My YYGS Experience by Yiwei Zhang IAS ‘15

July 31, 2015

By: Yiwei Zhang from Beijing, China

There were a couple of things I laughed at after the orientation on the first day of the International Affairs and Security session of YYGS. Why would the DRLs set bed check at 12:00 am as if I would want to stay up that late? Why would they talk about making lifelong friends as if two weeks could do so much to my life?

Looking back, the two weeks at Yale were no doubt the most transformative experience I have ever had; I genuinely loved every single moment of it. Never have I been exposed to these many stimulating topics in such a short amount of time. We were challenged to tackle global issues ranging from combating ISIS to reforming the United Nations Security Council. Evidently, even experts do not have answers to these questions, but YYGS taught us not to step back from the most dreadful issues regardless of our current age or experience because one day we may be the ones making the decisions.

It is particularly difficult to write about the academic experience without mentioning the people since the two were interwoven throughout my time at Yale. It was the people that made YYGS a special place and the memories indelible for all of us. All of my instructors struck me by how perceptive and well versed they were in multiple areas, even though some of them might only be rising sophomores at Yale College. They allowed us to indulge ourselves in areas of interests while challenging us to consider every aspect of the problem in realistic terms. I was equally amazed by how knowledgeable, bright, and genuine my peers were. Our discussion group would not stop talking about gender equality or counter-terrorism even when the instructor told us to go to lunch fifteen minutes after the discussion session should have ended. Personally, I have always been more of a history person rather than a current event person, so for the first time in a while, I felt being quite out of my comfort zone when people were talking about drones, the Iran nuclear deal, and the conflict in Gaza Strip. Nevertheless, under the sheer force of peer pressure, I was able to truly push myself and to be confident in my opinions even when they clash with those of others’.

Before coming to YYGS, I had contently thought of my experience of traveling to different places and studying in two countries as rather global. After spending two weeks with some of the most interesting people I have ever known, I realized how limited my point of view had been and how far I still needed to go. I have always loved talking, but here I learned to listen because others’ experience and perspectives were extraordinarily informative and inspiring. Seemingly ordinary, everyone came from different background and had various passions. When we all came together and shared our interests, I was bombarded by a mix of compelling personalities and hoped I could just learn a little bit from everyone. With people here, I felt more comfortably at home than I was with anyone; I realized for the first time how easy it was to make friends when we shared the same values and goals, when we could bond by talking about the ambiguity of international laws, or when we were simply eager to listen to each other’s story.

The two weeks at YYGS exceeded my expectation in every aspect. I could feel my mind expanding every day, if not every hour, absorbing more information than I had had in weeks or months. Now, to answer the questions at the beginning, after the second day, I had become perfectly willing to give up my sleep, which I have always cherished very dearly, in order to maximize my time with the people at YYGS, to learn as much as I could, and to take in everything provided to me within these two short weeks. I had developed a sincere admiration for people around me and spent every minute I could with them, whether it was capstone project, family bonding, or late-night talks with my suitemates. I was constantly struck with all sorts of emotion, and each moment felt genuinely real and powerful; I had been wearily anxious about my first capstone assignment, intrigued by Oona Hathaway’s lecture, astounded by the intensity of a debate in my seminar, completely relaxed and carefree with my friends eating at Shake Shack, frantically nervous when I was going to ruin the entire Jenga, amazed by my friends’ singing or piano, inspired by my instructors’ experience or career paths, and, eventually, heartbroken by the fact that these would all come to an end. As for the friends I made three weeks ago, despite the differences in language, culture, and physical location, we understood each other perfectly as if we have been friends for years.

            Before coming to IAS, I had a very vague idea of my college major. After two weeks of exposure to fascinating topics and inspiring individuals, I have also gained much of a clearer understanding of myself, realizing that pursuing a career path as meaningful, constructive, and challenging as International Affairs would be a fitting way for me to make an impact. For the extraordinary people I have met at YYGS, I look forward to our reunion, whether that may be in months or years. I cannot wait to see all of your accomplishments in the years to come and our future in shaping the world around us.