More Elis go overseas

The number of Yale students studying abroad during the academic year increased 33 percent in 2006-07, Yale International Education and Fellowships Programs administrators announced this week.

The significant increase, from 135 students in 2005-06 to 180 this school year, is mainly due to a surge in the number students studying in Asia, though a larger number of students going to Western Europe was also a factor, IEFP Study Abroad Director Karyn Jones said. The number of students studying in Asia increased from seven to 45 since last year, and the number going to Europe rose from 92 to 103.

This is also the first year that sophomores were allowed to study abroad with non-Yale-affiliated programs in their second semesters, which brought the total number of sophomores studying abroad to 28. The significant interest in Yale’s nascent partnership with Peking University, which accounts for much of the travel to Asia, may be due to the program’s guaranteed Yale credit, which students say is one of the major obstacles to Yale students studying abroad. Experts on study abroad also said there is a rising awareness among students of the value of international experience.

This year’s enthusiastic sophomore turnout has also been encouraging, Jones said. She said she thinks sophomore study abroad may increase in popularity among students who feel going abroad junior year will be too difficult because of academic requirements. Yale’s decision to allow sophomores to study abroad was part of the University’s effort to make spending time overseas a more realistic option for all students, she said.

“Students bring back an appreciation for other ways of thinking and other ways of doing things,” Jones said. “If you talk to ten people, you’re going to get ten different things that affected them deeply while they were abroad.”

Jones said IEFP scheduled more information sessions over the past year, addressing the needs of specific constituencies such as those interested in India or using their Spanish outside of Spain.

According to the 2006 Open Doors report by the national Institute of International Education, Yale’s trends are consistent with a nationwide growth in interest in Asia and the levelling off of the decline in students studying abroad after Sept. 11.

Daniel Obst, director of membership and higher education service at the IIE, said not only has the number of American students studying abroad doubled over the past 10 years, but they are traveling to more diverse areas and coming from more varied backgrounds. In addition, he said, he thinks U.S. students are becoming aware of the value of an international education to their future careers.

“I think it’s an across-the-board thing that American students are really realizing and showing that they’re more interested in learning about the world outside the U.S.,” Obst said. “They’re realizing they need the international knowledge and global community to be successful in the international economy.”

Student interest in specific parts of the world has fed the increased availability of programs in those areas, Obst said. For example, the number of Asia study abroad programs listed in the IIE Passport directory increased 10 percent since last year and 55 percent since 2001.

Cameron Gearen, coordinator of the PKU-Yale Joint Undergraduate Program, said 33 students are studying with the program in 2006-07, the first year of the partnership. Previous programs offered to Yale students to study in Asia were more stringent in their language proficiency requirements, she said, so the PKU arrangement was designed to allow students with minimal experience in Chinese to learn the language while living in the country with Chinese roommates and immersing themselves in the culture.

“This program hoped to cast a wider net and reach students who, as citizens of the world, are interested in China but may not have made it their number one academic priority,” Gearen said.

She added that the varied course offerings in Beijing, including science laboratories as well as economics and history, make it easier for students to fulfill academic requirements abroad.

Luke Palder ’09, who spent the fall semester at Yale-in-Peking, said he enjoyed being paired with a PKU roommate, who helped Palder with his language acquisition. The guaranteed Yale credit from the courses was also ideal and made the transition to PKU very smooth, he said.

“This was nice and simple,” Palder said. “In a technical sense, it’s less studying abroad and more a satellite campus, like a residential college just a lot of miles away.”

But some students who studied abroad through non-Yale-affiliated programs said even though their experiences were rewarding, Yale could do more to publicize study abroad and make the approval of academic credits more reliable.

Frances Hickox ’08, who is double-majoring in history and French and studied at the Sorbonne in Paris last semester, said she is worried she might have to graduate later than her classmates if her courses are not approved by Yale. Although she had the directors of undergraduate studies in her major departments as well as the study abroad office look over her courses before she enrolled in them, she said they could not guarantee her credit until she returned and proved they were acceptably rigorous with both an outline of her course of study and her completed assignments for the semester.

Hickox said her reasons for studying abroad came from personal desire, not the influence of Yale administrators.

“I know they’re trying to get the word out,” she said. “But it’s tough because there’s such a stigma with going abroad — at Yale no one wants to go and rightfully so because Yale doesn’t guarantee credit.”

But Josh Egan ’08, a history of science, history of medicine major who studied at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, said he did not have any trouble getting credit for his courses and his overall experience went smoothly. Yale’s study abroad office was constantly in communication while he was in Australia to see how he was doing, and offered information sessions when he returned to update him on campus life and job opportunities, he said.

Egan said his time abroad exposed him to a variety of opinions he would not otherwise have encountered.

“What I liked about going abroad is you get such an international perspective on everything, like in my U.S. conflict in the Middle East class, I got to hear from kids from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East,” he said. “When you stay in the U.S., you … don’t really understand what’s happening on a global level, since it’s hard to get other countries’ points of view if you’re stuck in a bubble.”

At Harvard, 243 undergraduates are studying abroad this year.

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