ZHENG: A case for domestic exchange

Propergandist

This spring break, I travelled to Claremont, Calif., to visit two of my best friends. Both were graduating seniors; one went to Pomona, the other attended Claremont McKenna College. I had an absolute blast — my friends took me to the Huntington Gardens in San Marino, the gorgeous beaches of Santa Monica and finally, to satisfy my inner tourist, Hollywood.

Xiuyi Zheng_Opinion PortraitAs I lay on the soft grasses of the Pomona Quad, bathing in the warm Californian sun, I thought of what life would be like if I had gone to school with my friends in Claremont.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not talking about transferring. Although I certainly didn’t miss the New Haven winter (my original flight to California was canceled due to a blizzard — in mid-March!), I wouldn’t give up my Yale education for anything. I’ve forged too many precious friendships, spent too many unforgettable nights reading D.S. books and even more unforgettable nights not reading them when I should have. I’ve lived too happily and grown too much at Yale to ever consider getting my bachelor’s degree from a different school.

However, I would have appreciated the opportunity to exchange at the Claremont Colleges for a semester. Besides the beautiful weather and unbelievable fruit selection in the dining halls, I wanted to study at Claremont because it offered academic opportunities that were simply unavailable at Yale.

For my concentration in my major, Ethics, Politics and Economics, I wanted to study contemporary Chinese society and politics. Unfortunately, Yale is surprisingly weak in this field. I know of few experts on modern China in the Political Science and East Asian Studies departments. Deborah Davis, a well-known sociologist who focuses on China, did not teach a class this past year, and apparently will be on leave next spring when I plan on writing my senior thesis.

On the other hand, Claremont McKenna College boasts Minxin Pei, one of the pre-eminent China scholars in American academia today. I had read many of his works before my trip to Claremont, and was fortunate enough to sit in on his “Chinese Politics” seminar. After class, I had dinner with him along with my friends, both his former students, when I was again impressed by his charisma and piercing intellect. I have no doubt that I would have gone a long way towards fulfilling my concentration had I spent a semester at CMC and studied under Pei.

Although we like to think that Yale has everything that any Yalie could ever want, I’m sure I’m not the only one that would have benefitted from an opportunity to study at another domestic institution. Yet strangely, while Yale encourages its students to study abroad, for which it offers full financial support, it offers no established domestic exchange program.

When I went to the Registrar’s Office and my DUS to inquire about the possibility of setting up a domestic exchange program last fall, I was told that not only did I have to contact CMC on my own, I had to take a semester off from Yale, and there was no possibility of receiving financial aid. The lack of financial support in particular was an instant deal breaker. If Yale pays us for to go to Barcelona and London and Tokyo, why wouldn’t it help us spend a semester at MIT or RISD?

One easy answer would be that Yale doesn’t want to pay its students to go to rival institutions. Yet it could easily solve that problem by imposing a limit on the number of credits one can transfer — if a full year is too much, a semester would be good enough.

There are obvious logistical concerns, too. Any agreement to send Yalies to another college would necessarily involve taking on students from that school. The prospect of accommodating hundreds of exchange students, all of whom will settle for no less than the bona fide Yale experience, certainly sounds daunting enough.

However, domestic exchange programs are not unrealistic. The National Student Exchange coordinates exchange programs between close to 200 schools in the U.S. and Canada, mostly large universities. Dartmouth, another Ivy, offers exchange programs at Stanford, Spelman and Morehouse, as well as to 11 other liberal arts colleges through the Twelve-College Exchange Program.

Our Yale educations will not be compromised by a semester or a year at another American university. Rather, by creating domestic exchange programs, Yale will go further in encouraging its students to pursue diverse experiences and academic excellence.

Although it’s already too late for me to study at CMC, I hope Yalies will be able to exchange at Claremont in the future, and not just for the weather.

Xiuyi Zheng is a junior in Davenport College. His column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact him at xiuyi.zheng@yale.edu .

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