Crossroads Whitman Summer Studies in China (WSSC) program was founded in 2001 and is a six-week, 6-credit academic program administered by Whitman College in cooperation with Yunnan University in Kunming specifically for Whitman students interested in Chinese Studies. The purpose of the program is to give students an opportunity to study conversational Chinese intensively in an environment where it can be put immediately into practice, as well as a chance to learn firsthand about Chinese culture and contemporary society by living and studying there.

Program Dates:

  • May 23 - July 5, 2019


The WSSC program is located in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in China's southwest. Kunming is a city of 5 million set in a valley beneath the Western Hills and known for its year-round spring-like climate. While the city is rapidly modernizing, one can still find pockets of "old Kunming" such as the traditional architecture of some of the city's Buddhist and Daoist temples. Yunnan Province itself offers tremendous opportunities for understanding various cultures within China. The region is one of the most ethnically diverse provinces in China with 24 different ethnic minorities represented. The province is also strikingly beautiful with everything from towering mountains adjoining Tibet in the north to lush jungles bordering Laos and Vietnam in the south.

Host University:

Yunnan University is a comprehensive, national university founded in 1922 with a current student body of over 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Whitman students attending the program will study at Yunnan University's Center for Chinese Studies, which specializes in teaching Chinese as a second language and hosts about 700 foreign students per year.

Program Itinerary*:

  • May 23: Depart from Seattle
  • May 24: Arrive in Kunming
  • May 25-26: In-country orientation; prepare for classes.
  • May 27: Chinese language classes begin
  • May 27-June 21: Intensive Chinese classes at Yunnan University in the mornings 5 days per week; meetings with language partners in afternoons; seminar with Professor McKhann Tuesday and Thursday afternoons; weekend field trips (Saturdays)
  • June 22-July 2: 12-day Study Tour of NW Yunnan
  • July 3: Arrive back in Kunming
  • July 4: Student Presentations
  • July 5: Depart for Seattle

*dates are tentative

Who is this course suited for:

The academic program is intensive and designed for students who are serious about improving their spoken Chinese language skills and eager to learn about Chinese society firsthand. Program participants enroll in a 4-credit language course, either Chinese 110, Chinese 210, or Chin 310 and a 2-credit seminar in Chinese Studies for a total of 6 credits.

Course Title:

AMES 200: Summer Seminar in Chinese Studies: Yunnan Peoples and History (2 credits)

CHN 110, 210, or 310: Conversational Chinese (4 credits)

Credits: 6 credits total
Counts as:

Major credit:

  • Asian and Middle East Studies

Distribution credit:

  • Cultural Pluralism
  • Humanities
Prerequisite: 2 semesters of college-level Mandarin Chinese language (prior to departure for China, May 2019). Students who have not taken Mandarin Chinese in college but have taken Chinese language in high school or are heritage speakers of Chinese with some formal training in reading and writing (such as Saturday Chinese School), should consult with Professors Wencui Zhao or Donghui He to assess their language level to see if they fulfill the language prerequisite.

Program Description:

The 4-credit language and 2-credit seminar courses are designed to complement each other. The language courses feature vocabulary that will be particularly useful while traveling in northwest Yunnan, and the seminar course will introduce historical terms and the opportunity to practice using them in discussion. Prof. McKhann is fluent in Chinese and will use both English and Chinese in his seminar sessions, as appropriate to the levels of individual students. The friendship family and language partner components of the month-long stay in Kunming are not directly tied to academic goals, but provide an important means for students to engage with local Kunmingers, and to learn about the city and Chinese student and home life in a natural setting.

Course Objectives:

  • Students will improve their Mandarin Chinese oral and listening comprehension skills through intensive Chinese classes and daily use of the language while in China.
  • Students will become familiar with the history and current affairs of Yunnan Province, including the Province's ethnic diversity, the history of Han migration, and the impact of tourism on local cultures.
  • Students will learn about conservation efforts in Yunnan (such as establishment of wildlife regions) and environmental challenges (such as hydropower development).
  • Students will learn about Chinese culture and social norms through contact with various members of the local community including regular meetings with Language Partners and Friendship Families arranged by the program. 
  • Students will develop an independent project of their own that requires them to engage more deeply with members of the local community around a particular topic.

Special Features:

Chinese Language Partner

One special feature of the WSSC program is the Chinese Language Partner component, designed to give students an opportunity to practice their Mandarin Chinese on a regular basis with a Chinese college student. Each Whitman student is paired with a student at Yunnan University. During their meetings twice per week, the students are expected to speak primarily in Chinese and encouraged to visit interesting sites together in the city, such as the wholesale flower market or a local tea house.

Chinese Friendship Families

A second special feature of the WSSC program is the Friendship Family program, which is intended to facilitate cultural understanding. Typically two WSSC students are assigned to a Chinese family (usually a professor from Yunnan University and his/her family) with whom they get together once per week for a family activity, such as a home-cooked Sunday dinner or making a day trip to the countryside to visit relatives. This part of the program gives WSSC students a unique opportunity to witness contemporary Chinese family life.

Academic Travel

Academic travel is incorporated into the seminar course. During the four weeks of intensive language study at Yunnan University in Kunming, the seminar lectures are augmented with field trips in the Kunming area. At the end of the program, the group will travel for approximately 12 days to towns such as Dali, Shaxi, and Lijiang in Yunnan Province to learn about the Bai, Naxi and Tibetan ethnic communities and their religion, culture and history.  Rural industry, local agriculture, environmental challenges, trade routes and the impact of tourism are among the topics that will be addressed during the academic travel portion of the program.


