Saad Siddiqui

212 karmaJoined Aug 2021


Thanks for sharing these impressions Joseph! 

  • General China stuff
    • On poor quality of academic management: I think most people don't go to Schwarzman to focus on academics, but that said some people like Jason (whose quote is in the post) can get a fair bit out of the academics. I don't have experience in American unis or in non-Schwarzman Chinese unis, but my impression is that academic management is better than average Chinese unis and maybe slightly worse than at American unis. This largely comes from the programme having to fulfil somewhat onerous university requirements but Schwarzman students are shielded from a lot of it.
    • On Schwarzman's handling of the lockdowns: we were subject to city and uni-level restrictions like everyone else, and there were about two months where we weren't allowed to leave campus earlier this year. Tsinghua campus is pretty huge though, so we had access to multiple convenience stores, a host of canteens and bunch of sports fields. The lockdown was difficult for those who had medical emergencies because once you left campus you could not return, this led to some friends leaving the programme early. Schwarzman admin was fairly accommodating in helping folks leave campus earlier for personal or health reasons. 
    • On Schwarzman-Tsinghua interaction: by default you'll interact with Tsinghua students less because classes, meals and many events are within Schwarzman College itself. There is a perception that Schwarzman is a bit of a bubble. All that said, it's possible to get plugged into broader Tsinghua life; some friends audited Tsinghua classes, and joined Tsinghua clubs.
    • On foreigners getting bank accounts and relevant apps: programme helps you set up a bank account and you can get all the relevant apps. 
    • On quality of language instruction: doesn't sound like the language instruction you describe. Focuses a fair bit on speaking practice - you are tasked with watching videos and completing homework before class, and during class you essentially review the vocab and sentence structures from the video. Generally classes are small enough that you can get some speaking practice in but you need to put in a lot of extra effort to improve your language skills seriously during the year, the classes are far from enough. 
  • Academic freedom
    • Academic freedom: within classes and in college I think pretty much anything goes. Whether your friends want to discuss certain topics because they find them sensitive is another matter but people talked about all sorts of things the past year. For thesis titles, yes, there is some censorship I've heard of, where students were told to change wording of their theses. That said, I know of friends who did fairly controversial topics for their theses (e.g. stuff on Xinjiang). I'm not super sure where exactly the lines are. 
    • What you can and can't say vis-a-vis Schwarzman's politics: the programme isn't a huge fan of having to deal with blowback in the media, and in that vein they are against people leaking confidential communications or writing anything very controversial in the press whilst associating themselves with the programme. People have still done it though, so it's more a matter of how much one weighs the risk of souring relations with programme administration.

Thanks for the comment Joseph! I'm really curious what the downsides or bad parts you've heard of are (if you're open to sharing them ). Would be happy to share my takes on whether those reported downsides resonate with my own experience and those of my friends.

Like Kevin outlined, I think categorising some of the features (e.g. lack of academic rigour) of the programme as strengths or weaknesses is tough because it very much depends on how someone sees the programme fitting into their larger career trajectory. 

One plausible downside that we tried to capture in the post is that Schwarzman can be used for a variety of purposes, so there are ceilings on how far you can optimise for any one element. " will get exposure to a little bit of business, policy, international relations, and China studies, and that if you just want to specialize in one of these things, it’s potentially better to do a more specialized program." (What other programs do those applying for Schwarzman Scholars consider?)

But in my personal experience, this wasn't really a downside. I wasn't really sure if I wanted to fully optimise for community-building, something related to alternative proteins or China studies, and during Schwarzman I had the flexibility to test my fit across these domains in different ways.

Another plausible downside (if language immersion is your goal) is that language study is not a huge (enforced) part of the programme. You are only required to take language classes for the first module. And while you can take language classes throughout the year, they are only offered twice a week. That said, some of my friends took class at one level and audited classes at a one level higher, while also supplementing that with extra classes outside of Schwarzman. Chinese teachers are also available pretty much everyday over lunch for you to chat and practice your Chinese. So, by default language immersion is not a strength of the programme but if learning the language is a priority for you, it's possible to make decent progress (e.g. a friend went from knowing no Chinese at the start of the programme, to somewhere between HSK 4 and 5 a year later, which I think is something like upper intermediate level). If language learning is your only goal though, then Schwarzman is likely not the right programme. We've attached a spreadsheet with some potential language intensives that might be a better fit for someone with a pure language learning goal. 

Finally, would echo Kevin's point about logistics of getting into the country being tough, but would  add that my sense is that logistics of getting into the country are decently challenging for any foreigner at this point.