Students from Hong Kong offered the Yale community their perspective on issues like gender inequality and environmental ethics during a public symposium Wednesday afternoon.
As part of the fourteenth-annual Yale University-New Asia College Undergraduate Exchange, eight students from the New Asia College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong arrived on campus last weekend to present their research on the program’s theme, “Ethics and Morality,” and to gain a first-hand sense of the social and political climate of the United States. In return, eight Yale students will visit Hong Kong for two weeks during spring break to speak on the same issues in a similar setting at New Asia College.
The students from Hong Kong — who are currently being hosted by Calhoun, Saybrook and Timothy Dwight Colleges — have visited the Yale Farm, attended Yale classes and volunteered at a local soup kitchen during their time here. Accompanied by Yale students, they will tour the United Nations building in New York and the Capitol in Washington, D.C. over the next few days. The students returned Wednesday morning from a snow-tubing trip in Woodbury.
The exchange is sponsored by the Yale-China Association, a private non-profit organization separate from the University.
Xiao Zhang, the Yale-China Association program officer for student opportunities, said the program’s high level of interaction enables students from both countries to gain a better understanding of each others’ culture. YUNA’s tradition of establishing a specific theme to be addressed distinguishes it from other opportunities in Asia that are available to Yale students, she said.
“The program really gives students a framework within which they can explore the other society as if through an insider’s view,” she said. “The theme helps students understand a different society within a certain context, so they are not simply asking random questions.”
Annie Sze-To, a senior at New Asia College, said that during her time spent at Yale, she has noticed that students from Eastern and Western countries approach the study of moral principles in different ways.
“Yalies and other students here seem to like learning about ethics and morality through application to real life, and Hong Kong students usually just study the theory from an academic perspective,” she said.
At the symposium, which took place in the Whitney Humanities Center, the exchange students discussed the social and political climate of Hong Kong through short formal presentations on abortion, environmental ethics, business ethics and gender inequality.
Chinese historian and history professor Jonathan Spence said these four issues are increasingly being discussed in Hong Kong’s public arena despite the Chinese government’s efforts to keep the debates muted.
“There is much to discuss for all the students from both Hong Kong and Yale,” he said. “The challenge is to link moral thinking to the practical world of policy implementation.”
As part of the event, the exchange students presented research they conducted in China, which ranged from statistics on poverty and unemployment to case studies on controversial organizations like the world-famous Hong Kong Jockey Club. Student attendees said they were happy to hear a fresh perspective on topics of morality from students their age. Some said they thought the unique standpoint presented during the symposium highlighted the divide between Eastern and Western modes of thought.
J.T. Kennedy ’09 said he was surprised that the presentation about proper business ethics focused solely on the charitable acts of private organizations and did not include discussion on human rights or animal testing.
“It was interesting that they did not present social responsibility the way you would have expected them to,” he said.
Kennedy said the discrepancy serves as a reminder of the diversity of opinions that can arise among students from dissimilar backgrounds.
“I think that really goes to show the reason why we have these exchange programs,” he said.
Founded in 1901, the Yale-China Association works to promote understanding between Chinese and American people through programs in health, law, American studies, English language instruction and community and public service. The organization is run and funded separately from the University.
Yale-China Associate Director Ingrid Jensen said the YUNA program was instituted to encourage a sharing of ideas on a social, political or cultural theme between students from vastly different cultures. The program usually accepts eight out of the 50 Yale sophomores and juniors who apply to the exchange each year, Jensen said.
Yale participants disagreed over whether the program, which accommodates just 16 exchange students, would benefit from an expansion.
Stuart Symington ’09 said he hopes the program will remain capped at 16 students because the relatively small size provides a more intimate look at a different culture.
“Part of why this is so special is its being kept so small,” he said. “It provides a better way of putting a human face on what you would otherwise think is a world away.”
Symington said the intimacy of the program is likely to appeal better to students who are interested in East Asian studies but are unable to complete the language requirement of Yale programs like Bulldogs in Beijing.
Sze-To said she and her peers are looking forward to welcoming the Yale students to Hong Kong in a few weeks.