Asian studies major earns place at elite Yenching Academy

By Rachel Ross

William Otter, a senior Asian studies and art history major at Brown College, was accepted into Peking University’s Yenching Academy. This elite program is a one-year, all-expenses-paid graduate program in Chinese studies. Students participate in intensive interdisciplinary classroom and field study of Chinese history and culture, as well as contemporary issues in China’s rapidly changing society.

Will Otter


Otter learned of the opportunity from Asian Studies faculty members Shih-shan Susan Huang and Steven Lewis in October.

“I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of the program … I was in Beijing last spring and felt like I had a pretty good grasp of the kinds of opportunities I might have in China after graduation,” Otter said. “But none of those opportunities come close to Yenching Academy.”

Otter will be part of the Academy’s first cohort, 100 students representing 35 nations and top world institutions that include Stanford, Oxford and the University of Chicago.

As an Asian Studies major, Otter has taken several years of Chinese and received the Chao Center’s Advanced Undergraduate Research Award for the 2013-14 school year. This award partially funded three semesters abroad in Taiwan and China, where he improved his Chinese language ability. Most significant for his time at Rice was his coursework that prepared him for interdisciplinary scholarship.

“I’ve gotten used to dipping my feet in different fields of study each semester, so I was rightfully able to express my ability to be adaptive academically to the Yenching admissions committee,” Otter said.

With plans to attend law school after graduating from the academy, he will be part of the Law and Society concentration in the program. Otter hopes to one day work for an American corporation, focusing on transactions between the U.S. and China. He knows that his time at Yenching will be a step toward achieving that goal.

“It’s the kind of opportunity that’s so good that I knew I’d be kicking myself 20 years down the road if I had passed it up,” he said.

–Rachel Ross is an associate editor at the Chao Center for Asian Studies.

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