This Tuesday, the University unveiled a new study abroad program to be administered jointly with China’s Peking University. The program will begin next fall, when 20 students will move in with honors students at the Chinese institution and enroll in classes taught in English by faculty from both universities. Unlike other study abroad programs, Yale-in-Peking will cover airfare and expenses, keeping total costs roughly equivalent to those at Yale, and the range of course options — including courses in the sciences — was designed to increase interest in foreign study among those who may not otherwise have participated.
We commend the University for moving forward with such an ambitious program, but we are concerned that some aspects of the program may run counter to the core objectives of study abroad. While all students within the program will be required to take Mandarin language classes, students do not as yet have the option of taking other classes in the native language; the other courses are offered only in English. Broadening the appeal of study abroad programs does seem to necessitate expanding the curriculum beyond foreign language-intensive classes, but increased interest in such opportunities should not come at the cost of the cultural appreciation and immersion that are fundamental components of the experience.
Moreover, while the variety of courses offered within the program seems designed to appeal to a wider range of students than those interested primarily in intensive language study, the program’s range of disciplines is still somewhat limited. While we applaud the University’s effort to include more classes in fields like electrical engineering and molecular, chemical and developmental biology, the longer list of courses addressing topics such as “Monuments in Western Art” and “Chicago as a Shock City” in China seem to defeat the purpose of traveling so far from Yale in the first place.
The program itself is representative of Yale’s campaign to foster a stronger relationship with China in particular, and we appreciate the University’s effort to further develop its programs there. But we also hope that China does not represent a special exception for Yale’s study abroad programs, and that the University will see Yale-in-Peking as only one of the first steps toward the establishment of foreign study programs in other regions that have been less well-traveled by Yale students. Yale-in-London and the University’s officially sponsored summer programs cater largely to students seeking work or study in an English-speaking environment, and in the long run, programs that demand greater immersion in a foreign language or culture should be seen as equally important to Yale’s stated mission as a global university.
That said, Yale-in-Peking marks an important step toward the University’s goals for expansion of foreign study. At Yale, where barely 2 percent of students enroll in study abroad programs, every 20 students are a significant gain. But the University should begin looking for ways to invest a similar level of care and resources in other regions of demonstrated student interest.