Students debate Peking program

While some students said they are excited about the variety of courses and travel opportunities offered through Yale’s new study abroad program in Peking announced Tuesday, others said they do not think the program adds much diversity to Yale’s current study abroad options.

Starting next fall, Yalies will be able to spend a semester at the University of Peking, living and taking classes with Chinese students, through the Peking University-Yale University Joint Undergraduate Program. Some students said they are glad that participants will not be required to speak Chinese, as Yale’s existing Light Fellowship program — which sends Yale students to study languages in East Asia over the summer — focuses on language study. Others said they think living in China without speaking the language could prove difficult for students studying abroad.

About 25 students, mostly freshmen and sophomores, attended an information session about the program at the Yale International Center for Students and Scholars Wednesday evening. The Peking program will accept 20 students per semester.

Chetan Tadvalkar ’08, a third-year Chinese student who went to Beijing last summer with the Light Fellowship program, said he thinks the idea behind the Joint Undergraduate Program is misguided.

“My basic problem with the program … is there is a misconception that you can not know Chinese and go to China,” he said. “If you don’t know Chinese, you’re completely out of luck.”

But other students said they are excited that students who are new to the language now have the opportunity to learn Mandarin through immersion in a large Chinese city.

“It sounds like finally Yale is recognizing the importance of getting its students this kind of education in international relations,” Zachary Klion ’09 said. “It’s a great opportunity for kids who don’t necessarily know Chinese to get an education in China.”

Most students said they heard about the program from an e-mail Yale College Dean Peter Salovey sent out on Tuesday. Some said their Chinese professors had mentioned it in class.

Klion, who is taking introductory Chinese this semester, said he is enthusiastic about the new prospect for study in China, but added that he needed more information before deciding whether to apply for the Joint Undergraduate Program or pursue another, more language-intensive study abroad program in China, such as a Light Fellowship.

Insung Hwang ’08 said he is interested in the program because of its connection with the laboratories at the University of Peking.

“I’m a science major, so it’s really difficult for me to take a semester to go abroad and study,” he said.

The program is designed for students who would not otherwise get a chance to study in China, including students who do not speak Chinese and science majors, Yale Associate Dean and Director of the Office of International Education and Fellowship Programs Barbara Rowe said. She said that the program is not meant for everyone and that students with more experience with Chinese language have several other study-abroad opportunities.

The intention of the program, Rowe said, is to open up the possibility of studying abroad to a wider range of students than has been done in the past.

“The more students who study abroad earlier in their career at Yale, the more impact that will have on their choices when they come back to Yale,” she said.

Because the program is so new, Rowe said, she does not yet know how selective the application process will be. But because students can choose to go during either semester sophomore or junior year or first semester of senior year, she said, most students who want to participate should be able to at some point in their time at Yale.

Deborah Davis, a sociology professor involved in the development of the program, said reactions from former students have been positive. Davis said one alumna, who now works in the White House, e-mailed her yesterday after learning about the program and said she wished she were a student again so that she could participate.

But some Yale students said they feel that the program does not provide a significant addition to the roster of current Yale study-abroad programs.

Genna Braverman ’09 expressed concerns that the program would be too time-intensive, although she said she is considering both the Peking program and a Light Fellowship.

“I’m not sure I really want to do an entire semester,” she said.

Students enrolled in the joint program will receive full course credit, with all expenses, including airfare, covered by the regular Yale semester tuition.

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