Note—this itinerary will change. The intended flexibility allows us to travel with the locals, to off-the-beaten-track locations that often do not have fixed bus schedules. It also enables us as instructors to use the core curriculum and program components to create a course that is based on both our passions and your interests. As we get to know all of you, we will be able to create an educational experience that takes into account the unique nature of each group, rather than asking groups to fit into an impersonal schedule of sites and activities. Expect and prepare to embrace occasions when you will not know the changes happening beyond the next few days, and trust that as we reevaluate and readjust the itinerary, it is with the intention of supporting an evolving you, and your increasing ownership of the course.
That said we are excited to share with you a general overview for this fall semester:
September 15th – 17th: L.A. to Beijing
For those of you on the Group Flight, you will arrive in Beijing on the morning of the 17th. Your instructors will meet you at the airport, and it’ll be a quick transition to a ‘wild’ section of the Great Wall.
September 17th – 20th: Orientation near the Great Wall
Here the Ming-dynasty wall is not maintained as a tourist destination, and bears the weathered scars of the last 700 years. We’ll be staying at a cozy family-run guesthouse, where the bulk of our orientation activities will take place. Over the course of several days you’ll get to know each other and learn what this Dragons course will be all about. We’ll give important information on staying safe, clarify your reasons for coming on this trip, and work to create a group culture that will support and push each individual over the next three months.
September 20th – 23nd: Beijing and first train ride!
We’ll arrive in the city of Beijing sometime in the evening of the 20th. The next day will be our one full day in the nation’s capital, and it promises to be a hectic one, as we are introduced to some Chinese history, visit certain sites of political and historical significance, and meet with guest speakers who will share with us their experiences of living and working in what is known to be China’s political, cultural, and educational center. On the 23rd we’ll travel like the locals do, and board an overnight train heading west.
September 23th – October 8th: Eastern Qinghai and Gansu provinces.
We will make our way to Qinghai province and spend two weeks in the northeastern foothills of the Tibetan Plateau. In the capital city of Xining, we’ll have an introduction to Tibetan language, culture, and religion in preparation for our travels to more rural parts of the province.
From Xining, we will travel to Labrang Monastery, one of the most renowned Tibetan monasteries in China, and home to the largest number of monks outside of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Following this will be our first homestay of the course in the Sangke Grasslands, where we will stay for 4 days. The community that we will live with is nomadic, meaning that they live in different parts of the region in different seasons. Families in this community sleep in tents and spend much of the day caring for the sheep and yaks that they raise…students will participate with families in their daily chores and activities.
To experience another side of Tibetan life, we will then spend one week in a farming village (non-nomadic) on the top of a mountain near Langmu Monastery. Throughout all of this time, there will be plenty of time to explore the surrounding areas with homestays, trek through beautiful mountains and plains, and experience local life in nearby temples and monasteries.
Oct 8-14: Chengdu and Surrounding Areas
After a day-long bus ride from Langmu Monastery, we will arrive to Chengdu, one of the fastest-developing cities in the country. Chengdu is known for its incredible food (it is one of only 10 cities designated by UNESCO as an official city of “food heritage”), and we will use food as our primary lens for understanding issues related to urban planning, development, and sustainability in modern China. We will also have the opportunity to participate in an exchange with a local alternative education school. For the last two days of our time in Chengdu, students will plan and lead a short expedition to surrounding areas. Students will decide among a number of incredible sites in close proximity to Chengdu, including Emei mountain, Qingcheng Mountain, Leshan, Dujiangyan, etc.
October 14th – November 14th: Kunming
After a month of extensive traveling and diverse experiences, we’ll make our long-awaited arrival into Kunming, city of eternal spring. We will move immediately into a month-long stay with local families who embody traditional values as well as lifestyles and perspectives shaped by modern living and China’s blistering pace of change. Our time in Kunming will be structured by morning Mandarin classes, afternoon group and solo lessons and activities around the city, and Independent Study Projects (ISPs) with mentors, organizations, or alone. You’ll fall into routine and get used to the pace of life in this comfortable metropolis, but also push yourself through your ISPs to take ownership of your city experience.
November 14th – November 21st: To be determined…
Before we know it, our time in Kunming will have come to an end. After thanking our language teachers, showing appreciation to the families that welcomed us, and having our last interactions with friends and ISP mentors, we’ll gather our gear and set out again on a second travel phase. The beginning of which will start off instructor-led, however, part way through we will pass the reigns over to the student group. By this point in the course we hope to incorporate more and more student leadership and influence over the trajectory of the course. For this reason and because we expect to have a chance to get to know each of you and your interests, and explore ideas together during the first portion of our course, we will wait to finalize our upcoming travel plans – a work in progress. Here are a few of the possibilities…tentative, yes, but to give you some ideas…
We might conclude with a final homestay in a community in northeast Yunnan in a place called Zhaotong, followed by further exploration into Guizhou. We might choose to travel to northwestern Yunnan, up towards Shangrila, where Pei-yuan has many musician contacts for us to learn from and play music with. We might then consider staying in a homestay in Yubeng. If not, we might choose to travel southwards from Kunming to the heat of Xishuangbanna.
After an initial stint of instructor led-travel, this exploration will transition into our fully student-led segment of the course.
November 21st – December 2nd: Student-led Expedition
The greater responsibilities students have taken on for the course will culminate in a student-led travel phase, during which you’ll be responsible for all logistics and learning content of our travels.
December 3rd – 6th: Transference and Farewell!
As we celebrate the end of a successful expedition, we’ll also start looking back at this journey that has taken us across thousands of miles, through a diverse expanse of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and experiences that we now call China. We’ll reflect on the days we traveled together, show appreciation for the people we shared the journey with, and set our intentions for integrating the lessons from China into our future selves. Then it will be time to head to the Kunming airport, where you’ll head home or go on your next adventure!
Now that you have an idea of how the course will pan out, and some of the areas we will be traveling through, check in soon for other yaks on packing for this itinerary, our pre-course assignment and more!
Be sure to post any questions right here.
For more information on how we are designing this course with you, see: my.wheretherebedragons.com/curriculum/program-components/