Elis abroad return to housing stress

When Anna Ershova ’11 and Sam Jackson ’11 prepared to return to Yale after studying abroad at Peking University this fall, they knew they would face difficulties readjusting to campus life. But after a semester living in Beijing, they didn’t expect so much trouble finding adequate housing at Yale.

Housing arrangements for undergraduate students who study abroad in the fall vary across the residential colleges, but students from several colleges agree that an absence from Yale makes it difficult to find the most desirable housing when they return to New Haven. Returning students found the housing process difficult to navigate, especially from thousands of miles away, and at a time when on-campus housing options are hard to come by, these students said their frustrations were exacerbated.

For Ershova and Jackson, both students in Trumbull College, finding housing while abroad was wrought with uncertainty. When the two decided to go abroad, they did not enter the Trumbull housing draw in order to avoid paying a $750 deposit — the fee required for holding a room that they would not occupy during the term. Since they did not arrange plans to swap rooms with students going abroad in the spring semester, they decided to wait and see what rooms would be available after students living on campus in the fall decided on their plans for the spring.

In the fall, Ershova and Jackson were told by Trumbull Dean Jasmina Besirevic-Regan GRD ’04 that they would not know if there would be space in Trumbull or in Trumbull’s annex housing, Arnold Hall, until after Nov. 30, the deadline for students to accept spring on-campus housing.

“It was stressful not knowing where I would live,” Ershova said.

As a result of the current housing crunch, which hit Trumbull particularly hard because of its small size, there was only room for one female Trumbull student to move back on campus, and there was no room for any additional male students in Trumbull housing, leaving Jackson no room in his own college.

Though Yale College Associate Dean for Physical Resources and Planning John Meeske ’74 said he was not aware of any specific reports of students being forced off campus, he said he would not have been surprised if individual students faced difficulty in finding the exact housing they desired.

“The number of available rooms in any year is going to be limited and may not be exactly what the student is looking for,” Meeske said.

Usually, because more students study abroad in the spring than in the fall, and because more students take time off in the spring than in the fall term, enrollment declines in the spring term by as many as 100 students in any given year, Meeske said.

Both Ershova and Jackson ultimately found apartment housing off campus together. The two are in a relationship, but Jackson emphasized that they both would have rather lived in on-campus housing, and while he was frustrated that he did not have this option, Ershova also decided not to take the lone remaining Trumbull room because she would not have known the other Yalies in the suite. The two said their experience highlights problems with the current way in which students who study abroad in the fall must find housing.

“There needs to be more clarity and transparency,” Jackson said of the housing process for students who return after study abroad.

Jessica Leal ’11, a Saybrook student who spent the fall semester studying in Madrid, said she also landed in housing that was not “ideal” this spring. Leal said she sent an e-mail in mid-November to Dean Paul McKinley requesting a single, but he replied that there were none available in Saybrook, but she could have one in a suite of annexed Berkeley juniors.

“I guess it’s the price I pay for wanting a single,” Leal said.

Michael Boyce ’11 said he forfeited choice about his rooming situation when he decided to go abroad. Boyce, who studied in Jordan for the spring semester of his sophomore year, was unable to participate in the Branford housing lottery and designated his suitemates as proxies. When his suitemates decided to split their quad into two doubles, they were annexed, even though they could have lived in Branford if they had all remained together. Boyce said he would have preferred to remain in Branford rather than in annex housing.

“When you’re abroad, you have less of a say,” Boyce said.

Because of the late notification of the availability of spring-term on-campus housing, students abroad in the fall are caught between a desire to hold out for on-campus housing and the need to find and secure housing off-campus.

“Had I been willing to forgo the possibility of living on campus,” Jackson said, “[the apartment search] might have been a little bit smoother.”

Jackson and Ershova both underscored the exhausting and stressful nature of the search for off-campus housing, and they noted that there are few official Yale resources for students living off campus.

The problem is less significant for students studying abroad in the spring term, they said, because then they have the summer to find housing. Ershova, who lives in Russia and was at home over the winter break, says she was lucky that Jackson lived in the Boston area and was able to find their apartment over the break.

Returning to Yale, both Ershova and Jackson wanted to reintegrate themselves with the Yale community, but the lack of available housing has made that process more challenging. Even though they live off campus, they are both on the meal plan.

Still, Ershova and Jackson say that the experience has been positive so far.

“[The apartment] is close to Bingham, where we lived freshman year,” Ershova said. “So it doesn’t feel that far away.”

Correction: Jan. 15, 2010

An earlier version of this article misreported the first name of Saybrook College Dean Paul McKinley.

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