Some struggle to study abroad

While Yale promotes international experience as a key part of undergraduate education, students continue to identify bureaucratic challenges to term-time study abroad.

Students preparing to go abroad next fall — who had to confirm their plans with University study abroad administrators last Friday — cited difficulties in securing the transfer of academic credit and finding housing for their spring semester at Yale. Administrators said that while Yalies may face difficulties in logistical planning for education abroad, students must be proactive and independent in foreseeing potential problems and seeking help early in the process.

Barkley Hickox ’08, who plans to study in Paris next fall, said she found programs abroad easily with the help of the International Education and Fellowship Programs Office and was been accepted to several programs. But the Yale application to study abroad is onerous, Hickox said, because it requires numerous forms and several meetings with Yale officials, including an applicant’s residential college dean and the director of undergraduate studies for his or her major.

“While they are quote-unquote encouraging, there’s just so much bureaucracy,” Hickox said.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said that as the University is trying to encourage growth in student travel and foreign study, administrators are working to smooth out kinks in the process. But he said students should alert administrators when they encounter challenges to studying abroad.

“We want to know about it and look for ways to lower these barriers,” he said. “Given this rapid change in our local culture, there’s going to be the occasional snafu.”

IEFP director Barbara Rowe said she hopes Yalies’ relative reluctance to consider an abroad experience — compared to high interest at some peer institutions, such as Dartmouth College — will change in future years.

Kelly McLaughlin, director of the Light Fellowship program for East Asian language study, said he thinks international experiences should be a selling point for Yale applicants rather than an optional perk.

“You should come to Yale in part because there’s a chance to do this,” McLaughlin said. “The tuition is huge here, but if you want to spend the summer and fall in Japan, we’ll pay for it.”

Students said they have had generally positive experiences with IEFP advisors, who are responsible for guiding students as they identify appropriate academic programs abroad and submit applications to Yale’s Committee on the Junior Year Abroad. IEFP provides students advice about which programs are best suited to their interests and maintains a Web site listing programs other Yale students have completed.

If students want to go to a program that has not been approved before, they have to work with IEFP to get the program approved for Yale credit. Yale officials said they typically approve five to six new programs per semester based on student suggestions. McLaughlin said he often sends faculty members to investigate programs that students have said seem appealing.

“If they come in and work with this office, it’s easy,” said Karyn Jones, associate director of IEFP and the undergraduate study abroad adviser. “Early is always better. As long as the programs meet Yale’s academic standards, we will look into it.”

Rowe said students must make plans with the approval of their director of undergraduate studies to ensure that they receive full credit.

“The problems for students come for those who haven’t worked with the DUS or dean of the department beforehand, … or if you take a different set of classes abroad than the ones worked out before you left,” she said.

For history major Cecilia Oyediran ’08, who will study in Oxford next year, her time abroad will net nine credits and the equivalent of four courses that apply to the history major. The chair of the department approved her prospective schedule, she said.

But in Hickox’s case, she said her programs in Paris do not have course listings available until the end of the summer, when she will already be in France. To make sure she gets credit in her two majors, history and French, she will have to e-mail Yale her plans for pre-approval. Even then, credit is not guaranteed until she returns from abroad.

“You have to come back, show them the syllabus, show them the work you’ve done, and then they tell you whether it’s okay or not,” Hickox said.

Daniel Obst, director of membership and higher education services at the national research group Institute of International Education, said it is the students’ job to negotiate with their programs to ensure they receive credit.

“Yes, getting credit is one of the top issues,” he said. “It is the students’ responsibility to check with their program advisor and study abroad advisor to make sure they will receive academic credit.”

While preparation and early legwork can practically guarantee that academic credit will be approved, Yale’s housing policy creates uncertainty for those going abroad for the fall semester, students said.

Associate Dean John Meeske, who is in charge of student housing for the Yale College Dean’s Office, said students are not guaranteed on-campus housing when they come back from their time abroad, but most students are accommodated somewhere on campus.

“In general, there are spaces available,” Meeske said. “It’s just a question whether those are spaces where the student wants to live.”

Julia Shing ’08, who will spend the summer and fall in China, said she is disappointed that she will not be able to live with her friends next spring, although she has been assured she is likely to be housed somewhere on campus.

Hickox, who plans to live in an apartment off-campus next spring, said she thinks IEFP should share a list of students who have expressed interest in going abroad in the spring with those studying abroad in the fall in order to facilitate housing plans. If she does not find a subletter for the fall, Hickox said, her room will sit empty while she pays the rent.

During the 2005-06 school year, 121 students studied abroad either for a semester or the whole year — an increase of 20 people from the year before.

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