"Miracles have taken place in New Haven this summer."

Harry Jiang
Changzhou, China

Inspiring. Intellectually challenging. Absolutely fantastic. Those are the words that come to my mind whenever I think about the YYGS Program. Imagine a beautiful campus full of Gothic architecture, experts and professors who pioneered numerous political, legal and economic issues, a cohort of peers who all have extraordinary backgrounds, all condensed into a two-week program; miracles have taken place in New Haven this summer.

I showed up in front of Pierson College after a 40-minute walk from New Haven train station, clumsy, exhausted. One of the instructors at the gate gave me a warm welcome and took care of my suitcase. I immediately felt at home; the nervousness and a sense of uncertainty were wiped out instantly. However, I was still afraid; what if I can’t make friends? What if I can’t excel at academics? Will I have trouble taking care of myself? Since my native language is not English and I don’t go to an international school, I kept doubting my abilities to succeed.

During lectures, I always sat in the front row because I was afraid that I would miss the professors’ points. But as time went on, language no longer seemed to be an issue. I immersed myself in the philosophy of the U.S. Constitution; the complicated yet intriguing Marbury v. Madison case gave me a much deeper understanding of the founding principles of the United States. The topics of the lectures extend to races in America; Professor Jonathan Holloway used historic cases such as Martin Luther King to exemplify what it means to be an American: fighting for the spirits of the United States, such as freedom, equality, and the pursuit of happiness. Akhil Amar, one of the greatest legal thinkers in the U.S, took the topic further to a bold claim that the principles of the U.S. Constitution changed the world in a forever and fundamental way. Those professors’ enthusiasm, different yet excellent lecturing styles, and, most importantly, idealism, inspired me. They made me believe that there’s a possibility that the world could be a better place, and we should all work towards that goal with passion and commitment.

It’s not just idealism that I felt during the program. Idealism alone can’t get things done; in so many regions in the world, the concept of “democracy” and “freedom” is just absent. We need to look at things from different perspectives, taking into account different situations and come up with realistic solutions. The program gave me a chance to really engage in critical thinking. Is dictatorship necessarily a bad thing? Is it moral to apply the notion of “democracy” to cultures that are more aversive to democracy? Is moral responsibility absolutist or relativist? All those challenging discussion topics took place in different seminars and discussion sections. During the first few days of the session, I was afraid that I could make foolish mistakes; I sometimes couldn’t even hold still on one stance of a specific topic because there were so many contradicting views about it that I was having a difficult time just sorting them out. It was very challenging for me because this was vastly different from what I usually do: computer programming. Coding doesn’t require complex thought processes that evaluate different perspectives of a piece of code. The seminars and discussion sections gave me an opportunity to work on this important skill that could possibly benefit me for life. After a few seminars, I gained my confidence. I talked more and more frequently, and I often found myself engaged in profound conversations with my peers. I felt like I really became part of the program, part of the active thinkers that might as well become political leaders or legal and economic experts around the world.

During the first several days of the program, I partly refrained myself from socializing with others because I found it difficult to engage in a conversation that consists of three or more people due to linguistic and cultural issues. Some people talk too fast and scholarly; others talk with political jargon that I found difficult to catch up with. I was both confused and frustrated; I went to Erin Schutte, the director of the program. The conversation between her and me encouraged me to really pay attention to others and engage actively during a conversation. I began to dine and walk with people that I had never met before, listening attentively to what they had to say. By doing this, I made a lot of friends; it also became easier for me to walk into a conversation and start talking shortly after. All those amazing friends I made will be invaluable resources to me; I believe that a network of future change makers can and will make an even greater impact on this world. More importantly, the long-lasting friendships that I have will forever be a driving force to me, inspiring me constantly on my life journey.

Now is the time to apply the things that I’ve learned from YYGS to real life situations. I believe that only when one fully understands the complexity of the issue can the issue truly be solved. I will continue to commit myself to tackling the environmental and political issues surrounding my hometown with my friends; I hope that some positive changes will ensue in the following years.

At the beginning of the program, I found the people around me extremely talented and brilliant: they either have extraordinary stories or carry unbelievable academic records. I felt small and inconspicuous. But through countless conversations with my peers, I gradually realized that I was chosen to be here for a reason. I too have something unique. It doesn’t matter what other people do; I have the choice to become what I want to become. What matters is what I have learned from all those extraordinary peers, and whether I will have some brilliant and amazing people who will always have my back.

I think I have definitive answers to both questions now.

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