Elis left campus for ‘real world’

For seven days, Anthony Hsu ’12 and David Zhang ’12 were not on campus. They left without telling anyone where they had gone.

Rumors quickly spread throughout Lawrance Hall, the students’ dorm: “Some of us in Stiles had heard of Anthony and David’s journey,” David Helene ’12, who lives in the building, said, “but we didn’t really know enough to know what was truth and what was fiction.”

The freshmen had set out on a bus across the country to, in Zhang’s words, “see what it was like living in the real world.”

But within two days of their departure on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 10, University officials — including the Ezra Stiles College master and dean — had contacted the students’ parents, effectively deeming their disappearance an “extraordinary circumstance” as defined by Undergraduate Regulations and informing them of the consequences if they did not return to campus.

Hsu and Zhang returned to Yale last Monday. Still, their weeklong trip — which took them from San Francisco and back — evoked questions of student autonomy alongside the University’s responsibility to watch over its students.


The night of Sunday, Feb. 8, Zhang said the two sat in their Old Campus suite talking about what it would be like to drop out of school and find work in another city.

“We were just joking about it,” Zhang said. “But then that night we started getting excited about it.”

But while many Yale students may have entertained similar fantasies, Zhang and Hsu said they followed through, planning to leave Yale for an indeterminate amount of time in search of housing and employment nearly 3,000 miles away — in San Francisco.

“We wanted to see what it’s like to start from scratch and build our way up,” Zhang said.

While the boys said they thought about formulating more thorough plans before leaving campus, Hsu explained, “We decided that if we waited, our doubts would kill this idea. So we just left.”

Yale College Undergraduate Regulations hold that University officials may disclose information to a student’s parents if the student is claimed as a dependant on the parent’s tax returns. But the regulations say “Yale regards its students as responsible adults, however, capable of managing their own lives and seeking guidance when necessary,” and therefore Yale will only disclose information to parents in “extraordinary circumstances.”

According to Zhang’s father, it was last Thursday — about 48 hours after the freshmen were last seen on campus — when the University made that call.


Before leaving campus, Hsu and Zhang wrote notes addressed to family, suitemates and Yale itself, they said.

“We didn’t want Yale to feel like we left because we hated it here,” Zhang said. “We wanted to tell them this had nothing to do with them.”

The pair said they then went to New York City to buy two Greyhound bus tickets to San Francisco. They said they paid with cash from their savings accounts, a tactic meant to thwart being tracked. Hsu and Zhang said they put their phones on airplane mode — in which the phone cannot make or receive calls — to avoid being traced and to cut themselves off from communication. They also deactivated their Facebook accounts.

“We realized that if we maintained contact, people would get emotional and sentimental,” Zhang said, “And that would detract from our focus of what we want to do on this trip.”

Despite the students’ expressed intention to cut off contact with friends and family, though, officials at the University, upon reports that the students had gone missing, had other plans. During long layovers over the four-day bus trip to the West Coast, the travelers said they used hotels’ Internet to search Craigslist for housing and jobs. Zhang and Hsu said they checked their e-mail for the first time on the evening of Feb. 12, where they found concerned e-mails from their parents, friends and college master and dean. They said they did not reply at the time.

But by that same night University officials had contacted both Zhang’s and Hsu’s parents. Phoned by the News on Saturday, Feb. 14, Zhang’s father said the University had informed him his son “had traveled somewhere.”

Stiles Master Stephen Pitti declined to comment on the decision to contact the students’ parents, but Silliman College Master and Council of Masters Chair Judith Krauss, who said she was not familiar with Hsu and Zhang, said the decision to call parents is a judgement call that is made on a case-by-case basis.

“Obviously, if we think a situation has risen to the level where if it was our son or daughter and we would expect to know something, then we’re likely to pick up the phone and call parents,” Krauss said.

Yale College Dean Mary Miller said that although most students qualify as legal adults, the regulations are vague on purpose so as to allow for context-specific decisions.

“Every emergency situation is going to be a different one,” she said. “And it means that intelligent, caring and responsible people are going to need to make judgment calls.”


Early on the morning of Feb. 14, the boys said they replied to e-mail messages from both Pitti and Stiles College Dean Jennifer Wood. Pitti told the News later that day that he had been in touch with both Zhang and Hsu.

The freshmen said Pitti and Wood did not try to talk them out of their adventure but wanted to inform the students of the consequences of their actions: If they did not return, the pair would be withdrawn from Yale and could not return until the fall of 2010, they said Pitti told them.

Pitti and Wood would not confirm what they told the students, but, while the Yale College Programs of Study holds that a student may withdraw from Yale College for personal reasons at any time during the year, no mention is made of a mandatory three-term leave requirement. The travelers also said the administrators told them they needed to tell the police that they were both acting independently and neither was being coerced by the other.

