China: Ethnic Minorities and Contemporary Culture

Discover the traditions and contemporary daily lives of remote minority cultures in the South on this high school summer abroad program in China.

Experience the rich cultural diversity of China on a high school study abroad program that will introduce you to remote ethnic minority cultures in China, including Miao, Dong, Buyi, and Zhuang communities. Learn about the history of these cultures and current government policies affecting these minority communities. Spend time in the beautiful and remote rural landscape of southern China. You will be introduced to field plowing and rice production and will learn about traditional crafts and trades such as papermaking, watercolor painting, batik, embroidery, weaving, and blacksmithing. Contrast daily life in rural communities with life in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Luoyang, and Xi’an.

Begin your exploration of China’s cultures in the capital city, Beijing, where you’ll see important sites such as Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall. Next, discover the rich history of Luoyang, one of the four great ancient capitals of China. Visit temples and learn about the history of Buddhism in China. Spend time in Xi’an, one of China’s oldest cities. Take Chinese language lessons and see important historical and cultural sites, including the famous Terra-Cotta Warriors. Two homestay experiences—one in a city and one in a rural village—will allow you to experience daily life in China in very different contexts.

Throughout the program, you’ll attend performances of traditional dancing and singing and see stunning natural sites such as Huangguoshu Waterfall National Park and Moon Hill. End your experience in China with three days of exploration and reflection in Shanghai, where you will visit a number of important sites such as Yuyuan Garden, Old City, Longhua Temple, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Nanjing Road, and The Bund. Chinese high school students will accompany you during portion of the program.

US citizens require a visa for this program. Participants will work with The Experiment’s visa agency to acquire and pay for a visa.

Orientation: Beijing, 3–4 days
Homestays: Guiyang,* 5–6 days; Xijiang,* 5–6 days
Other Accommodations: Hotels and hostels

* Homestay locations can vary.

Days 1–3

Orientation in Beijing

  • Learn about the history and culture of ChinaStudents walking in China
  • Get to know other members of your group during activities and group discussions
  • Begin Chinese language practice
  • Walk Beijing’s historic hutongs (narrow streets lined with traditional courtyard residences)
  • Visit sites of interest such as the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace, Beihai Park, and the Temple of Heaven
  • Go on an excursion to the Great Wall at Badaling

During the orientation period, you and your group will stay in a centrally located hotel.

Days 4–5

Thematic Focus in Luoyang

  • Visit Luoyang’s old section, markets, and folk museum
  • See the People's Square
  • Bike to Longmen Grottoes and see the thousands of statues of Buddha carved there
  • Practice Chinese conversation

During this period, you and your group will stay in a centrally located hotel.

Days 6–8

Thematic Focus in Xi’an

  • Attend Chinese language lessons
  • Visit the site of the Terra-cotta Warriors, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, the Muslim quarter, and the Drum Tower of Xi’an
  • Visit the Shaanxi History Museum to see artifacts from select Chinese dynasties and attend a talk about Chinese cultural history

During this period, you and your group will stay in a centrally located hotel.

Days 9–14

Urban Homestay

  • Practice tai ji
  • Do activities with your host family
  • Visit museums and parks in the city

Thematic Focus

  • Learn about Miao, Dong, and Buyi minority cultures and government policies regarding nationalities
  • Join Chinese students in activities and visits to important sites, parks, and museums
  • Participate in cultural exchange activities
  • Go on an excursion to Huangguoshu Waterfall National Park
  • See a Dixi Opera demonstration and learn batik making in a nearby village

During this period, you will stay in the home of a family. Sample host communities: Xi’an, Guilin, Guiyang

Day 15

Thematic Focus in Kaili

  • Visit the Minorities Museum and a Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital
  • Practice Chinese conversation

During this period, you and your group will stay in a centrally located hotel.

