For Lauren Davis ’06, studying abroad has always been just out of reach. A Texas native, Davis has never traveled overseas — financial constraints kept her from leaving her home state during her summers and her commitment to the track and cross country teams have kept her from studying abroad this year.
So when Yale announced on Tuesday the creation of the International Summer Award Program, which provides grants for term-time financial aid recipients to participate in Yale-sponsored summer study and internship programs abroad, a summer in Prague became a more viable and affordable option for Davis.
“I’m actually very excited about it. I’ve never gone anywhere international,” said Davis, who estimated that under the ISA program, Yale would cover about half of her expenses in Europe. “The only thing that was keeping me from going was money. I felt like all my friends had either done summer programs through Yale or had gone overseas before, so I felt kind of behind on that.”
Yale’s creation of the ISA program, the first of its kind at a top American institution, was received warmly by many students, faculty and administrators as a step toward removing financial barriers that many students encounter when assessing their summer options. But Yale still has a ways to go, they said, before fulfilling its stated goal of providing all undergraduates with an international experience.
While the University’s announcement was “great news to hear” for Joshua Eidelson ’06 — a member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, a group that has been pressing Yale officials this year for financial aid changes — he said he thinks Yale needs to do more to expand summer opportunities for financial aid students. He said Yale should waive the $2,250 expected summer earnings contribution for all financial aid students, regardless of whether they participate in the ISA program, and provide funding for opportunities abroad for more than one summer as ways of promoting equal opportunity at Yale.
“This change sounds like a real step in the right direction in addressing that, but it doesn’t solve the problem,” Eidelson said. “Students spend three summers between school years at Yale. Being on financial aid and required to produce $2,250 a summer, when many students don’t even break even on summer internships, narrows possibilities for students every summer.”
Promoting study abroad opportunities during the summer has been a goal at Harvard for several years, said Jane Edwards, Harvard’s director of international programs. Although Edwards lauded Yale’s initiative, she said the program fails to address the needs of students who do not receive financial aid, but who cannot afford to study abroad.
“Not everybody who doesn’t receive financial aid is rich,” Edwards said, noting that applying for merit-based fellowships is often too competitive and complicated a process for students.
Still, Edwards said focusing on bolstering opportunities and funding for overseas options during the summer is important.
“Students live with completely different kinds of academic imperatives that make it very difficult to study abroad during the academic year,” she said.
Yale’s ISA program will open possibilities for international students, who may not be eligible for some merit-based fellowships that are available only for U.S. citizens, Muslim Students Association President Gul Raza ’06 said.
“There’s a lot of international students who aren’t able to travel abroad because they don’t have citizenship, which limits their ability to apply for fellowships because they’re international students,” Raza said.
Depending on the nature of study Yale students wish to pursue, term-time study may often times be preferable to studying overseas during the summer, Political Studies Director of Undergraduate Studies David Cameron said.
“Some students want to study in a university. In general, that’s better to do in Europe in the school year,” Cameron said. “On the other hand, it’s very hard to get internships during the school year.”
But regardless of students’ preferences for when they choose to study abroad, Cameron said he thinks the ISA program will encourage more students to travel overseas.
“Every student should have an international experience by the time they’re out,” Cameron said. “This would actually increase that opportunity.”
Megan Zlatos ’05, who spent last summer in Prague following a semester in Spain, said she thinks studying during the school year is ultimately more beneficial to students than a summer experience.
“I think that my study abroad experience [in Prague] would have improved by going abroad a whole year, but it’s not a realistic possibility for most people, given their majors,” Zlatos said.
Yale officials said the ISA program will affect about 125 students this summer as it only applies to Yale-sponsored programs such as the overseas Bulldogs internship programs, Yale Summer Sessions and the International Education and Fellowship Programs.
Amara Neng ’06, who spent last semester in Thailand, said students electing to study abroad during the academic year have more options for study than those students who can only go overseas in the summer. Still, she said, a summer experience abroad is better than spending all four undergraduate years in the United States.
“It definitely does limit some people, but there are other avenues that you can go to,” Neng said.
But Jared Enriquez ’07, who was deterred from applying to study abroad programs last summer for financial reasons, said that with the ISA program, the summer opportunities are more accessible for students who previously could not afford to spend the summer overseas.
“I felt that before it wasn’t really fair, financial aid students could only really go during the year,” Enriquez said. “There could be an opportunity during the summer that we just didn’t have during the academic year.”
Enriquez and Davis said they hope to benefit from the ISA program this summer. Davis, who has worked at home in Houston at the Great American Cookie Company during the past two summers, said she hopes this summer will be different.
“The most exciting part is that they take into consideration that if you are going to study abroad during the summer, you’re not going to be able to be working at a job,” Davis said. “Even though I’ve worked at what people consider low-key jobs, they were a steady source of income.”