Struggling without structure

When Oxford undergraduate Oz Woloshyn came to study for a year at Yale, he had little guidance — no academic advisor, no residential college to live in, and no orientation program to introduce him to New Haven.

Although he was at Yale as part of the non-degree special students program — a 33-year-old program designed for visiting foreign students — Woloshyn had no formal support from the University. Without the help of his friend and housemate Nicolas Niarchos ’11, who was a childhood friend, Woloshyn said he might have been utterly lost.

“I didn’t have a dean and I wasn’t affiliated with any college,” said Woloshyn, who is studying English language and literature in Magdalen College at Oxford. “Everything was radically different. I went from being a good student [at Oxford] to being an average student at Yale.”

Though Woloshyn said he enjoyed the experience of studying abroad at Yale, he said he wishes the program had been more structured. It is this lack of structure that the new Visiting International Students program, which will allow 24 international undergraduates to study for a year at Yale, will seek to address as it formalizes the study abroad experience.

‘BETTER FOOTING’

Aside from the Visiting International Student program, there are four other special academic programs at Yale, William Whobrey, dean of summer sessions and special programs, said in an October interview with the News. These include the Eli Whitney Students Program for non-traditional degree-seeking students, the auditing program for people affiliated with Yale who take courses but are not graded, and a program for local high school students who take Yale courses for college credit.

The fourth program, a non-degree students program for those who take Yale courses for credit but do not receive a Yale degree for their coursework, was the one Woloshyn applied to after meeting Yale English professor David Scott Kastan during a visit to Oxford in 2008.

Woloshyn said he was aware that the courses he took at Yale would not count for credit back at Oxford before he applied to Yale, adding that most British students who study abroad expect this arrangement. Still, Woloshyn said he wishes he had some academic guidance during his time at Yale. He said he found it difficult to learn the essay format preferred by Yale professors, who demanded a more microscopic way of analyzing poetry.

“If somebody said to me what is required or expected, I would have started off with a better footing,” he said.

But for international undergraduates coming to Yale under the new Visiting International Students program, adjusting to Yale College may not be as difficult it was for Woloshyn.

As part of the new initiative, Yale will set up several programs to ease international students’ transitions to Yale, said Ann Kuhlman, director of the Office of International Students & Scholars. Kuhlman said she envisions a pre-departure virtual orientation via Skype session, teleconferencing or a “webinar.” International students will also receive peer support and may participate in a separate pre-orientation program, she said, which could overlap with the Orientation for International Students.

ACROSS THE POND

The Visiting International Students program will place participants in a residential college and offer a social experience that is more typical of life at Yale. The program, which begins in fall 2011, will place two international undergraduates in each of the 12 colleges. While Oxford and Cambridge universities host many Ivy League study abroad students each year, very few students from British elite universities choose to study abroad, Woloshyn said. It is more common for those concentrated in modern languages to spend a year in a foreign country, he said, but it was highly unusual for an English student like him to study abroad.

Oxford and Cambridge operate on a decentralized college system, which breaks the university down into smaller subunits of undergraduates, graduate students and faculty. The schools do not have an equivalent to Yale’s centralized Center for International Experience. Caroline Yates, exchanges and scholarships administrator at the International Office of Cambridge, said her office does not organize programs to study at Yale or track the number of students who have studied abroad at Yale in the past.

But each Cambridge college offers its own opportunities to study at Yale, Yates added. One such opportunity is the Fox International Fellowship, which allows undergraduates interested in social science, business, law, and contemporary history from Sidney Sussex College at Cambridge to study for a year at Yale. The university also administers broader exchange programs, such as a 10-year-old departmental exchange program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a university-wide program that sends students to other European countries to work and study.

In an e-mail to the News Monday, Whobrey said the new program will strengthen ties with some of Yale’s most important international partners — including the National University of Singapore and the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey — as the international students will become fully integrated members of the residential colleges with access to residential college deans, masters and tutors.

“Yale College will certainly benefit by their presence in the classroom as well as in the colleges,” he said. “These students will be able to experience the unique learning community that is Yale College for themselves.”

Comments

  • ozwoloshyn

    I’d like to add (which seems to have been lost in translation in this article) that my year at Yale was one of the best and most eye-opening of my life so far, and how extremely grateful I was for the opportunity to study there.

    Oz Woloshyn

  • ozwoloshyn

    The real point I was making is that an already excellent programme will benefit even further when, as is planned, it is given a greater structure.

    Oz Woloshyn

  • Skeptic

    Structure = Rigidity and Confinement,,, take your choice…

  • ozwoloshyn

    Yes quite – it’s all about striking the right balance

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