The Pacific Discovery China Gap Year Semester is an inspiring 9-week educational travel program starting in Beijing and moving through Xinjiang, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guangxi provinces. Much of what is known of China to the outside world is focused on the heavily populated and industrialized Eastern seaboard. Pacific Discovery’s journey through China focuses mainly on the “Wild West”, where ancient civilizations have flourished for thousands of years amidst stunning mountains and deserts. Students have the opportunity to experience the diversity of Chinese landscapes and cultures. It combines immersive Mandarin Language study, hand-on service projects, and exciting adventure travel.
On this program, you’ll gain an understanding of the complexity of modern China. Starting in Beijing, wander the Great Wall and Forbidden City while you experience modern China alongside the relics of a 2,000-year-old culture. From Beijing, we depart to the Wild West and explore the rich cultures of the Krygz, Uyghur, Naxi, Tibetan, and Zhuang minority groups. You will enjoy the deserts along ancient silk road trade posts, sleep under the stars in the foothills of the Himalayas, and practice Kung-Fu amid the karst landscape of Southern China all the while practicing your newly developed Mandarin skills. Trek, cycle, and climb to explore temples, mountains, deserts, and stunning countryside.
The program has an experiential focus. Participants get involved in service learning projects, have opportunities for meaningful connections with local people, and experience sustainable development initiatives.
Facilitated by our experienced and supportive program instructors, this is an excellent gap year or study abroad option for students wanting to develop personal and leadership skills and be immersed.
This program can be combined with Summer, Fall, or Spring program options in other regions of the world (Southeast Asia; the Himalayas; New Zealand & Australia; South America) for an in-depth and enriching global experience.
“Working with concepts of sustainability, being immersed in stunning outdoor environments and opening minds and hearts to diverse people and opinions have made an observable difference in the girls. They have grown in maturity, perspective, acceptance, and there is a new sense of assurance that pervades them.”
Jennifer Thomas, Mother of Mary and Emily
On arrival in Beijing, you’ll be met at the airport by your Program Instructors. As a group, we transit outside of Beijing to our orientation location in a traditional Hu-Tong complex, nestled beneath the Jinshaling section of the Great Wall. We commence our program with an in-depth briefing and orientation and an introduction to Chinese culture. Between orientation sessions, we’ll get a chance to hike along a stunning section of the Great Wall. In our first days together, we’ll also focus on getting to know each other and creating a supportive group culture from which we’ll each be nurtured to realize our goals and dreams for this experience.
After orientation, we transfer back to Beijing. Beijing is a city of over 11.5 million people and is the administrative capital of China. Despite its advances to becoming one of the major world cities, it is filled with great architectural and historical sites from ancient China. While there, we begin our first language study at the Capital Mandarin School. Different levels of Mandarin proficiency can be accommodated while following the world-renowned HSK curriculum. Outside of class, we will get a chance to use our newly acquired language skills on the street while we explore cultural sites in the heart of China, including the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Beijing also provides a great opportunity to dive into traditional Chinese culture. We will learn about traditional medicine as well as try calligraphy and dumpling making.
From Beijing, we fly across the country to begin our adventures in the Wild West. Xinjiang Province is home to the Uyghur people, a Turkic-Muslim ethnic group with a rich culture. Xinjiang province is culturally and geographically diverse, being divided between deserts and the stunning Tian Shan mountains. We start our journey in the heart of Uyghur culture in the historic Silk Road Town of Kashgar. In Kashgar, we see the sprawling markets in the Grand Bazaar and hear the call to prayer outside of the Id Kah Mosque.
From Kashgar, we venture into the desert to get a taste of what the silk road explorers experienced for three days of camel-supported trekking. We will camp beneath the stars in the dunes of the Taklimakam desert. Then, after a day of resting and checking out the Old Town of Kasgar, we venture along the “most beautiful road in the world”, the Karakorma Highway. We’ll spend the night in a traditional Krygz yurt near Karakul Lake. The next day we venture back to Kashgar and bid Xinjiang province farewell.
Our next stop along the Wild West Coast brings us to Sichuan province, famous as the home of the Giant Panda. We’ll start our adventure in the capital city, Chengdu. After visiting the Pandas at the world-renowned breeding and research center, we’ll relax at a traditional tea-house and learn to play Mahjong. Get ready for a spicy night as we sample Sichuan-style hot pot before our evening at the Sichuan opera.
Tibetan culture is strong and in full display in the Kanding region, famous for its temples and snow-capped holy mountains. After a homestay and visit to natural hot pools, we’ll trek for four days to the base of Ya La Holy Mountain. In the valleys, we’ll get to share a cup of yak butter tea with the nomadic Tibetans tending their yak herds. After our trek, we spin prayer wheels and learn about the lives of Buddhist monks at the Ta Gong Monastery.
