Commencement So Close, but a World Away

December 16, 2009

Zhengqi Pan would love to take part in his Commencement ceremony on Sunday (Dec. 20) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but it is a bit out of his way.

He’ll be spending the holidays at home with his family in Singapore. But he was at Carolina for the 2008-2009 academic year as part of the new UNC-National University of Singapore (NUS) joint degree program for undergraduates.

Pan will be the first student to graduate from the program, established in 2007. The program has students at either university spend two to four semesters at the other and is designed especially for those studying economics, English literature, geography, history and political science. Students in NUS’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences may apply.

“I felt that an international experience was vital to my education,” said Pan. “Being a political science major and having heard and read so much about the U.S., I wanted to learn more and experience America. I had also received very positive feedbacks and encouragements from my peers who had gone on exchange programs to UNC.”

board_game_night croppedUNC obliged with both the broad liberal arts curriculum that he sought and in-depth studies in his major. He would not have been able to learn as much in Singapore about U.S. and Latin American policies and politics, he said.

Similarly, say organizers of the joint degree program, American students in the program can delve into a treasure trove of Asian studies in Singapore. And experiencing a culture different from one’s own – either first-hand by studying abroad or by meeting someone from another country studying at your university – is thought to be a plus for all college students. UNC has sought to prepare students for the global nature of almost any field they might enter after graduation.

Currently, two UNC students in the program are in Singapore, and two students from NUS are at Carolina.

When Pan was at UNC, he marveled at seeing campus and Franklin Street brimming with fans in connection with sporting events. “I thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie and strong school spirit at UNC,” he said. “I would never forget the happiness and sense of triumph when we won a game.”

seagulls_beach croppedHe found a strong intellectual climate as well: “Classroom discussions were lively. The students at UNC were keen learners and very affable. I was also very impressed with the professors, who had shown great commitment and dedication not only to their fields of research, but also to their students.”

The joint degree program is the first of its kind among UNC’s U.S. peers. NUS, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2006, is ranked 19th in world universities and tops in Asia for social sciences by the London newspaper The Times.

Pan said his association with North Carolina is not over by any means. “My education in UNC has been a wonderful and happy experience, and I still keep in contact with my friends at Chapel Hill. In fact, I am applying to graduate school back at UNC!”


For more about the joint degree program, visit

News Services contact: LJ Toler, (919) 962-8589