Man riding a bike down a street in China

Photo: Kelsey Dennison '16

Program Overview

From its home base in the city of Kunming, the bustling capital of Yunnan province, the Novogratz Bridge Year Program in China introduces students to both modern and traditional aspects of Chinese society.  Kunming has experienced significant and rapid development under China's recent modernization efforts and, along with that development, has been a dramatic growth in civil society organizations. Bridge Year volunteers in China have an opportunity to explore this societal change through work with organizations that address issues of public health, education, social equality, and environmental protection.  At the same time, short-term group service projects in rural villages and various excursions to ethnic minority areas acquaint students with the vitality of traditional cultural practices. Through these experiences and other cultural enrichment activities, participants gain a deep understanding of China’s unique history and culture. Students also learn conversational Mandarin and visit some of China’s most stunning attractions and natural landmarks.

In China, Princeton University partners with Where There Be Dragons, an organization specializing in overseas experiential education. Since their founding in 1993, Dragons has managed hundreds of unique small-group service learning programs in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Dragons is dedicated to inspiring youth leadership and responsible global citizenship through community-based service projects and cultural exchange.

Community Partners

Bridge Year is about building collaborative community relationships. Through community engagement, students learn to become more effective citizens, with a greater capacity to contribute to making a more just and equitable world.

In China, the program currently partners with the following local organizations:

  • Operation Smile is an international charity providing surgical services to underserved communities. Since 1982, Operation Smile has provided more than two million patient evaluations and over 200,000 free surgeries for children and young adults born with cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities. Projects depend on the volunteer's interest and skill set, but activities may include administrative and logistical support of medical staff both in Kunming and in the field, creating awareness programs in schools, and conducting research.
  • Pesticide Eco-Alternatives Center (PEAC) is a small, environmental advocacy organization staffed by Chinese locals. It brings rural farmers, urban residents, and government officials together to spread awareness of the risks that chemical pesticides pose to personal health and the environment. Projects depend on the volunteer's interests and skill set, and might include teaching English to staff, outreach to local children on environmental topics, translation, website maintenance, work in rural minority villages, and policy advocacy.
  • Daytop is a residential drug treatment center in Kunming that uses the North American model of “therapeutic community” treatment. In addition to treating drug addiction, Daytop provides outpatient needle exchange, methadone therapy, peer education, HIV testing, and counseling. Projects depend on the volunteer's interest and skill set, but may include English language training for Daytop staff, interaction with Daytop residents in workshops and group therapy, and administrative support.
  • Xin Tiandi works to provide services and teach life skills to people in Kunming with intellectual disabilities and to demonstrate that people with developmental challenges can successfully participate in society through education, employment, and other social activities. Xin Tiandi offers people with developmental concerns opportunities to participate in improving their own health by working and socializing together in a safe and welcoming environment. . Specific volunteer opportunities include teaching English, computer skills, and handicrafts, as well as simply offering gentle companionship. Volunteers are encouraged to bring their own energy and individual passions to their interactions with community members.
  • Village Progress (VP) is a non-profit organization that serves both rural and urban communities through participatory development programs focusing on education, health, and environmental conservation. Working closely with migrant children and their families in Kunming, VP serves as a gateway for migrant children to adjust to urban life. VP also works with a number of NGOs and schools in the region, offering various educational activities and projects for children. Volunteers work mainly on after-school and youth mentorship programs, website development, and/or outreach.
  • Concordia Welfare and Education Foundation (CWEF) is a faith based non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of rural communities in Asia. In China, CWEF focuses primarily on education and health projects, working directly with villages to identify sources of poverty and implement sustainable programs. Volunteers at this site placement collaboratively engage with project managers, performing tasks based on their specific skill set.
  • Eco-Women is a rapidly growing environmental NGO that works to support and empower women in rural Chinese villages. The organization’s main area of focus is to bring about a reduction in the use of chemical pesticides by teaching female farmers about organic farming methods and by helping them to sell their organic goods directly to urban consumers. Eco-Women also works with female village leaders to preserve traditional forms of knowledge, as well as to raise community awareness of domestic violence and provide survivor support. Work depends on the interests of volunteers and can include translation, fundraising, teaching, and researching environmental and women’s issues.
  • Green Watershed is an environmental NGO that promotes participatory and integrated river basin management in China.  Established in 2002, it is one of the longest running NGOs in Yunnan province. It is also one of the few NGOs working to address the environmental and social impacts of large hydropower dams and other infrastructure projects along the Mekong and Salween rivers. Green Watershed does research, advocacy, training, and field project management. Though work may vary, a volunteer here would likely do office work, translation, or research.

Fast Facts

  • Program Location: Kunming, China
  • Country Name:  中华人民共和国 (Chinese); Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó (Pinyin)
  • Population: 1,419,339,815 (China); 3,855,346 (Kunming)
  • National Symbol: giant panda
  • Languages: Standard Mandarin Chinese (official), Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghainese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese), Xiang, Gan, Hakka dialects, and other minority languages.
  • Religions: unaffiliated 52.2%, folk religion 21.9%, Buddhism 18.2%, Christianity 5.1%, Islam 1.8%, Hinduism less than 0.1%, Judaism less than 0.1%, other 0.7% (includes Daoism/Taoism)
  • Currency: Renminbi (人民币), aslo referred to as yuan (元)
  • Fast Fact: Whether you call it soccer, fútbol, or football, historians believe that the Chinese invented the sport in 1000 B.C.

Our Commitment To Health & Safety

As COVID-19 continues to affect the world in unprecedented ways, the health and safety of our program participants and community partners remains our utmost priority. With the support of Princeton’s Global Safety & Security unit, we continue to monitor and assess the impact of COVID-19 on Bridge Year program operations and, in particular, on plans for international travel during the spring semester.