My Minds Abroad Experience in Kunming: Exactly What I was Looking For Past Review

By (Business/Asian Studies, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor) for

Minds Abroad: Chinese Language and Culture Study Programs in Yunnan

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
My study abroad experience was extremely worthwhile and provided me the perfect opportunity to build upon what I had learned in school. I gained a interesting perspective into general Chinese culture, Chinese history (one of my co-workers was a history buff), Chinese business (my teacher ran her own clothing store and my host family its own construction company), China's non-profit sector, and even a bit of Chinese politics (my teacher's boyfriend was a government contractor). Overall I learned the most about China from just interacting with my host family, Chinese friends, co-workers, and Minds Abroad staff. I gave this program such a high rating because it was really exactly what I was looking for! This program has only reinforced my interest in learning more about China, Chinese, and other languages in general. I certainly hope to work abroad at some point in the near future!

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

My study abroad experience was a little bit different from the typical experience. I specifically worked with the extremely accommodating Minds Abroad staff to tailor a program that would provide me with an academic, professional, and home stay experience. Regarding the academics, I took 20 hours a week of private 1-1 Chinese classes with a teacher affiliated with a local University (Kunming Arts University). Before arriving in Kunming I indicated my academic interests (Chinese language), my level of proficiency, and what sort of experience I was looking for/hoping to gain from the program. The Minds Abroad staff worked very hard to to match me with with a great teacher, and did! My teacher also worked with me to construct a course to match my interests/goals and prior Chinese instruction. Most importantly, my Chinese greatly improved while I was here and am sure I will keep in touch with my teacher for many years to come. I found that the course reflected my past experience learning Chinese. Namely, I gained as much from the course as I was willing to put in. I had a very good teacher at my disposal for 20 hours per week willing to tailor a course to meet my interests. I made sure to take advantage of this by working with her to tailor the curriculum and meeting with her outside of class as much as possible to practice my Chinese (mainly over dinner with her friends or by helping her out at her clothing store)! My teacher also worked with me adjust our class times and location depending on other circumstances (work schedule, travel, etc). It is important to note that Minds Abroad provided me with an experience that perfectly met my preferences. I indicated repeatedly that, as a student who had taken 4 years of Chinese, I was looking for an unstructured, yet intensive program where that I could tailor to improve my Chinese. Other students on the program who were at a beginners Chinese level had much more structured experiences that were better suited for them.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The Minds Abroad staff was incredibly helpful from finding an NGO for me to work at to helping me plan trips. They were always very accessible and always gave you there personal phone numbers in case you needed help or just wanted to chat. By the end of the program I certainly considered them to be more friends than program staff members.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I worked with Minds Abroad to find a host family for my time in Kunming. This was a great experience and was probably the dimension of the program that most helped my Chinese. I was in, from what I could tell, a very typical Chinese/Kunming Xiaoqu (neighborhood). My only complaint would be when I first arrived in Kunming, my family did not appear ready to host me and I had to get meals on my own for a little while (which was actually alot of fun). This was partly my own fault as I came at the end of the Chinese new year, and my host mom was still visiting family in another province. Minds Abroad was sure to provide me meals, however, whenever my host family wasn't around, and quickly worked with them to remedy the situation. Moreover, the host family was very apologetic about this, and the rest of my experience with them was great. Ultimately I thoroughly enjoyed my home stay experience. I became close with the family, especially their 18 year old son who will be attending university in the U.S. and was thrilled to help me out with any sort of question I had about China/Chinese. I ended up spending alot of time with his friends as well, and look forward to keeping in touch with them! I can also certainly say that I was treated as a family member. The house I lived in was quite nice, very different from a typical American house though. My family provided everything for me (including traditional and western medicine if it seemed like I was even possibly getting sick)! My host family was pretty far from the center of town and Kunming nightlife), but these were both easily accessible via bus or a rather long bike ride. Note I was very happy to sacrifice location to live in a typical Chinese neighborhood rather than a downtown apartment.

