My YCA Story | Wesley Harfield (New Zealand)

My time at Peking University and Yenching Academy has been one of the most memorable and life-changing years I have ever experienced. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by an outstanding group of talented individuals who supported and encouraged one another to learn and grow. As we near the end of these unforgettable times, I find myself reflecting on how I am now able to greater understand the different perspectives people from different cultures have, and how working with individuals from diverse backgrounds can allow us to achieve such amazing things. Having also been able to learn and experience so much about China throughout this time, I feel so much more confident living here and telling people about how wonderful this country really is.

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Reminiscing on some of the more special moments over the two years, I think my greatest take away has been through learning more about Chinese traditions and culture. YCA provided so many opportunities to experience this first hand, and I feel so much more capable of talking about and sharing Chinese culture with my friends and family. From learning about Chinese tea culture, making Zongzi, participating in an international dragon boating tournament, climbing Xiangshan with my classmates, visiting a rural village on the outskirts of Beijing, and exploring the ancient history of the Terracotta Army in Xi’an, there hasn’t been a single day at the academy where I haven’t been exposed to the wonders of Chinese culture.

Keeping active and participating in sports is also something that has brought me a lot of enjoyment and achievement at the academy, and it has been so rewarding to see how quickly YCA teams and our sporting achievements have grown year on year. I was particularly involved as a manager of the 2019 football team Fuego who made it to the elimination round of the annual PKU cup for the first time in the team's short history. Trying to manage 20 busy Yenching scholars had its challenges at times, but the on-field effort by the team always made the preparation work so worth it! Another huge achievement during my time at the academy was with the athletics team. This team greatly improved both in numbers and results from our fall performance to rank number one university-wide for our division in the spring competition. The comradery shown by this team was so inspirational and I was so thrilled to be able to contribute to the team's winning efforts with 3 medals from 3 running events.

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Another big part of my life at the academy has been diving into the vast academic opportunities which have presented themselves throughout the two years. With the many sporting and cultural activities that we enjoy daily, it's sometimes easy to forget about the number of presentations and papers that we have to submit during our studies. Yenching scholars take their academics very seriously, so I was honoured to have been recognised as one of the top ten students amongst such a group of prominent academics. But a lot of my own and other scholar’s academic achievements are actually a big credit to the wonderful community of friends that we have met along the way, and who have pushed us to strive for academic greatness. One of my fondest academic memories would have to be the enthralling journeys that I experienced with two of my fellow scholars Dev Lewis (India) and Jose Pablo (Mexico), as we explored social credit systems in Fujian province on a dean’s research grant project.

Finally, it was a great honour to work with several professors and academy staff as a teaching assistant during the second year of my studies. Throughout the fall and spring semesters, I acted as the teaching assistant for 7 courses where I was responsible for over 90 students. Trying to balance my master’s thesis, an off-campus internship, and all of my TA courses wasn’t an easy task, but I am really thankful for all the support the professors, students, and the academy gave me throughout this time. Looking back on the experience as a whole, getting to spend time with scholars and assisting professors to teach was very rewarding, and this made the whole journey something I would do again in a heartbeat if given the opportunity (despite the heavy workload)!

Having taken as many opportunities as I could during my time at YCA, I think I can say without a doubt that these two years were filled with so many personal gains that have enabled me to grow and improve as a person on so many different levels. It would have been almost impossible to experience as much as I have if I wasn’t at a place like YCA, so I am eternally grateful for having the opportunity to study here. After graduation, I hope I can continue to watch this wonderful institution grow, and continue to be involved by giving back to the University and the Academy for many years to come.

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