The Yale Police Department referred questions for this article to the Office of Public Affairs, which declined to comment about particulars of the students’ travels.

At 1 p.m. Sunday Feb. 15, Wood sent the News an e-mail message from her iPhone: “Anthony and David are returning to Yale.” Fewer than 48 hours after arriving in San Francisco, the students said, they boarded a plane back to Yale and arrived back in New Haven.

Zhang said the barrage of e-mails, voicemails and text messages from administrators, their parents and their friends made them realize how much trouble and worry they had caused.

“We felt it was pretty selfish to put everyone else through it,” Hsu said, “And that’s why we came back.”

Though the boys both said they do not regret taking the seven-day hiatus from Yale — an interval they said felt much longer than a week — they agreed last Monday night, while sitting in their common room, that their decision to leave without telling anyone had been foolish.

“You make mistakes in life,” Hsu said, “and you learn from them.”


  • Anonymous

    Best Story '09. No question about it.

  • Anonymous

    The YCPS clearly states that anyone who withdraws must remain away from campus for at least two terms, not including the term in which you withdraw.


  • anon

    -'Yale College Programs of Study holds that a student may withdraw from Yale College for personal reasons at any time during the year, no mention is made of a mandatory three-term leave requirement.'-

    That's bad info on YDN's part. I'm pretty sure that if you withdraw for personal reasons from Yale College in the middle of a semester, you are not allowed to come back until two full semesters have passed (so essentially three). For medical withdrawal, i think it's only one full semester.

  • anonymous

    Sloppy reporting. Pitti didn't say anything about having to leave for 3 terms. Only two FULL terms. It's in the Yale academic regulations under "Readmission":

    Students whose withdrawal was for either academic reasons or personal reasons must remain away for at least one fall term and one spring term, in either order, not including the term in which the withdrawal occurred.

  • Huck

    Sellouts? Or victims of assignment to Stiles?

    Regardless, these two should finish out the term and take a year off, sans parental financial support. That's what we call the real real world.

  • y07

    Though there is no three-term-leave requirement, the actual requirement is officially one full semester away before you're eligible to be readmitted, I believe. Of course, very few students decide to take a leave before they've enrolled for the semester. What this means is that everyone I've ever known who takes a personal leave takes it in the middle of a semester. Then they are forced to miss the next semester as well (their one full semester), and it is not until the next semester (the third semester, or Fall 2010 in Hsu and Zhang's case) that they are even eligible to be readmitted. And of course, the university often makes people wait even longer than that to be readmitted. People planning on taking a leave (or even just thinking about it) should know that they're going to be a full year behind their class at best. If you take your leave in the middle of your first semester of sophomore year, when you get back, you'll still be a first semester sophomore (at best) while all your friends are first semester juniors.

    Yale's leave policy is really so much worse than it seems in the regulations. It's also one of the things Gilmore Girls got the most wrong about this place.

  • The real world

    is: paying your own rent or mortgage, making your own meals, washing your own dishes, doing your own job, doing your own laundry, caring for your own spouse and children, caring for your pets, repairing your house, caring for your parents, becoming obsolete and redundant, trying to be useful, trying to stay healthy, and facing the looming horizon of death.

  • Anonymous

    Why is this even news. Taking a bus to California is not an "adventure." If they want to drop out of school they can, but it's not noteworthy.

    It reminds me of when my friend was 5 years old and she ran away from home only to come back 2 hours later because she wanted dinner.

  • Arf

    This sounds like HOMEWARD BOUND, aka world's most tear-jerking movie when (spoilers) Shadow comes back in the end.

  • StateSchoolGrad

    The fact that Yale University would call these students' parents, or try to force them to withdraw, for taking ONE WEEK to see a tiny piece of the world, speaks volumes about what this university thinks about its incoming students.

    Apparently common sense is not a prerequisite to go to Yale, because if it were, they wouldn't have a coronary because someone ventured off campus for a few days.

  • PurpleMonkeyDishwasher

    Although the author of this article refers to the two as "boys," they are adults. They should be treated accordingly.

  • Anonymous

    y07, I thought you could fairly easily opt to leave for one or two semesters if you inform Yale? Someone please detail the rules… I think the confusion is that leaving in the middle of the semester screws everything up but I thought it was possible to just leave for 1 or 2 semesters if you plan ahead.

  • Courtney

    I can't believe the absolute idiocy. Don't these kids get it? They're at Yale (most people would give their right arm to be at this institution), and these fools just decide they want to play pretend that they'll actually ever know what it's like to live in "the real world." If they wanted to know, they should have just walked outside their protective gated residential college and tried living in the New Haven outside the ivory tower for a while.

