Through Our Door | Zoe Jordan (United States): 2018 Yenching Scholar

Enrolling at NYU Shanghai as an undergrad, for Zoe Jordan the appeal of China was, in part, its distance from her Maryland home. Over time, NYU gave Zoe a close community of friends in Shanghai. For YCA, Zoe embarked on a second journey; this time, she moved to Beijing. Her new surroundings felt “steeped” in Chinese history. Throwing herself 500% into daily life at Beida, Jingyuan became the center of her academic experience.

Q: What inspired you to apply to the Yenching Academy of Peking University?

A: My undergrad took place at NYU Shanghai. I was hesitant to move to Beijing from Shanghai because I had built a community. I think it took me a full 7-8 months before Beijing made me feel at home. Definitely, I found that Beijing had a real “history-steeped” charm in comparison to Shanghai. It was something I came to appreciate.

My experience at a Chinese university like Beida compared to NYU Shanghai was very different – but that was precisely the point of why I wanted to enroll in the Yenching Academy of PKU (YCA). I wanted to know what it was like to study at a Chinese institution.

Q: What did daily life at YCA look like for you?

A: There is a real scope in experiences for YCA. You can interact with the program in a variety of ways. For me, I was 500% in Yenching during my time in Beijing.

My room in Shaoyuan was right next to the elevator, so my roommate and I made a hobby of just leaving our door open with music playing. Ultimately, we became the “stop-over” room for other students coming to and from classes.

Q: What role did Jingyuan play in your life on campus?

A: I spent a lot of time working in Jingyuan and studying around class time. In Jingyuan 4, there is common space that was occasionally used for activities although it was a bit of a no-man’s land. The water-coolers and couches provided classic “water-cooler talk”. During Chinese classes, everyone had to meet up in the space because we shared the same 15 mins break. Otherwise, we would play the game “Assassin” around Jingyuan so people would attempt to covertly tag one another.

I spent a lot of time in the upstairs office space and bonded quite a lot with one of the YCA laoshis. We did our Yenching Global Symposium launch party in Jingyuan 3. Since they were old, beautiful buildings, the staff often dressed them up for external events.

Q: How did your experiences on campus, and at Jingyuan in particular, situate your larger experience living in Beijing?

A: For me, finding a home in Beijing was always about the spaces we interacted in. In particular, finding public spaces turn to private spaces – like the great community my roommate and I built around our dorm room or the time passed sitting around the lake on campus. My memories in Beijing are tied more to the people around me than any particular location.

In the beginning of the year, a lot of people would go out to the stone boat inside campus. We would bring snacks and a speaker to hang out with your friends. It was one of those great memories where you sit down and think to yourself, “I should take a mental snapshot of this.”

I couldn’t sum Yenching up in a sentence for you, but I think I certainly grew a lot. Two years of near open-ended exploration gave me the chance to take risks intellectually or personally.

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