Light Fellowships Prepare Students for Success in International Chinese Language Debate

 Coach Wei Su, Austin Woerner ’08, Nick Sedlet ’08, Adam Scharfman ’08, and J.T. Kennedy ’09).

On November 30, Yale’s Chinese language debate team returned to campus as world champions. The foursome, Adam Scharfman ’08, Nick Sedlet ’08, J.T. Kennedy ’09, and Austin Woerner ’08, spent a week in Beijing representing the United States against competitors from Europe, Australia, and Korea in the International Varsity Debate Series. Demonstrating fluency in Putonghua, or standard Chinese, the team defended assigned positions on public smoking and bullfighting to beat Oxford in the final round and win the international crown.

The Richard U. Light ’24 Fellowship program played a critical role in the team’s success. For more than a decade, the program has provided opportunities for Yale undergraduates to study in East Asia, where they develop language fluency and a deep understanding of other cultures.

“I am so grateful to the Light Fellowship for a life-changing experience,” Scharfman explains. “Chinese was my passion before going to China, but my experience as a Light Fellow has made it the focus of my studies and ambitions.”

Participating in the program, Scharfman, Sedlet, Woerner, and Kennedy lived in China and intensively studied the Chinese language. While abroad, they followed rigorous course schedules and were encouraged to explore their communities and develop relationships with assigned host families. This balance between in-depth instruction and cultural infusion solidified their formal communication skills and improved their ability to manipulate the subtle nuances of speech that make wit, eloquence, and persuasion possible—expertise essential for success in debate.

Since 1996, the Fellowship has offered more than 600 students opportunities to study Chinese, Japanese, or Korean at one of more than twenty designated programs in East Asia. “The Light Fellowship is an extraordinary and model resource for Yale, motivating so many students to develop advanced knowledge of Asian languages as part of deep and long-term engagement with another society. We are so grateful to the Light Foundation for their continued partnership,” said Associate Dean for International Affairs Jane Edwards.

Light Fellows are chosen for their academic achievement, readiness for the program, and a commitment to language study. “Students take what they learn on campus and temper that knowledge against direct experience outside of New Haven,” explains Light Fellowship Director Kelly McLaughlin. As evidenced by the accomplishments of past Fellows—eight Fulbright Scholarship winners, nine Parker Huang Traveling Fellowship winners, a Rhodes Scholar, a Marshall Scholar, and now, four world champion debaters—an intense study abroad experience can immeasurably shape future experiences and opportunities.

As a part of the Yale Tomorrow campaign, Yale aims to fund an international study or work experience for every undergraduate—regardless of their financial circumstances. The Light Fellowship remains a critical part of this goal. This academic year, nearly $1 million in support from the Light Foundation will cover the cost to send 100 students abroad to experience East Asia.

(January 1, 2008)

January 1, 2008