese language proficiency. 

Course Options

Choose one of the following three courses.

Independent Study Project
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR 3000 / 4 credits)

Conducted in Yunnan Province or another approved location appropriate to the project, the Independent Study Project (ISP) is a self-designed research project offering students the opportunity to undertake a personally significant and independent investigation into a topic of their choice. Each student will plan, develop, and independently undertake a research project, with the advice and guidance of the academic director and an ISP advisor, a local academic, and/or health professional. The topic of study may be anything of interest to the student, within the scope of the program and the immediate region, and is usually developed out of lectures, discussions, and educational excursions. The final project should provide material evidence of student capability in utilizing appropriate methodologies and in synthesizing experiences in the host culture. Students are expected to complete 120 hours of field-based (non-archival, non-library) research on their topic, submit a substantial written paper, and deliver an accompanying oral presentation. It is not uncommon for ISPs to strongly contribute to the student’s choice of subject for graduate studies or professional career.

Sample ISP topic areas:

  • Traditional ecological knowledge and sustainable food sourcing
  • An analysis of China’s energy sources and the case for clean energy
  • Confucianist and Daoist philosophies and their influences on health preservation and environmental protection
  • Addressing disparities in China’s health, education, and social welfare systems
  • The impact of the Chinese rural healthcare system on infectious disease
  • Naxi shamanic healing system
  • Tibetan mental health
  • Traditional Chinese painting, music, and medicine

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


Internship and Seminar
Internship and Seminar – syllabus
(ITRN3000 / 4 credits)

This program offers a four-week internship with various organizations or work units that provide unique opportunities for students to gain valuable professional experience in a range of fields, including health education, cultural preservation, traditional medicine, food systems, and local entrepreneurship. This experience is aimed at enhancing students’ skills in an international work environment and establishing networks for their future career. A minimum of 120 hours must be spent interning with the organization. Students also participate in a weekly seminar, write a paper, and give a final presentation.

Sample internships

  • Learning about traditional healthcare practices and techniques and the holistic philosophy behind Traditional Chinese Medicine at a Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital or clinic
  • Developing photographic materials and assisting cultural preservation efforts at varied local institutes and companies
  • Organizing cultural activities for the local community and assessing the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives targeting small businesses at Shangri-la Cultural Preservation Center
  • Helping in the Traditional Chinese Medicine herb farms at Yunnan Wubang Pharmaceutical Group
  • Assisting the work at Sony China Limited, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation
  • Helping out at Hongta Sports Center, which has an indoor swimming facility, a badminton competition area, an Olympic-sized ice surface, and more
  • Helping out at Yang Liping Art and Culture Developments Ltd, established and run by the legendary ethnic dancer Yang Liping


Intermediate Chinese
Intermediate Chinese – syllabus
(CHIN 2004–2504 / 4 credits)

Advanced Chinese
Advanced Chinese – syllabus
(CHIN 3004–3504 / 4 credits)

Guided Self-Instruction in Chinese
Guided Self-Instruction in Chinese – syllabus
(CHIN 4004 / 4 credits)

Pursued in lieu of the ISP or internship, this intensive one-on-one or one-on-two immersive 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, students can earn up to ten language credits in one semester.

Students also sign a 24-hour Chinese language pledge for the duration of this 4-credit course.

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 a small group, 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 give a presentation on the everyday skills and field study methods you used to solve problems and successfully navigate China. In the presentation, you will discuss key moments during the project that led to a greater understanding of some aspect of China’s Han and ethnic minority cultures as well as your own culture.

Intensive Language Study

You may choose to study up to 10 Chinese language credits during the semester. The 6 + 4 language credit option includes 6 required credits and 4 additional credits of intensive study during the program’s final month. Offered in lieu of the ISP or internship, 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.

“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



Kunming is Yunnan Province’s largest city and political, economic, and cultural center. It is called “the City of Eternal Spring” and is famous in China for its nice climate, green environment, and good air quality. You will spend two weeks with a family in urban Kunming. Through this experience, you will likely gain a deeper understanding of China’s increasingly complex and economically stratified society. When possible, you will be placed with a family that shares professions or interests related to your Independent Study Project (ISP) or internship field of interest. In many cases, the homestay family becomes an important contact for ISP research and for understanding professional cultures in China.


Experience a more traditional way of life in the farming community Shaxi. For four to five days, you will help your host family with daily chores, including farming, milking, and producing goods for the weekly market, as you learn about the Bai minority culture. You will also witness the profound changes happening in the community because of increased development and tourism.

Other Accommodations

Hostels, educational institutions, or small hotels

Career Paths

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. Positions recently held by alumni of this program include:

  • Graduate student in theological studies at Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA

  • Researcher at Stimson Center, Washington, DC

  • Graduate student in Chinese studies at the University of Michigan’s Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies, Ann Arbor, MI

  • Graduate student at Columbia University Law School, New York, NY

  • Feature reporter for The Phnom Penh Post, Cambodia

  • Princeton in Asia fellow and director of travel curating at The Linden Centre, Dali, China

  • Curator at Lijiang Art Studio, Yunnan, China

  • Administrator for ENREACH International Education, Shanghai, China

  • English interviewer at Vericant, Beijing, China

  • Project manager at Elite Education Global, LLC, Guangzhou, China

  • PhD candidate in anthropology at Princeton University, Princeton, NJ

Faculty & Staff

China: Health, Environment, and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Lu Yuan, PhD
Academic Director
Zhao Jie (Charles)
Language Instructor, Program Assistant, and Internship Coordinator
Zhou Yan
Student Affairs and Homestay Coordinator
Xiao Huaguo
Language Instructor and Field Trip Coordinator
Luo Xiaolei
Language Program Coordinator
Huang Suying
Language Instructor
Zhang Xian, MA
Language Instructor
Wang Juan
Language Instructor
Edward Grumbine, PhD
Academic Reader

Discover the Possibilities


    SIT Study Abroad is committed to making international education accessible to all students. Scholarship awards generally range from $500 to $5,000 for semester programs and $500 to $3,000 for summer programs. This year, SIT will award more than $1.5 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.

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