Yongfang Chen '10 Writes the Book on American Liberal Arts College Experience

Story posted October 01, 2009

Yongfang Chen '10 came to Bowdoin from China seeking a liberal arts education, a model alien to Chen and his peers back home in Shanghai. When he found it, he couldn't resist the urge to share what he'd discovered.

"Since coming to Bowdoin, I had been thinking about sharing my distinctive Bowdoin life with all the people around me," said Chen, who is double majoring in economics and psychology.

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Yongfang Chen '10 with a display of his books at Shanghai Book City, the largest bookstore in Shanghai.

He found eager audiences; friends devoured a blog he maintained about his life at Bowdoin and encouraged Chen to publish his observations.

With two co-authors from China — Lin Nie, a student at Franklin and Marshall College, and Li Wan at Bucknell — Chen writes about his academic journey and life experiences in A True Liberal Arts Education, a book published in Chinese.

Chen interviewed various administrators, including President Barry Mills, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster and Associate Dean of Admissions John Thurston.

An English appendix offers a question-and-answer section with President Mills, in which he's asked what liberal arts colleges have to offer.

"One of the primary goals of liberal arts education is to teach students a sense of understanding and a critical way of thinking while also providing students with hands-on experience in various types of sophisticated research," says Mills in the book.

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The book delves into the authors' departure from China, first impressions of their respective colleges, roommate anecdotes, and details class discussions, reading loads and writing assignments.

In writing a book to enlighten others, Chen says he learned some lessons himself.

"It has been an invaluable experience for me because it really tested my ability to handle obstacles," says Chen, adding that the process taught him to be an effective leader.

The book, first published in May 2009, sold out its first printing of more than 8,000 copies, which were distributed throughout mainland China, Hong Kong, Maucau and Taiwan, and is now in its second printing.

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