Days 16–21

Rural Homestay Accompanied by Chinese Students from the City

  • Explore the village
  • Do activities with your host family
  • Do field work (e.g., learn to make Chinese tofu, plant sweet potatoes, plough fields with the aid of water buffalo, pick corn)
  • Go hiking in a natural preserve

Thematic Focus

  • Attend a performance of traditional dancing and singing
  • Go on an excursion to a nearby town to see sites of interest such as museums, Sunday morning markets, and a Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital
  • Visit several nearby villages and learn about traditional methods of papermaking, water color painting, batik, embroidery, weaving, spinning, blacksmithing, and lushen (bamboo reed musical pipe) making

During this period, you will stay in the home of a family. Sample host community: Xijiang

Days 22–24

Thematic Focus in Libo and Yangshuo

  • Go on a boat ride down the Li River to visit a fishing village
  • Visit Xiao Qi Kong and see the natural arches that span the river
  • Visit West Street
  • Bicycle to Moon Hill

During this period, you and your group will stay in a centrally located hotel.

Days 25–27

Reflection and Wrap-up in Shanghai

  • Meet with Experimenters from the China: Cultural Diversity in the North program and share learning experiences
  • See sites of interest such as Yuyuan Garden, Old City, Longhua Temple, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Nanjing Road (Shanghai’s main shopping street), The Bund (a famous waterfront area in central Shanghai), and Xintiandi district
  • Reflect with your group on your experiences during the program

During the reflection period, you and your group will stay in a centrally located hostel.

Day 28


Please note: This itinerary is only a sample and is subject to change. Because of factors such as group size and availability of in-country offerings such as festivals, your experience — including sites visited and the number of days spent in each location — may differ somewhat from the one presented above.

These are leader bios from summer 2014.

Erica Balazs

Erica BalazsOriginally from Ohio, Erica Balazs graduated from SIT Graduate Institute in 2012 with a master's in international education. From 2010 to 2013 she lived in China teaching English as a Second Language, studying Mandarin Chinese, and visiting various cities throughout the country. From 2013 to 2014, Erica held a US State Department Fellowship in Indonesia, where she worked in the fields of ESOL, teacher training, and community outreach. Her travels in Asia include China, Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines. In addition, Erica spent one month living with a family in Ecuador while she obtained her TESOL certification. In addition to her passion for travel and new cultures, Erica enjoys running outdoors and participating in international events.

Tom Liu

Tim LiuA native of Beijing, China, Tianyu (Tom) Liu moved to the US at the age of five and grew up near Philadelphia. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania with a BA in biology and a minor in public policy. Over two summers, Tom worked with the Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center and local medical students in Guangzhou, China, to design and implement a rural cataract screening program. Tom also studied global health and medical anthropology in Switzerland, India, China, and South Africa through SIT Study Abroad’s IHP Global Health program. Tom has extensive experience teaching and tutoring students in biology, chemistry, SAT preparation, and piano lessons at the youth, middle school, high school, and collegiate levels. Outside of teaching and traveling, Tom enjoys practicing tae kwon do and judo, blogging, and visiting his parents and two younger siblings. After leading an Experiment group to China in summer 2014, Tom returned to the US to embark on a new adventure as a first-year medical student at the University of Pennsylvania.

I forgot all about my life at home and fully engaged in the life my rural family lives. I remember helping my host mom with the vegetables in the field so that we can eat soup for breakfast and helping my host dad setting up the table where we all ate. Although I spoke only a few words in Chinese, we would always laugh and have a good time. Every morning my host mom’s grandson came to my room to make sure I was there. He was only two years old, but was very wise. I was a part of their family and saying farewell only brought tears to my eyes. I gave them 'I heart NY' t-shirts and they gave me a necklace made of red yarn with a pink boiled egg hanging from it. The necklace means to have a good journey and good luck. Their life is completely different from mine in New York, but I enjoyed it and it was the best part of my trip to China.

Eddy Cruz, Cardinal Hayes High School

My experience for the next four weeks was absolutely amazing. Many people dream of climbing the Great Wall, visiting the Forbidden City, and seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors: after doing all of that, I was proud to be able to say I did accomplish all of that and so much more. Living with two different families was definitely a challenge. My urban homestay was something I had to adjust to. But after the first day of getting to know my host sister, we bonded like real sisters. She wanted me to see everything Xi’an had to offer, and she made sure I was never bored. The rural homestay was hands down the best time of my experience. It was completely different from the urban homestay. I was not only exposed to a whole new culture, but a whole new lifestyle from the one I was used to in America. I woke up to a beautiful river flowing, a nice and hot Chinese breakfast waiting for me and the most generous host family I could have ever hoped for.

Lina Luu, Waukegan High School