Students will be assigned regular readings and expected to participate fully in class discussions, as well as weekend (and some weekday afternoon) outings in Kunming, and at all points along the two-week study tour. Students will also develop an independent project of their own that requires them to engage more deeply with the local populations in Kunming and along the trip, as a means to learn more about some aspect of local culture that interests them, and to develop their Chinese language skills. Students will present their projects to the group on the last day in Kunming after the academic travel has concluded.

Pre-course Orientation:

Professors Mckhann and Zhao will hold 3 or 4 mandatory predeparture meetings with students during the Spring semester to prepare admitted students for the course and travel to China. They will introduce students to the geographic and cultural aspects of China, provide advice on travel arrangements and, as the departure time approaches, give basic information on Chinese cultural norms and language.

Chas McKhann is a professor in the Anthropology Department at Whitman. He has been working in northwest Yunnan for more than 30 years. Professor McKhann's main interests concern ethnicity, religion, cultural ecology, state-minority relations, and tourism development. Past experience leading Whitman student groups to China include past Whitman Summer Studies in China programs and Crossroads Yunnan course 2018.

Zhao Wencui is Senior Adjunct Instructor of Whitman's Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. Professor Zhao has taught Mandarin Chinese at Whitman for 10 years, and prior to that taught at Yunnan University where the WSSC program has been located for 17 years. A native of Yunnan Province, Prof Zhao earned her BA at Peking University and MA at Yunnan University. She has co-led numerous Whitman study programs in China. Her responsibilities include assisting WSSC students with non-academic concerns and overseeing the Language Partners and Friendship Families.


Program participants will live in a guest house on the Yunnan University campus or hotel adjacent to the campus. The rooms are basic, compact double bedrooms with a private bathroom. The facilities will be different from Whitman residence halls. For example, students may need to hand wash and line dry their laundry. Students attending this program will need to be flexible about their living environment.


Students are provided with a weekly meal stipend for purchasing their meals and may choose from a wide variety of places to eat around campus. Yunnan University's student cafeteria is conveniently located near the students' housing providing Chinese dishes and snacks at a reasonable price. Numerous small restaurants serving Thai, Korean and Chinese cuisine surround the campus, as well as western-style eateries.


WSSC welcomes applications from all Whitman undergraduate students who:

  • have completed 2 semesters of college-level Mandarin Chinese language (prior to departure for China, May 2019). Students who have not taken Mandarin Chinese in college but have taken Chinese language in high school or are heritage speakers of Chinese with some formal training in reading and writing (such as Saturday Chinese School), should consult with Professors Wencui Zhao or Donghui He to assess their language level to see if they fulfill the language prerequisite.
  • are in good academic standing
  • will be continuing students in Summer 2019 (May 2019 graduates are ineligible)
  • are registered for classes at Whitman in Spring 2019 (ie students who are off campus on a Leave of Absence or on Off-Campus Studies during the Spring 2019 semester are ineligible)

How to apply:


  • Applications will be accepted thru Monday, November 26, 2018. This is not a rolling deadline and applications will be reviewed following the application closing date of Nov 26, 2018.

Group size:

  • Space is limited to 14 students


  • Applicants will be interviewed by the Faculty Directors as part of the selection process at the beginning of December (on or directly following the last day of classes).

Admission Notification:

  • Students will be informed of the status of their application in early January.

Enrollment Deposit:

  • Students admitted into the Crossroads program will be expected to pay a nonrefundable enrollment deposit of $500 within two weeks of acceptance. The enrollment deposit will be counted towards the course fee.

Program Fee: $3,670 (not including international airfare)

The program fee covers the following:

  • Tuition
  • Housing accommodations
  • Meal stipend
  • Chinese visa fee
  • Medical insurance in China
  • Pre-departure orientation on campus and in-country orientation in Kunming
  • Group travel within China, program excursions and field trips
  • Course textbooks

International Airfare: $2,100 (estimate)

  • The program fee does not cover international airfare to and from China, passport fees, U.S. medical insurance, or incidental expenses such as laundry, stationery items, souvenirs, entertainment or independent travel. International airfare is separate from the program fee and estimated at $2,100.  A group flight option will be available.

Total Estimated Costs:

$3,670 Program Fee
$2,100 International Airfare (estimate)
$5,770 Total

Enrollment Deposit:

  • Students admitted into the program will be expected to pay a nonrefundable enrollment deposit of $500 in mid-January, within 2 weeks of acceptance to the program. The enrollment deposit will be counted towards the course fee.

Scholarships and Financial Aid:

  • Students with financial need are encouraged to apply for funding. Need-based scholarship assistance is available through Whitman Crossroads funding. Both partial and full scholarships may be awarded.
  • Students will be notified of their aid awards in their course admission notification letter.

"Whitman Summer Studies in China (WSSC) is a great opportunity to experience and holistically learn about Chinese culture. During the six week program, my Chinese improved more than it did when I took a year of Chinese class in the US. This program is one of the highlights of my college experience." - Olivia Thomson '17 | Biology

"My time studying in Kunming expanded my understanding of how social issues are interconnected between the US and China. I met a ton of amazing people and gained a community of Whitties to connect with through our common experiences. It was an event that solidified my own moral obligations to my community." - Taylor Carlson '17 | Politics