Twenty-five different ethnic groups reside in the next province we visit, Yunnan. After a day exploring the Dali Old Town, we’ll begin our second round of Mandarin study at the HuaYang Academy. This study will be fully immersive with accompanying homestays with local families. This will be an excellent chance to take your language skills to the next level. After class, students have a chance to explore Dali’s charming pagodas, market, and lakes on foot or bicycle. This is a great place to relax, learn, and take in the views of a charming lakeside town.
After wrapping up our second language immersion, we head to the cobblestone streets of Old Town LiJiang, which will serve as our base for accessing the nearby World Heritage Site, Tiger Leaping Gorge. We spend two days hiking through this stunning river gorge, one of the deepest in the world. At night we stay with a local Naxi family in a beautiful courtyard with views of the nearby Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The Naxi are famous as one of the few surviving matriarchal societies in the world.
Our next destination is the near mythical town of Shangri-la, also known as Zhongdian. Upon first glance, we’ll feel as if we’ve left the boundaries of China and entered Tibet. The local monastery, Ganden Sumtseling Gompa, is among the most important outside of Tibet, at its height housing over 2,000 Buddhist monks. While there, we’ll learn about Tibetan Buddhist art, philosophy, and monk lifestyle while enjoying a homestay with Tibetan families.
Before leaving Shangri-La, we shift our focus to a service project organized in conjunction with the China Exploration and Research Society. CERS has several ongoing projects focused on environmental and cultural preservation which we will be matched with based on their current needs.
It will then be time to say goodbye to the Wild West and venture inland to Guangxi Province, an autonomous province home to the Zhuang minority group and famous for its stunning limestone karst mountain landscape. After a day to settle and explore Guilin, we transfer to the Longji Rice Terraces, built over 650 years ago during the Yuan Dynasty. We’ll wake up for sunrise over the stunning Dragon’s Backbone and walk through the terraces to neighboring DaZhi village where a completely distinct minority group, the Yao people, call home.
From Guilin, we’ll take a boat trip down the Li River to access Yangshuo where we will be based for a few weeks adventure activities. Rock climbers from around the world visit Yangshuo, arguably the most scenic and best climbing location in Asia. Over a three-day climbing course, we’ll accommodate each student’s technical ability and make sure that we all walk away with a solid set of rock climbing skills. We continue our adventure theme with a kayak trip down the Li River to XinPing, whose landscape is immortalized on the 20 RMB note. In XinPing, we’ll swap the kayak for bikes and cycle through the countryside back to Yangshuo. We will also spend a day at a rural primary school, connecting with local students through English lessons and mural painting.
No trip to China would be complete without trying our hands at the ancient Chinese arts of Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Under Master Wu, we’ll spend three days learning the basics of Tai Chi, Kung Fu, and Qi Gong meditation from his school in the tranquil countryside, a perfect atmosphere for calming our minds and tapping into our inner warrior.
During our final days in Yangshuo, we’ll wrap up the program, digesting all the wild and wonderful things we’ve seen before taking the high-speed train to Hong Kong where everyone will head to their next adventure.
Open to students, graduates and non-students, ideally 18-24 years. This program is suitable for anyone of average fitness with an enthusiasm for conservation, humanitarian work, new experiences and different cultures. It is an excellent option for students and graduates wanting to be exposed to and immersed in cultures different to their own. You need to be open-minded, committed to, and prepared for some physical work whilst on the volunteer component of the program. You do not need to be proficient in Spanish. This program is suitable for both beginner and experienced Spanish speakers. No prior travel, trekking or experience with activities is required.
The program is a shared group experience. We expect you to join the program with an open mind and a willingness to work together with your group mates to make the program an amazing experience for the whole group. Additionally, the program will be as much about the inner journey of personal growth and learning about yourself as it is about what you will experience in the outer physical journey. We expect you to be open to learning and challenging your ideas and assumptions.
Our accommodation will vary from welcoming homestays, lodges and camping with shared facilities, to hotels and guesthouses with private bathrooms. Laundry and WiFi will be available frequently, except while at our service learning projects, trekking trips and community stays. Accommodation is diverse, comfortable and carefully chosen to fit our needs.
Meals are fresh, tasty, healthy, and varied. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians are catered for. All meals are included in the program cost. We recommend you budget the sum of $7-10 per day for snacks and drinks not included in the program cost – approximately $500 for the program.
All in-country land transport (not flights); all accommodation; all meals; all language classes, activities, excursions, entry fees and adventure travel as described in the itinerary; service learning projects in conservation and community development; Informal lectures from resident experts on history, culture, development issues; experienced program leader/s and local guides; online image library for your program.
Visa for China (to be arranged before leaving home – we provide information on how to arrange this); international flights and regional flights (refer flights below); snacks, drinks, personal spending (estimate $500-$1000); travel insurance; optional academic credit.