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July 28th, 2010

Living like the Miao: Guizhou Homestays

By: Mei | Categories: Culture, News You Can Use

It is one thing to visit a remote Chinese village – but have you ever wondered what it would be like to live and participate in one?

I often think back to my study abroad experiences in China. While studying at Hangzhou’s Zhejiang University of Technology (through the C.V. Starr – Middlebury program), I loved taking trips with my Chinese roommate, both with school and on our own, meeting local people in various provinces and sampling all things cultural that my semester in China could offer me. (After such a great experience, it’s no surprise that I moved back.)

So, when my colleague Summer, who works in WildChina’s Educational Travel department, recently shared with me a few stories of student homestays in Miao minority villages in Guizhou province, my interest was immediately piqued. The trips’ unique combination of cultural interaction, adventure and service made me wish I were still that student on her abroad program trips.

The coolest part about these trips is that they were both centered rural village homestays – an integral part, in my opinion, of academic travel in China for both high school and college students alike. Doing so offers students a chance to personally encounter and understand daily life for rural minority peoples in China.

The beginning of the students’ homestay was one I didn’t expect: to arrive at these communities, Summer told me, students hiked 1-2 hours from Kaili, a larger town in Guizhou.  With a larger group of students, it’s not always easy to motivate everyone to trek on foot to a new destination. But, the old adage “when in Rome” applies here – it’s all part of the rural experience. I think it is a special, and important, part of the program.

Other highlights I found from my conversation with Summer were Miao fish hotpot, service activities at local schools, and learning to play the lusheng.

But, what really impressed me was the inclusion of household chores in these homestays. This may seem incredibly mundane, but to explain myself, a quick anecdote about my horse-crazed sister. Growing up, she rode at a barn that required riders to do everything from tacking up, feeding the horses, and cleaning stalls to tidying up the barn, fundraising at events, and running a rider-created committee to work on barn improvement. She has always had a closer relationship to and greater understanding of horses and riding than anyone I have ever known.

It’s the same with chores in these Miao villages: there is so much value to being a part of a daily system that sustains a traditional Chinese community. It makes a student’s experience in the community that much more integrated and personal. In the spirit of my own positive personal experience with Chinese community members during study abroad, I think Summer was right to make this a core part of the academic homestay experience.

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Make your school trip experience in China memorable, too – take a look at our customizable educational travel programs.

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