Campus News

Inside Higher Ed Talks With A True Liberal Arts Education Author Yongfang Chen 10

Story posted October 16, 2009

Since arriving from his native China four years ago, Yongfang Chen '10 yearned to share stories of his distinctive Bowdoin life with the people around him, especially peers back home in Shanghai, for whom the liberal arts education model is a foreign concept.

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

"I often wrote blog posts about my life at Bowdoin and showed them to my friends," says Chen.

"All of my friends were excited to read my blog and suggested that I publish it."

With the help of two co-authors, also from China, Lin Nie, a student at Franklin and Marshall College, and Li Wan at Bucknell — Chen did just that, writing about his academic journey and life experiences in A True Liberal Arts Education (China Publishing Group, 2009).

The book is published in Chinese with an English appendix featuring interviews with various Bowdoin faculty and administrators, including President Barry Mills, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster and Associate Dean of Admissions John Thurston.

The genesis of the book and its authors' observations are the focus of an October 16, 2009, Inside Higher Ed interview in which reporter Serena Golden asks Chen what aspects of Bowdoin surprised him the most upon his arrival and about the challenges he encountered.

While the language barrier was relatively easy to conquer, assimilating into a new culture so different from my own was a much more demanding task. Coming from a culture in which a "standard answer" is provided for every question, I did not argue with others even when I disagreed. However, Bowdoin forced me to re-consider "the answer" and reach beyond my comfort zone. In my first-year-seminar, East Asian Politics, I was required to debate with others and develop a habit of class engagement. This sometimes meant raising counterarguments or even disagreeing with what had been put forward. For instance, one day we debated what roles Confucianism played in the development of Chinese democracy. Of the 16 students in the classroom, 15 agreed that Confucianism impeded China's development; but I disagreed. I challenged my classmates. Bowdoin made me consistently question the "prescribed answer." That was the biggest challenge for me.

Read the article.

President Mills in A True Liberal Arts Education
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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.


Inside Higher Ed is a free daily online publication that covers a variety of college and university issues.

The publication and jobs service, headquartered in Washington, D.C., was founded in 2004 by Kathlene Collins, a business manager formerly of The Chronicle of Higher Education, and two of that publication's former top editors, Scott Jaschik and Doug Lederman.

A True Liberal Arts Education 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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