  • Leave

    You can take a total of two semesters worth of a "leave of absence" as long as you inform Yale before you have registered for a semester. If you withdraw once a semester has started you must stay away for two semesters not counting the semester in which you left, unless you withdraw for medical reasons in which case it is only one semester not counting the one in which you withdrew.

  • Anonymous

    Do these guy have brains? Or perhaps a sense of responsibility?

  • Anonymous

    Sounded like they just wanted a vacation in San Francisco.

  • Recent Alum

    There has to be something else to this story. It doesn't make sense that they would just leave for no reason without telling anyone for a trip that appears completely uneventful.

  • SY 2010

    These boys should be embarrassed by this incident for the rest of their lives. #8 you are dead on.

  • seriously?

    this was sloppy reporting on the part of the YDN - the Blue Book makes the policy on withdrawing midterm clear.

    Also, I'm amazed that these guys didn't take the 5 minutes to consider what it would mean for them to basically drop out of Yale. If they wanted to get away so badly, they could have tried "the real world" during Yale's 2 week Spring Break…or three month summer.

  • Not Getting It

    Aside from the fact that they freaked some people out by not telling anyone, what's the big deal? A week of missed classes on a road-trip? C'mon, back when I was in school, I had classes I never even showed up to until the final, and that wasn't terribly extraordinary.

    Being a student isn't like most jobs, it's more like being self-employed - you can take time off and do whatever you please, with the consequences being self-imposed (such as not learning the material, in the case of a student, and thus wasting tuition money). Why Yale even gets involved in this is beyond me. Does this place actually take attendance?

  • Anonymous

    there was a case in princeton of a guy disappearing, just leaving last fall. he was found a few days later in san francisco. asian american guys are apparently going through something.

  • Anonymous

    I actually thought--as a non yale student--that this was one of the most interesting articles in your paper today.

    Well-written, explains a conflict at Yale, has a rather humorous aspect to it, & leaves me wanting to know a little bit more.

    The protagonists point out correctly that we all make mistakes. They did something impulsive & returned home alive & well and, hopefully, with a better sense of empathy & a deeper understanding of their place in the hearts & worries of their friends, family & colleagues.

    No need to "shame" them or tell them they are out of touch with "the real world": clearly they felt that way already, which is why they admittedly did this.

  • BR 2011

    #20 was the only comment worth reading.
    #21 Why are you so ignorant? Two incident occur and you are willing to make a generalization. I am sure you also have fixed streotypes.
    #8 STop hating on the young adults. Your story about your 5 year old friend says a lot about yourself. Are you still reminiscing on your childhood because your adult life was controlled by your parents and schoo.
    #13 Yale is NOT everything. Maybe you were one of those individuals who would have killed themselves if they didn't get in. Please know that there are other individuals like myself who know that Yale is not everything. Sometimes we forget the hardest thing of being a Yalie was becoming one.
    #15 They have both but they are also young and adventurous.
    #18 I differ I am sure they will be damn proud.
    Im a Yalie taking a year off and contemplating the idea of transfering to a university in California. I hate the East Coast weather and New Haven- the "city."
    God Bless

  • Anonymous

    #23: relax. ya, it was a stereotype…as much as you can get from a sample of 2. heres some more grist for your mill. asian american dudes are messed up.

  • Anonymous

    wait a minute. make that 3!!! two asian dudes at yale, one at princeton.

  • A C M 1 P T

    #23 was obviously dismissed from yale jaja

  • Anonymous

    Hsu will no doubt revisit the life-altering experience in his Harvard Law essay, while Zhang will regale his co-workers at McKinsey with lurid tales from the "real world." True iconoclasts these two are.

  • Princeton08

    What a couple of grade-A idiots. These two clearly confirm the stereotype of the kids who grew up doing nothing but study and now don't know how society works. Anyone who's worked like 10 days at a "real job" making sandwiches or flipping burgers (as I have) can attest to how fantastically underwhelming of an experience it is. And the fact that they felt they had to go to California to do all this really just confirms that this was just some kind of overwrought romantic adventure in their minds.

    Stay weird, New Haven.

  • yaylie

    …reminds me of when I got in trouble cutting school to go to the big city freshman year…of HIGH SCHOOL. Heck at Yale if I didn't tell anyone and kept in touch with my parents as usual I doubt anyone would notice - everyone would assume there must be a good reason for my absence or not care enough to raise a ruckus.

  • the prophet

    this is like harold and kumar. without kumar.

  • JL

    wow i can't believe the number of people that are willing to pass judgment on two fellow yalies after reading a short article. A bit rash? Maybe. but "absolute idiocy"? Get off your high chairs and stop hatin on david/anthony. What they did was ballsy and they returned to face the full consequences of their actions afterwards. Isn't taking chances, making mistakes, and fessing up what what college should be about?