My YCA Story | Hannah Rose Kirk (UK)

My time at Yenching Academy of Peking University has been brightly coloured by many diverse and exciting opportunities, made brighter by interactions with Scholars from all corners of the globe which allowed me to not only learn about China but also about the cultures and customs of many other countries.

During the past two years, I have enjoyed unparalleled opportunity to explore aspects of China’s society, economy and history previously unbeknown to me. Yet Yenching Academy builds its strength not on the content of its courses but the context of cross-disciplinary study. Participating in classes alongside my peers across numerous disciplines has taught me lessons which can’t be found in textbooks. The insight of how others think, feel and solve problems can only be garnered when sitting shoulder to shoulder with such a diverse set of students as those at Yenching. While I derived the most academic satisfaction from engaging with others, I demonstrated academic diligence and dedication to research in each class I took. 

Besides from the career and academic opportunity Yenching provides, engaging with so many Scholars from such different backgrounds fosters firm friendships and a strong, close-knit community. Playing for the Yenching basketball and soccer teams, I’ve developed a weekly commitment to my teammates which has fostered strong friendships between an inspiring set of women. Running with the PKU team also gave me the opportunity to build relationships beyond Yenching’s walls. In my wish for Yenching’s sporting traditions to continue to future cohorts I organized the inaugural annual Yenching-Schwarzman sports day. Additionally, I played in the Yenching Funk Band at the Graduation celebration, another tradition I hope will be carried forward to future cohorts. Finally, during my time in Beijing, I have volunteered in coding outreach, co-founding an organization called R-Ladies Beijing which focuses on the computer science education of women and girls. I have written and run coding tutorials, both for Yenching Scholars and Beijing residents, and wish to continue this educational outreach volunteering in the future.

In recognition of my contribution to Yenching Academy in both academic and community terms, I was the highest ranked international Student at Yenching Academy, receiving the awards for Outstanding Academic Achievement, Outstanding Research, Merit Student Pacesetter and PKU Excellent Graduate. To me, it is not the letter on a transcript at the end of the year which enriched my experience but the access to a true breadth of teaching, from statistics and experimental design to postmodern Chinese art and Zhou dynasty bronze bells. The wide-ranging scope of our programme naturally introduces strengths and weaknesses in each scholar. Nonetheless, when working together these different backgrounds become strength in numbers. My weakness was in my mandarin as before coming to YCA, I had never spoken a word or learnt a single character.

Through help from friends and fellow Yenching Scholars, I have been able to go from no knowledge to preparing for HSK5 in just over a year and a half. I have not only learnt about aspects of China’s language, society, economy, philosophy and history in classrooms but also written and submitted research articles to international journals, some of which were co-authored with other scholars; the sharing of these achievements and learning together with the community is what has made my time at YCA so rich. My article on technology versus tradition in Chinese society was published in the Yenching Review, and I completed two Dean’s Grant projects: the first undertaking field work in Chengdu to compare the offline marriage market and online dating websites as methods for young Chinese individuals to find partners (submitted for peer-review) and the second designing an environmental behavioral experiment to study how individuals respond to pollution alerts and whether external air quality changes their economic preferences (submitted for peer-review). I have also written opinion pieces for international platforms, including a prize-winning article to The Economist proposing TianXia (天下) as an alternative thinking to guide climate change policy. My commitment to writing and publishing research during my time at Yenching not only fostered a strong desire to continue in an academic career but also facilitated my next steps after Yenching, considerably aiding a successful application for a PhD at the University of Oxford.

Every day I am inspired by my fellow YCA scholars by their intelligence, their warmth and their ambition. I hope that I too, through my academic commitments, my dedication to research and my role in the community, have been able to contribute to the inspiring atmosphere at YCA. In these difficult current times, the YCA community to which I owe so much of my enjoyment and success has been dispersed around the world. I wish more than anything to be surrounded once again by my fellow scholars and friends but it makes me happy that our community spirit continues to shine, to hold us together and to keep us connected by our shared experiences, lessons and memories.

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