Taking a moonlit stroll along the Seine, bouncing to the techno of London’s hypnotic club scene, and sampling the culinary delights of Morocco represent the infinite possibilities that lie in studying abroad. Although one can gain an international view without venturing beyond Yale’s gates, the experience of living in a foreign setting and immersing oneself in unique cultures not defined by McDonald’s and Hollywood allow for personal growth, and can even change someone’s life.
So why don’t more Yale students take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad?
One answer to this enigma lies in Yale’s rich, fulfilling social life. The residential college intimacy and weekend nightlife allow students to build strong friendships that a term abroad could diminish.
“After being with people for two years, I’d probably miss my friends,” said Mike Atkins, ’05. “Also, if you’re on a sports team or any activity, for that matter, it interrupts the continuity.” Atkins plays on the socially-rigorous Yale rugby team, which is heading to Cancun, Mexico over spring break.
From an academic perspective, the cornucopia of on-campus offerings like Master’s Teas and visits by world-renowned leaders present students with an attractive reason to remain cloistered in the ivy tower. It’s not everyday that one gets to see Bill Clinton speak, or attend a lecture entitled “Kosher Tantric Sex: Learning from the Kabbalah and Eastern Mysticism.” The Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal will be around long after our time at Yale has expired, but what about the opportunity to become versed in Shakespeare by the eminent Harold Bloom?
The bright college years are said to be the shortest, gladdest years of our lives, and most students seem content with sucking the marrow out of Yale college life. When one looks at the immense resources here, it is not surprising that the sons and daughters of Eli, many of whom harbor insane amounts of pride toward their alma mater, do not give up their hard-earned Yale experience to live and study elsewhere.
“You can experience something in a foreign country after graduation,” said Sally Wagner-Partin ’05. “You only get four years here at Yale. Why waste any of it?”
Although the lack of popularity for study abroad can be traced back to the students, it does have institutional origins as well.
“Yale hasn’t really encouraged people to go,” said Olivia Wang ’02. Wang, who studied abroad in Berlin during her junior year, is one of a small number of Yale students who has taken advantage of a semester to see the world from another angle.
Wang felt that her international experience has “made her a more interesting person” and has allowed her to appreciate Yale even more. She wishes that more people could take advantage of a term abroad, yet feels that the lack of student participation stems from Yale’s restrictive policies.
“I feel as though they’re doing a better job recently,” Wang said. “But it’s going to be a while before studying abroad is a common thing.”
At Yale, students are only guaranteed course credit for the Yale-in-London program, which allows students to learn about English literature, history, and drama by University-affiliated faculty in London. Yalies wishing to travel to other countries for their academics, however, must enroll directly in foreign universities or join an American school’s program, and even still, credit is not guaranteed. The inconvenience of petitioning for course credit through Yale is a deterrent to students who may be interested in intellectual stimulation elsewhere.
“We don’t mount our own study abroad programs and I think that may be a factor,” said Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg, addressing why few Yale students venture beyond the ivy walls of Yale for academic enrichment.
Another institutional setback is that students who elect the Junior Term Abroad for their academics cannot receive more than 4 course credits, while students who study abroad under the guise of a leave of absence have no such restriction.
During the 2000-2001 school year, a mere 110 Yale undergraduates chose to break out their passports in pursuit of international destinations. When this number is compared to the study abroad rates at similar institutions like Brown, Dartmouth and Penn, Yale ranks at the bottom of the list, along with Harvard and Princeton. At Yale, it appears that facilitating student interest in spending a term or year abroad is not high on the priority list.
In contrast to Yale’s seemingly laissez-faire approach toward overseas study, Penn places a great emphasis on studying abroad from the moment high school students take a tour. They boast considerably high levels of interest in overseas study; last year, 556 Penn undergrads left scenic West Philadelphia to study abroad through the Penn Abroad program, which connects students to various international universities.
At Stanford, which has a student body slightly larger than Yale’s, around 500 students choose to leave the sunny campus of Palo Alto, California every year for academic enrichment overseas. A significant factor in the popularity of Stanford’s study abroad programs could be the relative ease of obtaining course credits; their Overseas Study Program enables students to receive Stanford course credit at nine locations, including Buenos Aires, Florence, and Oxford. At Dartmouth, over 700 students studied abroad during the 1999-2000 school year.
Yale’s competitor, Harvard, bears a strikingly low participation rate in its overseas programs. Like Yale, it does not sponsor any study abroad programs or formal exchange programs, and only grants credit for courses that are not offered by the University. Around 160 Harvard undergrads study abroad, according to the Office of Career Services. But, the administration has recognized the need for meaningful reform. Harvard president Lawrence Summers has stressed to the faculty the need to relax core requirements for overseas study, and feels that student interest in studying abroad would spike if Harvard sponsored programs of its own.
During its tercentennial, Yale’s leaders made a commitment to globalizing the University in its third century. In order to accomplish this objective, it is important that Yale encourages the global awareness of its students, which would be an undeniable asset of a well-developed study abroad program.