Back to
Rice paddy terraces

Independent Study Projects

Dear Fellow Travelers,

Along with making new friends, having fun, and exploring new places, a huge part of this experience will be centered around the endless opportunities to learn. We will learn from each other, learn from each community that we visit, learn from the new challenges we encounter along the way, we will learn about ourselves and learn about the world. There will be some experiences that will be obvious learning experiences and others that we might need to reflect upon later down the road in order to fully understand what we are able to take away from the experience.

We wanted to send you a note on another of our nine Program Components, and that is the Independent Study Project (ISP). The ISP is perhaps a more obvious learning experience that we will do our best to help facilitate. We would like to start the conversation on ISP’s now; before you even get into China. Some of you may want to begin doing some research and digging into readings or materials that might interest you.

So, what is an ISP? ISP’s are…
1) Self-directed. An ISP is your chance to have an individual experience within the group and exercise full control over the topic of study. It calls on your own curiosity, creativity, and sense of wonder. It is NOT the traditional assignment. Not only do you decide what topic/activity you would like to study and how much time you want to spend on it, you get to also choose the form in which this focused study is conducted and presented. More on that in a bit.
2) Experiential. The most successful projects draw learning directly from the people, places, and activities you encounter. We ask that you shift your focus away from activities that you can do equally well (or better) from home, i.e. internet research, scouring Google, isolated book research, etc. While these methods are important to provide contextual knowledge to your ISP, your project will benefit from keeping this type of research to a minimum. Instead, rely on interactions with locals and the local context, and have these become the topic of your work and the means through which you learn!
3) Place-pertinent. Your project should allow you to be fully involved in a part of China or Chinese culture. Consider that the place we call China is a HUGE entity, full of diversity and contradictions. Students are often drawn to calligraphy, martial arts, local cuisine, and traditional Chinese medicine. These topics of study are not only OK; they’re awesome! In addition to these, consider what else constitutes China and its diverse cultures. Could you study local superstitions in the villages and communities where we’ll stay, and could these folktales be compiled into a storybook? If we agree that China for most of its five-millennia-long history was an agrarian society, what can you learn about the growing of food in China? The options are endless and we encourage you to think hard about what interests you, how you love to learn, and what experiences you want that you could only have in China.

ISPs can take on any form. Below, we’ve listed a few “types” students often use. Of course, your study may have elements of each, perhaps only a couple, or it may take an approach we’ve never seen before.

Thematic – Focus your study on specific topics of interest, for example an important local political issue or a certain religious practice. Thematic studies could involve interviews, focused investigations, readings, as well as written and possibly visual documentation.
Skill-building – The places we’ll be traveling to are known for their own unique and fascinating traditions, arts, and expertise in areas often completely unknown to our cultures – local textiles, music, shamanic practices, agricultural techniques, martial arts, building, or cooking skills. Take the chance through your ISP to develop a unique and novel skill!
Artistic – In addition to the possibility of developing a new skill, you can take the opportunity to foster your creative side through expressions of words, visual arts, music, etc. Maybe there is a creative talent you already have or one that you want to focus on here. Use it! And combine it with one of the other aspects of the ISP so that it allows you to engage with people, places or activities. Think of photo-journals, illustrations, short stories, videos, a series of paintings, etc.
Personal – The ISP can also be a time to develop something more personal, your connection to the natural world, a spiritual practice, your own process of reflection, growth or lifestyle development, etc. You can work with a mentor or propose another way to pursue this type of ISP.

Attached at the end of this Field Note are some ideas for ISP topics. Use it as a resource to think about what you might want to do, but please follow your own interests and use the internet and the China course reader prior to your departure to find some ideas you’d like to develop into a project. At this point, we are focusing on helping you find what YOU are passionate about: what would be engaging for you and keep you inspired; so don’t feel pressure to decide right at this moment, or anxious if you are not able to do ‘enough’ before departing! We would however encourage you to start thinking about your preliminary ideas, along with your questions and considerations. Do you need a mentor to teach you a skill? Do you want to interview locals? Will you need a translator with you? What other resources/tools do you foresee needing?

We look forward to hearing more about your thoughts!
Kristen, Gong, and Greg

Ideas for ISP topics:

Bicycling in China
Chinese advertising
Chinese calligraphy/landscape painting
Traditional dances of ethnic minority groups
Education (primary, secondary, development of, etc.)
The food we eat
Food markets in China
Impact of dams and hydropower development in Southwest China
Chinese idioms and their counterparts in your own culture
Chinese impressions of the U.S. and Americans
Chinese stringed instruments
Martial arts
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Roles and limitations of domestic and foreign NGO’s in China
The Chinese and their pets
Public services in Kunming
Ethnobotany/botany in China
Rural folklore                                                                                                    Chinese superstitions
Chinese tea ceremonies
Temple architecture and daily routines
Tobacco production in Yunnan
Methods of transportation