What comes next?

Many of my friends and family know that I’ll be headed to Beijing in August. I was accepted into the Yenching Academy, and will be pursuing a Master’s Degree in China Studies at Peking University. The Yenching Academy is in the process of wrapping up its inaugural year, and I will be entering in the fall as part of the second cohort of scholarship students. I’m excited that I’ll have an opportunity to provide feedback about this program and see how it shapes and defines itself moving forward.

Because it’s relatively new, I’ve had to explain the program a handful of times to folks, and I thought that it might be helpful to summarize some of the main points about the scholarship so that people could understand what I’m getting myself into. From the Yenching Academy website:

The Yenching Academy of Peking University builds bridges between China and the world through an interdisciplinary master’s program in China Studies for outstanding graduates from all over the globe. This initiative brings together young people who show promise to lead and innovate in their fields in an intensive learning environment where they can explore China and its role in the world – past, present and future. The Academy aims to thereby shape a new generation of global citizens with a nuanced understanding of China and its role in the world.

What this means – I’ll be in a year-long scholarship to attend Peking University, which is currently ranked as the top university in China. I will be living in University provided accommodations for the full year of my program, and will receive a small stipend each month to cover food and other expenses. The program will also be paying for my round-trip airfare to Beijing from Philly, and taking us on several research trips around the country to experience different aspects of Chinese culture and history.

The Yenching Academy offers six concentrations in different areas of China Studies. Those subjects include Politics and International Relations, Philosophy and Religion, Literature and Culture, Law and Society, History and Archeology, and Economics and Management. I am most likely going to pursue a concentration in History and Archeology. While I was at Penn, I took several classes with the Graduate School of Design in City Planning and Historic Preservation. Pursuing these disciplines in the future feels like a really exciting way for me to build on the foundation of my Urban Studies undergraduate degree. I don’t know if or when I’ll consider other further graduate studies, but for now focusing on Chinese history and archeology seems like it will provide me with a fresh perspective on global heritage.

One of the graduate courses I took this past semester was Historic Preservation 621: Heritage and Urbanism in Asia. The course focused on urbanism and development in Shanghai, and introduced me to a lot of the topics in the field that I hadn’t previously considered. One of the things I enjoy most about studying urban development and architecture abroad is how much perspective it provides. In England I studied cathedrals older than my country, and in China I saw temples that stood since the eighth century. When my understanding of urban spaces has been so thoroughly informed by American models, and by Philadelphia in particular, I find that these opportunities to interact with historic spaces gives new meaning and immediacy to the past in ways I can’t begin to conceive of when in the United States.

It’s enough to make a person feel small in all the best ways.

Before my classes for Yenching Academy officially begin in September, I’ll be taking a month-long intensive Mandarin course on Peking University’s campus. Tuition for the program will be paid by Yenching Academy, and I’ll live in the Zhongguanyuan Global Village with other international students and some people from my program. The classes will not grant me with credit towards my Master’s degree, but will provide me with an intro to Mandarin – something that I desperately need. I took basic Mandarin classes in high school, but the lack of practice has meant that I can’t easily differentiate tones, and I’ve forgotten most of the vocabulary I once knew. (Āiyā!)

So – that’s the big plan for the next year! I’ll be starting my classes in September and taking a combination of core requirements and electives. My courses will all be taught in English, though I’ll also be taking Mandarin throughout the year to build off the foundation I start in August. When I’m not in class, I hope to be able to spend my time getting acquainted with Beijing and traveling to other areas in China. I’m especially excited for the opportunities to travel around Asia in between terms and during vacations – I’ll have friends and family in different parts of East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia, and I think it’ll be wonderful to explore with them! (If you’ll be in Asia next year, please let me know – I’d love to host you in Beijing or visit you wherever you may be!)

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