Li: Where’s the exchange?

Since the launch of Yale-Peking University program, the Yale Club of Beijing has enthusiastically listed this initiative as the first item in the “Exchange” section on its Web site. Like so many Yalies and PKU parents, Yale alumni in Beijing genuinely believe that Yale-PKU is in fact an exchange program. The club even tried last fall to invite the PKU students who had studied at Yale to attend a reception at the Capital Club, one of the finest and most exclusive in downtown Beijing — but they found none.

Our alumni in Beijing have apparently forgotten what they’ve learned (or should have learned) at Yale: critical thinking. Those elegant invites went nowhere, because, unfortunately, the Yale-PKU program has so far been a one-way exchange.

While Elis who don’t speak Chinese can easily fly to Beijing on Yale money, enjoying 2 a.m. club hopping in the Diplomatic District and 24/7 hot water that most PKU students could only dream of, our Chinese peers, in order to host their friends from Yale, have to demonstrate excellent academic standing, pass a written test and three interviews held in English.

The application process is a torturous one. A friend of mine, who was the chair of the PKU Student Union and handpicked by the Chinese government to tour the United States, was rejected because, he was told, his English wasn’t good enough.

Even for the lucky dogs who are accepted, they “study and live together” with Yale students — but at PKU, and PKU only, not in New Haven. Presidents Levin and Xu may genuinely hold their shared conviction “in the value of joint educational opportunities in a globalizing world,” as stated on the Yale-PKU Web site, but unfortunately that globalizing world for Yale-PKU is a steep, sharply tilted playing field.

I’ll pass on fluffy clichés about cultural exchange, but the presence of PKU students on campus would be a great asset for Yale students who wish to understand their Chinese peers but are unable to spend or uninterested in spending a semester in Beijing.

The Chinese international students may instantly pop up in your mind. But they can’t serve that purpose nearly as well as exchange students from PKU. First, unlike the Chinese students at Yale, PKU students would offer a comprehensive comparison the Chinese and American systems of higher education. More important, a Chinese citizen who went to Andover, played cricket, or frequented fancy karaoke clubs in Flushing, N.Y., in a Lincoln limo is unlikely to think and behave in the same way as his friend from PKU who learned English through BBC broadcasting, had no clubbing experience and only played the sport called the National College Entrance Examination in high school.

Most News readers probably don’t even know enough about the latter type of Chinese students. And the lack of understanding of the values and philosophies of those Chinese students presents a serious problem for us, because it is those students who represent the orthodox, puzzling, yet-to-be-Americanized part of China. And, like it or not, those students, not the Hotchkiss-educated ones, are to become the future leadership of their nation.

If we truly desire to comprehend the logic and strategy of our formidable counterpart in Asia, we might as well bring in their young and familiarize ourselves with their unique way of strategic thinking, in addition to sending a few dozen Yalies to PKU every year.

And we do have the capability to accommodate those exchange students. I doubt 14 more students will eat up Yale’s resources — certainly the line in front of Toad’s will not be any longer. Financially, PKU may be reluctant to sponsor its students, but PKU students, ambitious and hungry as they are, are most likely to do everything to make sure that $25,000 does not stand in their way. The financial burden wouldn’t have to be Yale’s.

President Levin is set for yet another trip to China in just a few weeks. As a trained economist, he certainly appreciates the law of exchange: “1+1>2.” We already have the first “1” of that equation dancing around in Beijing; now is the time for us to bring in the other “1” and reap the full benefit of the result of a two-way exchange.

And by “>2,” we are not talking about 3 or 4, but billions and zillions, just in case you didn’t study nuclear fusion in high school physics.

Robert Li is a junior in Ezra Stiles College.

Comments

  • y09

    on the other hand, there are a lot of chinese students at yale (and probably most grad students) who socialize and live little outside a core group of other chinese students. I find this even more problematic. (The author is most definitely not one of them, as I have met him a bunch of times outside the classroom..)

  • former Yale-PKU student

    Thanks for writing this, Robert. During my four months in Beijing through the Yale-PKU program, the other Yale students and I often found ourselves asking why our 'exchange' program was not a two-way street.

    My biggest concern with your article, though, deals with the financing. $25,000 is a whole lot of money--that more than it costs for 4 full years at PKU without a scholarship. I find it hard to believe that those Chinese students who fall under your second category would be willing to take out a loan like that just to spend a SEMESTER at Yale. Especially since PKU is a state/public university, Yale would most likely be left with the extra financial burden should PKU students have the opportunity to come here.

  • agree with Y09

    I agree with commenter #1 on this one. What's the point of "exchange" when you have Chinese exchange students at Yale who seem to interact sparsely with other students anyways, and for the most part keep to themselves? Of course, I'm not going to deny cultural differences may play a big part, but don't you think this is a problem for your give-and-take 1+1 equation as well?

    I'm just going to say let the Yale-PKU exchange programs decide amongst themselves how they're going to run things, and Yale in the meantime should continue reaching out to other nationalities who are far less represented in our student body.

  • Y10

    @ #3 FYI, I've had interactions with both PKU kids and Chinese grad students here. They are vastly different. PKU kids are much more outgoing.