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Presenting your Fall 2018 China Itinerary

Dear Dragons,

Welcome to your course. Over the past few weeks we have been evaluating past courses, our own experience and expertise, and, most importantly, your passions and interests to design an itinerary for our upcoming 3 months together.

We would like to give you a bit of background on the way we design our courses. While the places we visit are beautiful and deeply moving in themselves, the flow of our course is designed carefully and intentionally to create a progression of experiences. In the first phase, known as Skill Acquisition, you will be learning important tools concerning how to be responsible travelers and taking ownership over your experience. During the Practicing phase, you will make use of these tools and engage on a deeper level with your surroundings. During the final Expedition phase, students take on a more active role in the planning and implementation of course elements. As we move through the course, the challenges will increase and your ownership of the experience and responsibility will increase in kind. Throughout the process, you will be guided by us, your instructors, and by the local people and landscapes.

Furthermore, our Core Values of Awareness of Self, Global Citizenship, and Leadership and Skill Building will act as an undercurrent throughout the course, guiding us through the experience. At each phase of the course you will find yourselves delving deeper into these themes. And finally, as always with Dragons, the course will be flexible and spontaneous, allowing us to make changes depending on local conditions, group interests, and other opportunities that may present themselves along the way.

Our excitement has been growing as we’ve put this together, and we can’t wait to share these wonderful places with each of you! So, without further ado here is your China Fall 2018 Semester tentative itinerary!


Seven of you will be on the same flight and will arrive at the Beijing International Airport at 5:20am on September 17th. Upon arriving at the airport you’ll be met by the three of us plus two students coming from Hong Kong. You’ll get more flight details in a Yak closer to your departure date. From the airport we will travel around 2 hours to a remote part of the Great Wall where we will orientate ourselves to China and build skills and knowledge to set ourselves up for success in the following months – tips to keep us safe and healthy, goal-setting exercises to clarify who we are and what we want to achieve, survival Mandarin, team-building activities, and a lot more. We’ll come together as a group, and thank our hosts for our first tastes of authentic Chinese cuisine. From our orientation site we’ll transition into the heart of bustling Beijing where we’ll spend a few days getting to know the history and modern day influence of China’s capital city.

SEPTEMBER 23-25: XINING   西宁   ཟི་ལིང་།

Climbing over 7,000ft (~2100 meters) we make our way by train to the capital city of Qinghai Province. Xining, while still being a large city (2.2 million inhabitants), seems quaint especially in comparison to Beijing (21.7 million). Historically a major stopping off point on the infamous Silk Road, modern day Xining still holds its reputation for being a crossroad of cultures. We’ll spend a few days here learning about the Buddhist and Muslim populations of Qinghai province.


Labrang is one of the largest and most famous Tibetan monasteries in all of China and considered the most important monastery outside of the official Tibetan Autonomous Region. Labrang Monastery was established in 1709 and at its peak it was home to over 4000 monks. After the Cultural Revolution (and then again more recently) new restrictions have been put in place on the number of monks that can congregate in a monastery but Labrang still hosts one of the largest populations of monks in China. Here we will dive into studying Tibetan Buddhism.


We’ll leave Labrang on foot making our way to the town of Rebgong (Tongren 同仁 in Mandarin). Hiking 2 days to the nomadic village of Liqu (ཀླུ་ཆུ), we’ll stay with families for a few days and then continue hiking another 2 days to Rebgong. From there we’ll head to the village of Sakor (ས་ཀོར) for our second homestay. In this part of the course, we’ll focus on everyday Tibetan life, development, and Tibet’s role in modern day China.


Dropping off the Tibetan Plateau we’ll spend a few days in the heart of Sichuan province, Chengdu. Today Chengdu is referred to as the Land of Abundance, its subtropical climate and high annual precipitation rate provide the perfect environment for a booming agricultural industry. With a population of over 14.5 million Chengdu is also a hub of innovation and commerce with over 200 of the Fortune 500 companies having branches of their companies based in Chengdu. Sichuan food, especially the spicy Chengdu Hotpot, is some of the most famous and popular food in China and abroad. On the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, Chengdu is home to many Tibetans that have migrated in search of work. Here we will continue our study of urbanization and migrant workers.


After a month of intense travel we’ll settle into more of a routine in Kunming, located in Southwestern China’s Yunnan province. While we will have some Tibetan and Chinese language lessons during our first month, this time in Kunming will be our time to really dive into learning Mandarin. From Monday to Friday, your mornings will be dedicated to language study and your afternoons will be split between Independent Study Projects (ISPs), guest speakers, and lessons. The weekends will for the most part be spent with your host families.

*During our Kunming time is when we will do a visa run to a nearby country for those of us that are on 60 day visas. A simple overnight trip outside of China will reset our visa for another 60 days.

*What are ISPs? Independent Study Projects are an opportunity for each student to dive deeper into a China specific topic that interests them. You will meet with local artists, teachers, mentors a few days a week for the month we are in Kunming. You do not need to have a topic selected yet. Once you’re in country we will sit down with you and help you create a plan for your ISP.


After a month in Kunming, we will say goodbye to our urban homestay families and travel down south to Yunnan’s southern border with Laos and Myanmar, a tropical prefecture called Xishuangbanna (also known as Sipsongpanna in Dai/Thai) where the rhythm of life is slower and the food, culture, and lifestyle feel more like Southeast Asia. Xishuangbanna is a former Dai kingdom, which once included parts of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. The Dai ethnic group is the largest ethnic minority group in Xishuangbanna and we will stay in a Dai village called Manzhang, in the stilted wooden homes of local farmers. This village is one of many in the area trying to develop tourism, so we will focus our studies on tourism, ethnicity, and the marketing of “difference.” We will have opportunities to make & eat lunch with locals in the rainforest, pick tea, visit local markets, and potentially trek for a couple nights, sleeping under makeshift banana leaf shelters.


From Day 1 in Beijing we will be teaching you about how to travel with purpose, respect and intention. This expedition phase (often called X-Phase) is your time to organize and execute a meaningful, educational experience for yourself, your peers and local contacts. During X-Phase and throughout this entire course you’ll need to work together as a team. We, your instructors, are going to push you from the very beginning to truly own your education. We often won’t give you the answers you are looking for, but instead we’ll support you to figure it out yourself. This may be frustrating at times but know that we do it with the intention to help you grow into being an independent yet interconnected global citizen.


Transference is a time for us all to reflect upon our time together and to think about how we’ll bring what we learned home with us. We’ll slow down and spend a few days in a relaxing, beautiful natural environment.

Start to familiarize yourself with these places. Find them on a map, research their history, look for relevant news articles and most importantly get excited for this amazing adventure!

Long Yun, Zack & Madeleine