It is the Fall season and orientation week at Yenching Academy of Peking University. YCA is bubbling with energy and vitality as students, old and new, start a new academic chapter at PKU. YCA has prepared several orientation activities to welcome and guide its 2023 Yenching Scholars selected from 28 countries and regions.
Orientation and Welcome Reception
On Monday evening, September 4, Yenching Academy of Peking University organized a welcome reception and orientation event to formally welcome the 2023 Cohort of Yenching Scholars in the YCA and PKU community. The event featured several YCA leadership team and staff members, including Dean Dong Qiang, Associate Deans Fan Shiming and Brent Haas, Director of Graduate Studies Lu Yang, and Assistant Deans Chen Changwei and Guo Fei. This event is significant as it marks the first time since 2019 that an entire cohort of YCA Scholars will begin their studies in person on the vibrant Peking University campus.
Associate Dean Brent Haas kicked off the orientation with an opening remark. He warmly welcomed the new cohort of Yenching Scholars, expressing his excitement to see them gather in the auditorium, ready to begin their academic journey at the Academy. He introduced to the new Scholars the members of the YCA Top Team and other professional staff members and their portfolios. Asst. Prof. Brent Haas encouraged the first-year students to reflect on the aspects of their academic and professional lives that have made them successful students and young adults and the areas that need improving to ensure they have a great YCA and China experience. “Everyone has room for improvement… I hope that during this week, you think about the causes of your success that have allowed you to get here and also think about not only what you want to learn at YCA but how you think you can be a better version of yourself as a young Scholar.” Associate Dean Haas also reminded the Scholars of the significance and responsibilities that accompany their status as Peking University graduate students and Yenching Scholars and urged them to explore and take advantage of the numerous opportunities available to them in their study at PKU.
Dean Dong Qiang delivered a welcome address to the Scholars. He noted how thrilled he was to welcome everyone under the same roof, all at once, especially since he gave several speeches during last year’s orientation activities as the new students arrived on campus in batches owing to pandemic-induced reasons. He urged the Scholars to embrace open-mindedness, resilience, and collaboration when dealing with their peers in their pursuit of academic achievement and the power of knowledge that transcends borders and cultures. Also, Dean Dong invited the Scholars to explore the “creative pavilion” beside his office and express their creativity by adorning the space with art. “Soon, the space will showcase the sketches and final work by a Scholar named Wang Qianren and curated by his friend, a Pakistani Scholar Bihui Huang, reflecting his journey of creating the famous blue and white logo for this year’s Yenching Global Symposium… The final outcome will stand as a testament to cooperation. While one can travel faster alone, one can move further when accompanied by others who provide unwavering support.” Finally, the Dean encouraged the Scholars to participate in the YCA activity of writing a letter to themselves detailing any goals or thoughts they might have for the future, which would be randomly revealed as a surprise upon graduation in two years.
A student representative, Amanda Cassano (2022 Yenching Scholar, United States), delivered a welcome speech to the first-year students. Her address explored the many aspects that make the Yenching experience remarkable. She used a “kaleidoscope” metaphor to describe Yenching Academy, noting that “each turn introduces a new pattern, a different combination of colors and shapes. And just as a kaleidoscope represents an ever-changing spectrum, so does our academic journey here, with its myriad of disciplines, cultures, and perspectives.” Amanda offered several reasons for the exceptionality of the Yenching experience: intellectually stimulating and culturally enriching environment, interdisciplinary training, language learning, and community that nurtures leadership and personal projects. Lastly, she reminded the new Scholars to see each challenge as a twist revealing new patterns of opportunity and that every YCAer is united in their “quest for understanding through a deeper study of China, a goal that encourages us to question, explore, and grow.”
Assoc. Dean Fan Shiming gave a detailed overview of the YCA’s two-year master’s program, reiterating its focus on studying China and its role in the world, with the full support of Peking University’s unparalleled resources. Prof. Fan discussed the nature of the YCA course selection process covering interdisciplinary courses, language and research methodological courses, and field studies, where most lessons are English-taught, with Scholars having the option to take other PKU-wide Chinese- and English-taught courses. He also detailed some opportunities available to YCAers for personal and professional growth and to support their research and personal projects, including the Dean’s Research Grant, Opportunity Grant, exchange programs, and Teaching and Residential Advisors roles. Assoc. Dean Fan explained that since its inception in 2015, Yenching Academy has nurtured over 974 students from 82 countries and regions and 377 universities, stressing the international nature of the program and expanding the pool of its alumni network.
Director of Graduate Studies Lu Yang welcomed the new cohort to the Yenching community. His address covered the core academic side of the Yenching Academy Master of China Studies program. He discussed how the students could best understand the YCA program’s framework and six research concentrations within China’s higher education system, explaining the discipline categories and authorization, classification of academic degrees, and certificate of degree. He also talked about YCA course structures, including the core courses and YCA- and PKU-wide elective courses, field studies, and academic assessment. “What we try to do in our China Studies interdisciplinary program is encourage our students to develop their study interests based on their research and living experiences in China…we try to make the program and curriculum as flexible, diverse, and innovative as possible.” Prof. Lu also detailed YCA’s two-level advising system – faculty advisor and thesis advisor – designed to help students navigate the YCA and PKU academic and living experiences, develop their thesis, and meet every graduation and degree awarding requirement. Lastly, the Director of Graduate Studies stressed YCA’s honour code and urged the students to abide by it while studying at PKU.
Assistant Dean Chen Changwei talked about the structure of the YCA student affairs program. Assoc. Prof. Chen mentioned that “the YCA program’s uniqueness lies not only in the rich courses we offer in China Studies but also in the wealth of extracurricular activities and residential life.” He detailed the various aspects of the student affairs program, including the student support union that focuses on all non-academic sides at YCA (e.g., extracurricular activities, assistance with securing residence permits and medical insurance), career and leadership development, and alumni relations. He also introduced to the Scholars an important arrangement – Ban, Banzhuren, and Ban activities; a system where students are divided into groups/classes called Ban (the smallest unit in the Chinese higher education system), with teachers called Banzhuren offering support and advise on non-academic affairs and serving as a bridge between Scholars and the YCA leadership. Assoc. Prof. Chen further discussed YCA’s rules and policies covering residential life, extracurricular credit (EC) point system, media and publications, and disciplinary actions for violations of Chinese laws, PKU’s regulations, and YCA’s code of conduct.
On September 2, Yenching Academy Residential Advisors (RAs), with support from the YCA Office, organized a PKU Campus Discovery activity for the new Scholars, who went to different places around campus to complete various tasks and games, including cooperative dance, table tennis, and shuttlecock. The activity was designed to help the new students explore and become acquainted with the long history and culture of their new home for the duration of their studies at YCA – the beautiful PKU campus. The Scholars explored several landmarks on campus, including the May 4th Playground, the Peking University Library, the Khoo Teck Puat Gymnasium, and the Stone Boat along the Wei-Ming Lake. The RAs were also supported by other 8th cohort Yenching Scholars who served as instructors for the diverse games. In addition to the fun of the group competition, the activity also created an excellent platform for the new students to be familiar with themselves, enhancing friendship and producing the essence of unity, cooperation, harmonious coexistence, exchange, and mutual learning as Yenchingers in the quiet garden full of stories.