Light Fellowship to offer 149 summer study awards

A record number of students will study on Richard U. Light Fellowships in Asia this year at no cost, but unlike last year, the University was unable to increase its funding to accommodate greater demand.

This year, 149 Yale students won the awards for summer or school-year language study in East Asia, up from 139 last year. Funding compared to last year remained unchanged at $1.8 million. Last year, President Levin pledged to pay for all students deemed qualified by the fellowship selection committee, but this year, the University could not make the same promise. Still, Yale plans to make do with offering more awards for the increasingly popular summer study program rather than for term-time study.

“The money didn’t stretch quite that far,” Light Fellowship Director Kelly McLaughlin said.

In turn, a small number of students — fewer than 10 — were wait-listed for the fellowship, which had been common practice until last year, McLaughlin said.

Light Fellows receive funding for language study in China, Japan, Korea or Taiwan, although they must be admitted to a formal program in order to claim the award. The vast majority of Light Fellowship winners spend their time in either China or Taiwan.

There were significantly more applicants for the Light Fellowship this year compared to last, McLaughlin said, declining to cite the exact total. Because 20 percent of fellowship applicants were asking for 40 percent of the funds, McLaughlin said students applying for year-long programs — mostly seniors — were held to a particularly high standard.

In the past, he said, the office of fellowship programs had placed a cap on the number of seniors who could receive Light fellowships, he said.

This year, the Light Fellowship funded 83 students, while the remaining 66 received funding from the Maurice R. Greenberg Yale-China Initiative.

The total number of summer Light Fellowship winners increased 15 percent compared to last year, up to 122 from 106. A total of 22 students received Light Fellowships to spend at least a full year abroad compared to 25 last year. McLaughlin said this shift reflects the particularly high popularity of summer study among applicants this year.

The increased popularity of summer study through the Light program can be beneficial, given that it allows students to quickly absorb language skills that would otherwise require a full school year to acquire, said Genevieve Borgeson ’11, who spent last summer in Taiwan on a Light Fellowship. But it can be difficult to focus on work in the summer, she said, noting that it could be easier to concentrate on not speaking any English during a year-long program.

“Before the summer you go in with the mentality that you’re going to work, but at the same time, it’s the summer,” she said. “Sometimes you leave your language studies behind.”

Regardless, the Light Fellowship presents a tremendous opportunity that is difficult for any Yalie studying an East Asian language to ignore, said Sei Young Pyo ’11, who received a Light fellowship to study Chinese this summer.

“It seems like a waste to be studying Chinese at Yale and not take advantage of the Light,” she said.

The Light fellowship was founded in 1996 and has given awards to more than 700 students since its creation.


  • William Zhou

    Like hundreds of students who have received the Richard U. Light Fellowship, as a Chinese language instructor, I also feel deeply grateful to the Light Fellowship. Since 1996, it has had tremendous impact on the language programs and our students, with the Chinese program in particular.

    In the Chinese program, our students are highly motivated and very dedicated. The Light Fellowship motivates them even more by offering them great opportunities to study abroad. Many students are determined to apply for the Fellowship from their first day of class. Very often a whole section of students will apply for it. It strengthens their sense of community and encourages them to study even harder. Teaching such motivated students is very satisfying.

    Many of the Light Fellowship approved language programs are run by peer universities such as Harvard and Princeton, such as Harvard-Beijing Academy and Princeton in Beijing. Their standard and quality of instruction is very high. Our students must go through a competitive selection process to be admitted to these programs. We instructors at Yale must maintain higher standard and quality of instruction to better prepare our students in their national selection of students. When Light Fellows return from these intensive programs, their enthusiasm is even greater and they demand even more from us. So, in many ways the Light Fellowship gives us new energy and new platform to improve our teaching and to compete with peer programs. It has brought powerful dynamic to our curriculum and has also motivated our instructors even more to be creative and innovative.

    Light Fellowship has impacted on many students’ intellectual growth and their careers at Yale and beyond. Their inspirations come from their immersion in China for an extended period of time and they are not something I could possibly give in my classrooms on York Street. Light Fellowship has made it possible to let these young students dream, ponder and be inspired. They learn about other parts of the world, other cultures and other ways of thinking. They learn to appreciate what they have in America that they used to take for granted and they learn from other societies what America can improve.

    What Light Fellowship has given them is far beyond a language study opportunity. The impact on their growth at such a critical time in their lives will be extremely beneficial. For this reason, we owe profoundly to Dr. Richard Light for his vision and generosity.

    Light Fellowship has accelerated students’ study of Chinese within a short period of time and made it possible for them to start another foreign language at Yale. My student Jeehye Kim from South Korea started Chinese with me two years ago. She then studied at PIB with the Light Fellowship. She became fluent in Chinese. In her senior year at Yale, she began to study Turkish. Now, she is in the Ph. D program in political science at Harvard.

    The Light Fellowship has also inspired our students to take courses in Chinese history, politics, sociology and so forth. Thus, it has profoundly impacted on the East Asian Studies program. In this regard, Light Fellowship has contributed much to Yale College and students’ undergraduate education.

    For these reasons, not only students, we faculty members are also very thankful to the Fellowship and to members of the trustees for their hard work. Dr. Timothy Light and President Levin’s support has been instrumental in the growth of the program. On behalf of my colleagues, I would like to thank Mr. Kelly McLaughlin and his staff for working so closely with instructors and students and for implementing so many reforms. They are wonderful colleagues.

  • Y09

    We love you Zhou laoshi!!

  • LightAlum

    I was going to post about how great Light is, and that it's even more important to continue its funding in times like this, when I saw that Zhou Laoshi has already written, and written very well, on how important Light is to the Yale community.

    I can confidently say that going on Light has had the biggest impact on my academic career of anything I've done here at Yale, and the language - and life - skills I learned will undoubtedly be useful in my professional career in the future. Truly, Light is one of the most incredible opportunities here at Yale, and continuing to offer it to as many students as possible is of utmost importance.

  • But…

    I definitely support the Light fellowship since many of my friends have had amazing summer experiences which were only made possible by the funding they received. At the same time, however, I feel that Yale should offer such generous funding for study in other regions of the world too..

  • Anonymous

    I really wish Yale would come up with funds for other study abroad or research programs other than Chinese. All of this sinophilia is just fine and all, but what about those of us who don't study Chinese?