My semester abroad in Kunming, China was definitely one of the most adventurous seasons of my life so far. Having been interested in China from a very young age, I began learning Chinese in college, in addition to working on my environmental studies major. The Regional Development in China and Southeast Asia program centered in Kunming, China seemed like the right study abroad ‘fit’ for me because of the academic options (an environmental studies course is offered and nearly all of the courses offered interested me), the ability to live in a home stay without being a language-intensive student, the opportunity to visit a city I had never been to (I had visited other cities in China briefly before), and the promise of cleaner air and beautiful scenery (Kunming is located away from most of the heavy pollution in the east of the country). My experience certainly delivered on all of these.
The program was richly packed with valuable academic curriculum, travel to different areas of the province and other countries in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand), the homestay experience (optional), and flexibility for personal pursuit of adventure. Travel planned into the program itinerary nicely complemented topics discussed in classes, and really helped me to understand the material. I also had time to travel to locations such as Chengdu, Lijiang, Jianshui, and Yuanyang throughout the semester, independent of the program. After several months, I was surprised by how much I had grown over such a short period of time; I feel more independent, capable of coping with new situations (like living in a big city where pretty much everyone only speaks Chinese!), and empowered to explore. The semester experience was more than enlightening and continues to influence my life back in the States. Along the way, I made friends with locals and my fellow program members, while braving my comfort zone with things I never would have dreamed of doing (such as joining a local public dance group). I came to consider my dance group to be almost like a family to me. Though I have one heart, I now have more than one home.
While not everyone may be interested in dancing, the city has numerous other venues to explore and the travel opportunities are amazing. I highly recommend this program for people who are interested in the environment, international relations, adventure, travel, and so many other things!