Alumni Reflections: YYGS Beijing ‘16 - The Experience of a Lifetime

October 11, 2016

By: Edoardo Bianchini from Italy

I clearly remember that day, the twentieth of November 2015, by coincidence also my father’s birthday, when I received an email from YYGS Beijing. I had just come back from breakfast and, because I usually have ten minutes of free time between then and my first class, I checked my phone for any new notification from the night before. As I finished reading the message from the Yale Young Global Scholars Program, I could not believe that my prayers had been answered. After a few seconds I was literally jumping, repeating these words in my mind: “Thank you very much God because you gave me the opportunity to get in to YYGS. I know what will come next will probably affect me for my entire life and I cannot wait to land in Beijing”. 

This was how everything began. Some months passed and finally the day of my departure arrived. I was extremely excited and, as I walked downhill to my village’s train station, I even slipped on a sheet of ice. In fact, I was running. I wanted to get there as soon as I possibly could and in a bit less than twenty four hours such a desire was fulfilled. After a comfortable flight from Milan, Air China’s airbus A330 landed in Beijing. For a person studying in a Swiss boarding school the air was a shock, but that didn’t stop me from starting great friendships with other students as soon as I stepped out of the customs’ area. The first person I met was John, a friendly and astonishingly intelligent Chinese student from Yunnan. As we waited for our great dean Daniel to arrive, a larger group started forming around us. In one hour more than forty students, each representing a distinct nationality, were ready to board the bus whose destination was the Beijing Jinglun Hotel. During the sixty minute ride I got to know better some of the students who arrived with me at the airport. Everyone was interesting and had his or her story, passions and goals. I understood immediately I was going to have a life changing week starting from then, especially after I became friend with other four incredible young men: Benjamin, my first ever American friend, Joshua and Atyhu, both from India, and Mathew from Singapore, whom I later discovered was a perfect roommate.  As we approached Beijing’s Central Business District, our small, but truly international group had already been discussing world politics, the European immigration crisis and the strength of our countries’ army. That was the confirmation I was in a program were I could clearly express my interest in International Relations and find peers ready to offer their valuable opinion on a multitude of topics related to the subject. At our arrival at the hotel I had to opportunity to make additional friends. One of them was Nadeem, a bright and very fun boy from Palestine who entertained our new group beginning from the first dinner. After eating I remember exactly how tired and jet lagged I was, but again that didn’t stop me from preparing for the upcoming week by finishing to read the material YYGS sent us before the program began.

The second and the third day were a great occasion to discover the country hosting all of us for that week: China. We all started by visiting the Great Wall in the immediate countryside of Beijing. That monument was truly amazing and it gave me an idea of how different life was in the far east compared to in Italy in the same period of time. In the afternoon we visited Beijing’s olympic park. I can definitely say that was the coldest place I have ever been in, but despite this it was fascinating to walk through a world ten times more modern than that I usually live in. The day after our group visited Tiananmen square. Considering the program would have later been all about International Relations and leadership, walking in the political center of one of the world’s greatest powers was very interesting. John, my new Chinese friend, explained me how government works in China and how it is very different from any European one. As I stood in the middle of that giant square I could truly feel power; I could understand the importance of stronger West-Chinese bonds and I was therefore ready to learn more about them during the next seven days of the Yale Young Global Scholars Program.

The academic part of the program started on Sunday. I remember entering for the first time in the Yale center of Beijing, a modern and stylish place located in one of the last floors of an incredibly high skyscraper. It was shocking for me, a student born in a small village in Italy, to look at the world from such a height. I had never before been in a skyscraper and being in one for an entire week was truly a remarkable experience. As our group accessed the main room of the center, which looked very similar to a university classroom, we all got to know new students who arrived that day because they didn’t take part to the extra field trip. I remember meeting Henry, from Kenya; Alfredo, from Mexico and Louis, a very intelligent boy from Chicago. The inauguration of the program was that day and it was extremely exciting to meet all of our amazing instructors during the ice-breaking activity in the afternoon. By that evening I knew everyone and I was sure we would have had a lot of fun together discussing our similar passions and learning how to achieve our common goals.

I don’t think I have ever learnt as much as during YYGS Beijing. Starting from Monday, all of our days had a very intense schedule consisting of lectures from guest speakers, discussion sessions, delicious lunches, different seminars on topics of our choice, college workshops and group meetings to work on our capstone projects. I loved the Yale Young Global Scholars Program because of the great knowledge it provided me with and because of how well it was organised, making it possible for everyone to unleash her or his potential beginning from day one. In particular, I believe that lectures from guest speakers and college workshops were incredible occasions to spur our interest in the subjects we loved as well as to become stronger applicants to leading American universities such as Yale. What made YYGS so special was the possibility for each student to interact with masters in areas including, but not limited to diplomacy, law, medicine and espionage. I personally loved attending each lecture and, for the first time in my life, ask questions to university professors and diplomats. Seeing these scholars and professionals talking about their job, their area of interest and especially how they got there was fascinating and extremely motivational too. The instructors and speakers were great in conveying the message that we can also affect the world as young leaders, and the college workshops gave us an important chance to learn about how to apply to university and ultimately get the education we need to achieve this. In addition, our leadership skills improved remarkably while working for our capstone projects. These projects were about creating a new political agenda for the next Chinese president and on the last day, just before the talent show, each group had to present their own one.

During the course of the program we did not only learn, but we also started special friendships which in my case are still enduring. It is exceptional how the Yale Young Global Scholars program brings together students with such similar passions and goals, and this makes it seem like you are at home even eleven hours of flight from your normal house or school. In Beijing I met some of the best people ever. I am thankful to God because he gave me this chance to meet Louis, Benjamin, Nadeem, John, Joshua, Atyhu, Henry Matthew and Alfredo, only to give some examples. I will never forget about them and I am convinced one day we will come back together to improve our world and spread our common values of peace, friendship and mutual respect. In fact, during YYGS I witnessed how more than 100 people from 30 different nationalities, religions, educational and family backgrounds can live side by side in perfect harmony and this is truly something important to see in a world where the number and nature of conflicts worsens day by day. We learnt a lot from each other and I can definitely say I came back to my normal school routine in Switzerland as a different person. I became more open to the world, aware of the challenges students of my same age face in their countries, but also of the fact we can easily come together to make the change and help build a stronger international community. I came back to my school confident about the college application process, more educated on International Relations and the state of the globe nowadays and ultimately proud of being a YYGS alumni.