As another round of soon-to-be student travelers from across the country pack for a spring semester abroad, we cannot help but notice how few Yalies decide to do the same and ask what we can do, as students, to change that.
It is an common story: Juniors don’t want to forgo leadership positions in extracurricular activities or put off fulfilling major requirements until senior year, and sophomores need to make preparations necessary for those leadership posts and for their potential majors. The administration has done a great deal to help students overcome potential academic, logistical and financial challenges inherent in a stint abroad, but not even President Levin can enable someone to serve on a group’s executive committee while in Spain.
A semester or year abroad carries with it real benefits, and we’ve all heard the stories about newfound language proficiency, exotic job opportunities or crazy road trips with other newly minted expat friends. But after all, who applies to Yale in order to leave it? Those looking for a campus culture that emphasizes study abroad go to places like NYU or Dartmouth, not Yale — as shown by the fact that only 122 students went abroad last year.
Part of the reason perhaps why study abroad is so uncommon here is that Yale students are involved in so many extracurriculars, and study abroad is viewed with frustration by the leaders, traditionally juniors, of many of those groups. It happens in every kind of group — from political groups to musical groups and publications — and it is nothing that the administration can control.
But if we as students want to embrace Yale’s new emphasis on international opportunities, it is up to us to change the culture here and make it easier for our classmates to spend that semester in Madrid, Beijing or London. Certainly, much work is still needed to help students, for example, get study-abroad credit in their majors, but more progress will not come until campus culture better enables students to make a serious contribution to extracurricular activities and also pursue some studies abroad.
This is far more easily said than done, as the News knows as well as any group on campus. Historically, our culture has discouraged reporters and editors from studying abroad during the school year because of the need for a stable and committed staff. This year, however, we have been had to address the issue, as a few of our editors and writers have chosen to go abroad. While it took thought, work and understanding from those staying in New Haven, we accommodated their decisions. And as we deal with making it possible for students on the News to embrace both on-campus and international pursuits, we encourage other student groups likewise to find ways to structure their leadership positions to permit more study abroad by both current and prospective leaders.
Yale will never, and should never, become a place where studying abroad becomes the norm. Yale’s on-campus environment is unparalleled and offers opportunities enough to last a lifetime — but not for all students. We, as students, should make it as easy as possible for our peers to access the benefits of an international education.