Yale College Dean Peter Salovey returned Saturday from a trip to Beijing, where he attended the launch ceremony for the Peking University-Yale University Joint Undergraduate Program, which welcomed its first students from Yale this month.
In addition to participating in the ceremony, Salovey gave two public talks at Beida — as Peking University is known locally — and met with students participating in the program. The Yale students at Beida said they are enjoying living with Chinese students, but several pointed out administrative problems that they said have impeded their smooth transition into the program.
Salovey said students he spoke to in Beijing were generally satisfied with the program, even though they have experienced some kinks as a result of the large number of tasks required to prepare the program to receive students this fall.
“I think they’re very proud to be the pioneers in the program,” he said.
Students identified problems ranging from no access to the gym and library facilities for the first weeks of the program to the absence of promised Yale-sponsored courses in intermediate and advanced Chinese. While most of the problems have been resolved over time, a few students said the hitches in the program made it harder to assimilate to life in Beijing.
Andrew Krause ’08 said the initial problems with accessing the facilities made students nervous about the overall quality of the program. In addition, activities in the first nine-day orientation were sparse, he said.
“I think there was just a lot of nervous feelings around some of the lack of organization,” he said. “It’s very difficult to go to another country where you don’t know the language, so I think there is a cultural shock element to our disappointment.”
Chris Schmicker ’08 said program administrators were not always helpful in dealing with individual students’ problems, particularly when two students needed to change their visa status to allow them to travel to Bali for a holiday in October. He said that administrators told him students in future semesters may not be allowed to apply for multiple-entry visas that would allow them to come and go, which Schmicker said might have deterred him from participating in the program.
But students who criticized aspects of the program said they understood that to some extent, the problems stem from the growing pains of a new program.
“Since we are the first group, lots of kinks come up now and then, and some things still need to be smoothed out, but I am really grateful to all the professors and program staff that have been working so hard to make this a memorable experience for Yale students,” Cynthia Liu ’08 said in an e-mail.
Students in the program said they were enthusiastic about living with Chinese roommates, who were selected from among students in the Yuanpei Honors Program at Beida, because it has given them a deeper level of immersion into Chinese culture.
“Having a Chinese roommate is one of the best parts of the program,” Alexa Verme ’08 said in an e-mail. “He or she is an instant friend, translator and ‘in’ to Chinese culture and Beida life.”
The Yuanpei students also participate in classes taught in English by Yale professors, which has forced professors to slow down and often provide translations for the non-native speakers in the course, Yale students said.
Most of the students contacted for this story cited differences between the lifestyles of the U.S. and Chinese students, with U.S. students more likely to go out than their Chinese counterparts.
“On one hand, in the eyes of the Beida students, all we Yale students seem to do is sleep, get drunk and watch ‘Family Guy,’” Schmicker wrote in an e-mail. “At the same time, all the Beida students seem to do is study and attend classes.”
In addition to participating in the launch of the program, Salovey gave a public address on undergraduate education at Yale and participated in a colloquium on emotional intelligence for the psychology department at Beida. One feature of the Yale-PKU program is an agreement that several Yale professors will participate in a lecture series at Beida each semester, and Salovey was the first visiting lecturer in the program.