Yale in China
The banners seemed to be everywhere — adorning buildings, draped before a dais, on the side of a river boat. One hundred people from the Yale community were the personal guests of Chinese President Hu Jintao and they were warmly welcomed wherever they went.
Three people from SOM — Deputy Dean Stan Garstka, Lisa Howie '08 and Roger Goldberg MD/MBA '08 — joined Yale President Richard Levin, students, and faculty from across the university for the 10-day journey. The group visited universities in Beijing, Shanghai, and Xian, meeting with students, professors, and government leaders. The tour also included trips to the Great Wall, a night at the opera and visits to the new Olympic facilities and ancient cultural sites. The trip resulted from a visit by Hu in April 2006 and continues more than a century of relations between Yale and China.
“The whole trip really blew me away,” said Garstka. “There is a sense in China not just of possibility but inevitability. We had a special meeting with the chief engineer and project manager of the Olympic Village — of the Olympic project. One thing he showed us was what’s called the ‘bird's nest,’ the main Olympic stadium. There are about 4,000 people working on this at any point in time. No one is saying ‘Are these things going to get done?’ They're going to get done. They're already planting trees and grass in some sections of the place. In fact, they're way, way ahead of schedule. It was like this just about everywhere we went.”
Only those who had never traveled to China before were eligible for the trip. The journey was part educational venture, part holiday. Goldberg, who is studying to be an ophthalmologist, provided an account of the third day that encapsulates the dual natures of the trip.
He wrote: “After lunch, we took the bus to Tsinghua University, the MIT of China, and the alma mater of President Hu. The students I met at the School of Economics and Management reminded me of my own classmates at SOM. They were very savvy to the global job market, and seemed to follow the same mantra I have heard many times at Yale: ‘Work hard, play hard.’
“We then headed to the Forbidden City, where we were able to spend about 60 minutes in a private garden that had been totally restored by master craftsmen and artists. This section is closed to the public, and is normally reserved for visiting dignitaries. We were there as the sun set, and the experience was magical. Throughout the trip, we viewed many of China’s amazing historical artifacts. At this moment, however, we were able to live that history, to experience firsthand what it must have been like to be the emperor. For me, this would remain one of the true highlights of the entire trip.”
Another highlight of the trip was the day when the Yale group was divided into pairs and sent off with a Chinese family in Xi’an, a central Chinese city founded more than a thousand years ago and now an industrial and cultural center. Howie, who is interning at Merrill Lynch this summer, and Howard Bloch, a Yale French professor, went off with a woman who works for a hydroelectric power consulting company, where they met up with her extended family.
“They were so generous, they opened their homes to us, gave us food and presents, and took us out to dinner,” Howie said. “Everyone was so excited to share with us, that when we were driving, we nearly got into about 13 accidents because our host kept turning around while driving to point things out to us and tell us their history. Everyone in Xi’an was really proud of the city’s cultural heritage and wanted to teach us about it.”
For more on the experience of the Yale delegation, visit the university’s trip site.