* Food:

The Minds Abroad staff is very accommodating to any dietary restrictions one may have and it is possible to eat all meals during the week at the Minds Abroad office (they have their own wonderful cook). I thoroughly enjoyed the food in Kunming. Note it is mostly Chinese food, although there are a few western restaurants if your missing home. My host mom was a great cook and I even cooked with her occasionally. There are many very cheap (and nicer) restaurants across the city serving delicious noodle dishes and soups. There's also a lot of great street food and food from different minority groups (as Kunming is a very diverse province). Note if you have never been to a pizza hut or KFC in Asia, you should go at least is very different!

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I was able to work with my teacher and co-workers to work around my schedule and travel during my time in Kunming. They were very accomodating, and Minds Abroad was very helpful in helping me plan any trips. I also traveled a bit before and after my program and would highly recommend doing that as well. In terms of cultural attractions in Kunming, Kunming is really not a very touristy place. As such, there are not too many huge tourist attractions here. That being said, there are beautiful mountains around the city, and a nice museum and a few nice temples within the city as well. The nice thing about Yunnan is it is the ideal point from which to visit the many interesting sites in Yunnan province, and to travel beyond to Southeast Asia as well. Regarding social experiences, there were not many students on the program when I was here (I here this changes alot in the summer). I actually found that this was a positive thing as I had to go out and make Chinese friends. I ended up hanging out with a few of the people at Minds Abroad, my co-workers, and with my host families sons friends.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

I had no problems in Kunming, nor did I feel unsafe at any time. If I was feeling ill at all, my family was sure to provide me with any and all Western and traditional remedies! My teacher was very excited to introduce me to some traditional Chinese medicine as well. The program made it clear to me, however, that if I had any problems they would help me out immediately. Also, I believe there was a girl on my program who did get sick and Minds Abroad was quick to set her up with a private, Western doctor in Kunming. I had a typhoid and hepatitis vaccinations from previous travels. I am not sure if they are specifically required for Kunming. Note there is no Malaria in Kunming or in the surrounding areas (but of course check with a travel doctor).

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
If applicable, to what degree did your living situation aid your language acquisition?

Language acquisition improvement?

My Chinese improved dramatically while I was here. It very much helped just speaking with my teacher daily, and that she was willing to work with me to figure out how to best improve my Chinese. I also volunteered at an NGO while I was here as a translator and was living with a host family. This enabled me to not only improve my Chinese in an academic context, but in a professional and casual context as well. I think such immersion is really amazing for anybody with a strong interest in Chinese (language as well as culture). I also improved my Chinese by eating most of my meals with Minds Abroad staff, and just chatting with them! Overall, I would recommend just speaking Chinese as much as possible,and of course, making some Chinese friends! It was also really helpful watching Chinese TV with my host family. It was a daunting task at first, but really helped! I did not need to use English in my everyday interactions. That being said, I often met with my teacher outside of class to help her with her English, and taught some English to my host family as well (they were all very eager to learn). I also had to use English at work sometimes as I was working with a a very smart Chinese lady with very good English to translate documents. Although most people in Kunming do not speak English, it is easy to get around even if you know very little Chinese (from what I understand most students at Minds Abroad are in that situation). The Minds Abroad staff helps you as much as possible, and anybody in the city who speaks a little bit of English is very eager to help! Also, many students speak some English, and as there are many universities in Kunming, there are many students around. Many of them will approach you to practice and help out if you look lost. Also, there are a few western restaurants around where ex-pats hangout if you are missing home at all.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Flexibility, ability to tailor to my preferences
  • Affordability
  • People involved (co-workers, host family, minds abroad staff, teacher, etc)
* What could be improved?
  • Marketing for the program (working on revamping the website)
  • Really no big complaints, very satisfied
  • Carl (the program director)'s hairstyle
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I would recommend that the student really consider what they are looking for in their study abroad experience, speak with the minds abroad staff about it, and work with them to tailor the program. I also would very much recommend taking advantage of all aspects of Minds Abroad's offerings (class, volunteer, home stay) as each provide a very different setting to learn about China. It is also important to consider that, compared to the many other study abroad programs in China, this one is very, very affordable. I ultimately think any student can benefit from this program because it is so adaptable to one's and interests. One should make sure, however, to make their preferences very clear to the Minds Abroad staff so that the program meets their expectations.