The first-time visitor to the United States is crashing at Eliot House, interacting with professors, and trying her hand at throwing clay at the University’s ceramics studio.
“My hosts are very nice, the air is very fresh, and the campus is just very beautiful,” she said.
Zhao is one of 39 students from Asian universities visiting Harvard this week as part of the Harvard College in Asia Project (HCAP), a rapidly expanding program that offers cultural exchange between students from the University and their peers in Asia. The program has nearly doubled in the number of participants in the past year.
This year, students from six different nations are visiting from institutions including National Taiwan University, Peking University, National University of Singapore, University of Hong Kong, and Thammasat University of Bangkok, Thailand.
Harvard students host the visitors in their dorm rooms, and during spring break those students in turn travel to Asia for a similar cultural experience.
For many of the visiting students, this was their first time in the United States. HCAP organizers tried to impart to these students a bit of American culture, history, and politics, according to HCAP president Jon D. Einkauf ’06.
“We...have the unique objective of making the conference academic AND cultural AND social, all at once,” Einkauf wrote in an e-mail. “Most foreign exchange programs or conferences just focus on one of these things.”
“Everyone will take something different away form the program, but hopefully it’ll open their eyes a bit to what life here at Harvard is like,” said Katherine V. Wai ’06, who is the chair of the conference committee for HCAP. “We hope to share with them a little bit of our lives.”
In addition to indulging in gourmet University dining hall food, the students will also take historical tours of Boston, ice-skate in Boston Common, and attend seminars on American culture and international relations with University professors.
“I’m amazed by how friendly the professors are,” said Tina Chen, a senior studying international business at National Taiwan University.
Chen said she was particularly impressed by Professor of Chinese History Michael J. Puett’s lecture on Eastern and Western philosophy.
“It’s especially powerful when a Western scholar knows more about Confucius than maybe some people in China,” Chen said.
The students’ time here, however, will not be limited to academic lessons. Later this week, the students will learn to swing dance, watch the Hasty Pudding show, and attend Cultural Rhythms.
Visiting the campus has allowed the students to compare their home institutions with the University.
“American students are more active than in China. They express themselves very freely,” said Lydia Lin, a first-year graduate student from Beijing University.
The students found Harvard’s House system particularly interesting.
“We’re fascinated by the Houses because we don’t have that system in Taiwan,” said Chen, who is organizing the itinerary for the HCAP participants visiting Taiwan during spring break.
A freshman at the National University of Singapore, Brandon Lin, said he was also impressed by the University ambience.
“Harvard is really more steeped in culture and school spirit because students live on campus,” Lim said. “You don’t see that in Singapore because not that many people live on campus.”
The visiting students also said they appreciated the chance to meet each other, and that the trip has affected the way they view the United States.
“I think it is very cool because we can meet students from five different Asian universities,” said Stanley Chen, a junior at National Taiwan University. “It’s something very important for future leaders.”
“When I go back to China, I have to learn more about American history,” Lin said. “I want to come here again. I want to get further education here, maybe at the Kennedy School of Government, so I think I’ll have to work hard.”