Reach Out, the student-run program that sends Yale students on service trips abroad, sends about as many students abroad as Yale does during the academic year.
Though Reach Out will send roughly 160 students abroad this year, Yale does not subsidize its trips and the organization struggles with funding, its presidents say. The trips can cost more than $2,000, and though some trips fundraise to lower the costs, the program cannot provide financial aid for students who need it, they added. Jane Edwards, dean of international and professional experience, said Yale does not give money to Reach Out because its trips are led by students rather than adult experts, and because they are short.
“There isn’t an infinite pool of resources to be given to international experience, so it makes sense to put those funds into sustained experiences abroad that are integrated into the shape of the student’s education,” she said.
Demand for the trips greatly exceeded supply this fall: 255 students applied, but Reach Out will only send around 160 students abroad this spring. For example, 30 students ranked the Tibet trip as one of their three top choices, but the leaders will only accept eight.
Yale College programs sent 165 students abroad for one or both semesters in the 2008-’09 academic year. Edwards said students generally prefer to go abroad over spring or summer break because going abroad for a semester means giving up time at Yale.
Katie Bell, assistant director of the Center for International Experience, said most Yale-funded programs are about 10 weeks long. The Reach Out trips that take place over spring break are two weeks long, while the program’s summer trips are between three and four weeks long.
Students involved with coordinating the program said they tell potential participants not to set out on their trips with too ambitious a mindset.
“You can’t go in thinking you’re going to change a whole country in two weeks,” Co-President Isobel Rosenthal ’12 said.
Co-President Victoria Rogers ’12 said she thinks in the short-term, the students may benefit from the trips more than the countries they serve, but the hope is that the trips will inspire them to engage with the developing world in the future.
Spring Break Trips Co-Coordinator Yemile Bucay ’13, who went on a Reach Out trip to Jordan her freshman year and is going to Syria this year, said some people see the two-week trips as “self-indulgent poverty tourism,” but she does not think this is an accurate description. Every Reach Out trip includes a service component, she added.
“We are the people planting the seeds of these interpersonal relationships throughout the developing world, and helping students to become interested in specific issues and places,” Spring Break Trips Co-Coordinator Karissa Britten ’12 said. “For us, it’s a little more about the Yale students, getting us invested.”
Rogers said that because of her trip to Rwanda last year, she will be interested in the place for the rest of her life.
Thirteen expeditions will occur this spring break, traveling to Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Cambodia and Tibet, among other places.
Reach Out does not organize trips, but instead accepts proposals from prospective trip leaders. Students who want to organize trips must submit a full itinerary with contacts in the country to which they will travel, a proposed service project, a peer recommendation, and an essay, and they must have an interview. Rosenthal said that the program rejects four to five trips per year.
She said the process ensures that trip leaders are prepared and passionate, adding that leaders often choose places in which they are already interested because of family ties or academic pursuits.
Reach Out was started in 2003 by three Yale students who went to Central America on a service trip with Hillel and wanted to make it possible for other Yalies to have similar experiences.