So I applied to summer school at Yale, “Sustainability and Institutions”, from 1 July to National Day, thinking it'll be a nice but typical course about environmentalism. I was quite wrong, but pleasantly so! I learnt a new way of framing problems, which I think is more valuable than gaining content knowledge. Also, I made many awesome friends from 8 countries, and improved my Chinese (not kidding).
A small aside to plug for the International Alliance of Research Universities Global Summer Program: it was the program through which I applied to Yale, and it's awesome. It's more selective than a typical summer school, but it's subsidised by half so you end up paying only about $3,500. It brings together students from 10 universities across 8 countries, so there's a lot of diversity in class! Applying to any of its programs in any of the 10 universities is fine, but Yale's sustainability course was really nice (: The down side is you have no flexibility with regard to course options (you can only take one, no additional courses allowed); the upside is you save on costs (which come up to near $10,000 if you do 2 course in the regular summer session) and you get a lot of free time to chill or do other cool things.
Yale is a beautiful place, in many ways reminding you of Oxford (and Cambridge, urgh). A really funny piece of trivia is that many of the buildings at Yale were only built in the 19th and 20th centuries, but in order to make them exude similar age and poise as Oxbridge buildings the architect actually poured acid down some of them. I would hesitate staying at the top floors of those towers! On the other hand, the campus is larger than Oxford or Cambridge, and the buildings have a much wider variety of styles, some being built with redbrick, some with wood, instead of only sandstone as you have at Oxbridge. Some of the buildings are really modern, too, particular the very cool Beinecke Library (which has one of the original Illuminated Manuscripts!).
New Haven town is a quaint little conclave, with main attractions being food and museums. Not super exciting, but it was good enough for 6 weeks. Louis' Burger, which made the first every hamburger, is here; there's good but expensive Chinese food at Taste of China, Thai food at Thai Taste, and Japanese at Sono Bano (which is 5 km away from town, get a cab). Yale itself provides full catering, and the food's usually decent (and buffet!); dinners are better than lunches, though, and breakfasts are the same every time (scrambled eggs, toast, hashbrowns, steelcut oats). The Art Gallery is highly worth visiting, as is the Center for British Art; I did not manage to visit the Musical Instruments Collection, sadly.
Everyone in the GSP was housed together in Ezra Stiles College (Yale has a collegiate system much like Oxford does, but without the teaching element), so I got to know my coursemates pretty well! There were people from America, Australia, China, Denmark, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, and the UK, so it was really international, too. Inevitably we Asians stuck together more, because we frequented Asian restaurants and went on excursions together. The Chinese got to learn some Japanese and the Japanese some Chinese, so it was nice! We had only lessons twice a week so we had many free periods. I'd spend some time in the amazing Payne Whitney Gym, the largest in the world (at 9 storeys!) and absolutely free! Otherwise we played pool, ping pong, air hockey or foosball in the games rooms in college, went to movies in town (the Summer Session had discounted $5 tickets), or went to bars to grab a pint. Or eat, heh.
About improving my Chinese: not to stereotype, but there were just so many students from China in Yale! I was glad I took the GSP and not a regular Summer Session module, because I could've literally been the only non-Chinese in the class. On the bright side it was easy to make new friends, and, yes, improve your Chinese. 意外惊喜呀!
The fun thing about going for summer school in the States is travelling and exploring the region, especially for me as it was my first time in the US. I had loads of fun in Boston, going to the Museum of Fine Arts and eating Boston Lobster (which is properly amazing); I stayed at Chinatown in New York, had a blast in MOMA and the Metropolitan Museum, and just enjoying the sights of Manhattan in general. We took a road trip around Rhode Island, travelling to Providence and Newport, and got ourselves nearly killed more than a few times in the process; all good fun! The Summer Session arranged trips to Target and an outlet village, too, awesome. Unfortunately I could not go to Washington or New Jersey, but that's a regret to make up for in the future.
About what's arguably the most important aspect of the summer school – the summer school. Yale Summer Session has Session A, which we cannot make, and Session B, which we can, and GSP, which you should apply for because it's awesome! (it overlaps with Session B, but starts a week earlier) Sustainability and Institutions was nothing I had imagined and absolutely amazing; I learnt to be a sustainability consultant and to look at how to effectively integrate sustainability considerations (and all the technical things which go into them) in organisations through change management and systems thinking. It was a fresh angle to sustainability, interesting, and highly relevant. We used Yale as a living laboratory to explore sustainability concepts, and we had the people in charge of dining, estates, energy, waste, and more to talk to us – loads of important and highly accomplished people to learn from! We took a small trip to the University of Connecticut to appreciate its sustainability context, too, and had the best organic local-made ice cream ever. There were no timed exams so that was a big plus, too; for my final paper I did a comparison of sustainability strategies at Oxford, Cambridge and Yale. Not bad for 6 weeks, huh?
The biggest adventure came when I was concluding my stay in the US. It was a stormy Friday and my bus to Boston was delayed, and then the public transit in Boston to the airport was delayed, so I got to the airport with barely an hour to spare before the flight. I was fully prepared to rush through security only to discover my flight was cancelled due to the weather. Bugger! I wracked my brains and expended every resource to fix my flight (I had a connecting flight from London to Singapore I could not miss) and by the skin of my teeth got to Heathrow airport with an hour from gate to gate. Lesson learnt: always be prepared for contingencies, and nothing is impossible if you try!
P.S.: Everyone who's done something fun during the summer, or just wants to write a blog for OUMSSA, please let us know! Message any of the committee members on Facebook or drop us an email (: