My YCA Story | Milind Taneja (India)

Why did you choose to study at YCA?

I took several China-themed courses related to my majors to enhance my understanding of the country while studying for my bachelor’s degree in economics and finance at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). By the end of my undergraduate studies, I had developed a passion for studying the Chinese economy and wanted to continue my explorations of China by pursuing graduate studies at a prestigious mainland Chinese university. In 2018, I completed a short study-abroad program at the Guanghua School of Management, Peking University, which I consider to be a highlight of my undergraduate career; I was particularly keen on returning to PKU for my graduate studies.

I learned about the Yenching Academy China Studies program through online research and a chance encounter with a Yenching alumnus in Hong Kong. I was drawn to the program due to its exclusive focus on China, emphasis on Mandarin language enhancement, interdisciplinary nature, and flexibility in allowing fellows to create their personalized learning experience. For these reasons and more, applying to the Yenching Academy in my final year of undergraduate studies seemed like a no-brainer. I consider myself fortunate to have been given the honor of becoming a Yenching Scholar as part of the Academy’s sixth cohort.

Please tell us a bit about your favorite Yenching course.

I immensely enjoyed all of the courses I took during the first year. They were well-designed and academically rigorous, covered various interesting topics, and offered opportunities to venture outside the disciplines I had studied at the undergraduate level. The courses gave me a feel for such disciplines as sociology and archaeology I previously had little to no exposure to, all while delivering a unique China-focused learning experience. “China in Transition” (or CiT, as it is more commonly called), a three-credit course all first-year Scholars must take, was probably my favorite. The course is largely interdisciplinary and draws on many disciplines, including history and economics, to equip us with the knowledge needed to engage with China’s past, present, and future in a meaningful way. The course gave me unusual perspectives, an interdisciplinary understanding of China, and opportunities to approach the country from unique angles. The weekly discussions about class readings that Scholars discussed during the fall semester in our small CiT groups were very insightful. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to conduct supervised research on the aging population in China for my second-term CiT project, for which the Academy provided generous funding. The icing on the cake was meeting two of my closest friends at the Academy, with whom I collaborated on the afore-said project.

Please tell us a bit about your responsibilities as a residential advisor (RA). Which of the events that you organized was your favorite?

It was an absolute privilege to have served as one of the yellow bān (class) RA’s in my second year. I appreciated the opportunity to liaise between the Yenching staff and the seventh and sixth cohorts and organize fun-filled activities and events for Scholars in the yellow and other bāns. My favorite event among the ones my RA partner, Julia, and I organized in the recently concluded academic year was a community-building event where we played a mindfulness game called “Thorns, Buds, and Roses.” In that game, attendees were asked to identify and reflect on a recent positive experience (rose), a recent negative experience (thorn), and something that they look forward to (bud). Next, we rotated attendees through different breakout rooms, where they engaged in casual conversation with one another to help them get to know the yellow bān community better. Scholars from the sixth and seventh cohorts attended the event. As a result, many inter-cohort friendships were forged. Seventh-cohort Scholars from other bāns also took part in the event. We had a great turnout, and I think the event was a hit.

Bonds of friendship began to emerge among attendees during the event; our bān’s WeChat group was abuzz with the banter of warm conversations for several days afterward.

How do you feel about the Yenching community? Please tell us a bit about your most memorable Yenching experience.

I consider the Yenching community an extended family that supported me through thick and thin over the last two years. Although I want to think of a positive experience to answer this question, I feel almost compelled to mention how my fellow sixth-cohort Yenching Scholars were incredibly generous to me when a devastating second wave of Covid-19 infections hit India. Not only did several of my peers send good wishes my way, but some even offered to share their lecture notes with me since I could not attend live lectures for about two weeks and asked for regular updates on my health. During a rough time when Covid-19 had put so many around me in despair, I found comfort in knowing that I had friends around the globe concerned about my well-being and that of my loved ones.

What is your plan after graduation?

I joined the India office of a prominent healthcare consultancy at the start of my second year to work on issues related to anaemia control while writing my thesis. I work as part of a team that collaborates closely with the government of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh to ensure the state’s compliance with existing guidelines for controlling and preventing iron-deficiency anaemia in India. Additionally, my colleagues and I design and implement interventions to reduce the disease’s prevalence in the state. Until a few months ago, I was all set to return to Hong Kong to work in the financial services sector. However, I decided to continue contributing to the causes close to my heart, such as access to quality healthcare and education for vulnerable communities, through involvement with social impact consultancies.

Why did you choose to become an alumni secretary?

I became an alumni secretary because I am genuinely passionate about strengthening the alumni network of our relatively young institution, which attracts the brightest and most talented China enthusiasts from across the globe. I like to think of alumni as life-long friends and allies who are always there for one another through thick and thin. My interactions with New Delhi-based alumni have helped me develop a deep appreciation for the blessing that is the Yenching community. Thanks to them, I have lived a fraction of what my Yenching experience could have been without ever having to leave India. Meeting with my Delhi-based alumni friends sometimes makes me feel connected to the Academy, despite having never experienced it in person. These alumni were my go-to friends when I needed advice on such matters as course selection, thesis writing, and shortlisting professional opportunities. My positive experience interacting with Delhi-based alumni is just one example of how uplifting and beneficial it can be to be part of a vibrant alumni community, which is what I aspire to create for all Yenching Scholars – current, former, and future – during my tenure as alumni secretary.

About thesis

My thesis topic was "Chinese investments in India start-ups: Their future and significance" (supervised by Professor ZHANG Yaguang). Foreign investment from China is one of the largest sources of funding for Indian start-ups, but changes in India's foreign investment rules at the start of the pandemic have created difficulties for Indian start-ups to obtain Chinese financing in recent times. My thesis discussed the significance of Chinese investments to Indian start-ups and the impact that the new foreign investment rules have had on the Indian start-up ecosystem. I found that while Indian start-ups are beginning to diversify away from Chinese investments to non-Chinese ones to meet their funding needs, they are missing out on the helpful non-monetary resources that Chinese investors were able to offer. These include resources in the form of strategic advice and mentorship, believed to have played a significant role in the rapid growth of the Indian start-up ecosystem. My thesis, therefore, advises Indian policymakers to allow and ease Chinese investors’ involvement in the Indian start-up ecosystem.

The Yenching alumni helped me a lot. Some read my first draft, while others took time to meet with me to discuss my thesis topic in the initial stages of writing. They even helped me figure out how I should structure my analyses. When I had questions or felt lost, I knew I could reach out to Yenching alumni for help. My advisor was also very kind – he replied to my emails on time and helped me as best as he could.

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