When Valeria Faggioni heard about last Friday’s International Students Organization’s party, “Ibiza,” she had high hopes for her first night out at Yale. It seemed the party was made just for her — after all, it was an international party (she’s studies in Mexico).
She and her friends got dressed, met up and walked together to Thali Too, the Indian restaurant where Ibiza has been held for the last two years. They were excited for DJ Waswani’s Fall playlist and, in the words of the party’s Facebook event page, “a night of dance and good — no, excellent — international company.”
But the restaurant was too crowded, and when they reached the door they were, like many other Yale students, turned away.
“It was our first Yale party,” Faggioni, an exchange student, said. “And we didn’t even make it.”
Exchange students should not worry: they have a whole year to be let into parties. Their one year at Yale is part of the inaugural Yale Visiting International Students Program, created to strengthen Yale’s relationship with two of its partner Universities: Tecnológico de Monterrey (“Tec” for short) in Mexico and the National University of Singapore. The exchange is meant to introduce students from Mexico and Singapore to a new educational system, Yale Associate Dean and Dean of International and Professional Experience Jane Edwards said.
In the meantime, the 17 international exchange students — 6 from Singapore, 11 from Mexico — are just like typical Yale freshmen: busy finding their bearings in their new home, shopping classes, hosting pregames and settling into their residential colleges.
But they’ve only got one year. And their rejection may extend further than Thali Too, as many extracurricular and social organizations said they would be hesitant to include students who have such a limited time at Yale.
When WEEKEND caught up with the exchange students at their weekly get-together, this time a dinner located in the back of Saybrook Dining Hall, their conversations were not so different from those of the average international students who have just arrived at Yale.
They marveled at the dining hall food, complained about shopping and laughed at quirky American drinking traditions, such as the college ritual known as “icing.”
“What’s the point of icing someone?” asked Victor Ong, an exchange student from Singapore, in reference to the act of hiding a Smirnoff Ice near a friend they hope will accidentally discover it and, in accordance with the game’s unwritten rules, immediately drink it on a single knee. “Do they drink the whole thing?”
Others, like Mexican exchange student Elizabeth Laredo-Castro, complained about the lack of nightlife in New Haven. Unlike regular international students, who usually come to Yale before they turn 21, most exchange students are of legal drinking age and want something beyond suite parties.
“We tried to go clubbing on Thursday, but everything closed before one,” Laredo said in dismay.
Despite difficulty finding 24/7 clubbing establishments, within their first month of living on campus, Laredo and other exchange students have nevertheless experienced some common fixtures of the Yale social scene.
“I’ve been to some frat parties, I’ve been to the crew house, and also to some pre-games actually,” Amauri Torres, an exchange student from Mexico, said. “That’s been great.”
And of course, no back-to-school get-together would be complete without complaining about shopping period, a topic to which the students returned again and again.
Exchange students have only one year to experience an academic courseload that often differs greatly from the ones they have at home, Ong said. Their limited time means they cannot make mistakes in the classes they choose, he said, adding that he read through several past Bluebooks in Singapore before deciding what to shop this semester.
One exchange student from Mexico, Patti Gochicoa, said she has used her status as an exchange student to her advantage during shopping. When she shopped classes that were difficult to get into, she wrote to her professors reminding them that she had only one year at Yale in which to take their course. Unlike her Yale peers, she could not simply re-shop the class next year.
On top of this, another difficulty: since exchange students were not registered at Yale last semester, they could not preregister for classes the way many of their peers did.
Yet for all the stress shopping period has caused Ong, he and the other exchange students were nevertheless quick to praise the system — in terms indistinguishable from the average Yalie:
“This ‘shopping period’ is very good, and it’s great to see which classes you like and don’t like,” he said. “It’s just crazy.”
Though the exchange students act like traditional Yalies, their exchange program is not traditional, Program Director Katie Bell said, as Yale does not send students abroad concurrently to study at NUS or Tec de Monterrey. But Yale does partner with those institutions in the summer, she added, with a Yale Summer Session course at NUS and a sustainable development internship with Tec. (Yale would like to expand study abroad opportunities in Mexico, Edwards said, but administrators have concerns regarding the country’s safety for students.)
This is the first formal exchange program in Yale’s history — in the past, foreign students could study at the University as part of the 34-year-old non-degree special students program, but they were not formally integrated into the college — they lacked deans, masters, tutors and an overall residential college community.
“Part of the problem [was] the lack of housing space for them,” University President Richard Levin told the News in October. “Previously it has been difficult to contemplate because we were already annexing students so there [was] not really room in Yale College without reducing the enrollment of the college.”
He added that until Yale had more housing space, an expanded exchange program would be out of the question The residential college experience complements the Yale experience, Levin said.
But with the impending completion of residential college renovations, a new exchange program became a real possibility. Administrators first floated the idea for the International Students Program last November with the added hope of building stronger ties with Yale’s partner universities in Mexico and Singapore.
The announcement coincided with Yale’s larger plans for global expansion: Yale and its Singaporean partner took the next step in their relationship in May when both committed to Yale-NUS, a liberal arts college in Singapore that will be jointly run by both universities.
Unlike the non-degree students, the exchange students from Mexico and Singapore have been formally integrated into Yale, with each student assigned a residential college.
The 17 international students now at Yale began the lengthy and competitive admissions process last fall before gaining acceptance.
Both NUS and Tec de Monterrey used their own criteria to nominate their best students. Associate Dean Jane Edwards said. Yale was not involved in this original vetting process.
Edwards declined to describe specifics of the application process, including what criteria were used to admit the exchange students.
Laredo was one of the Mexican students to be nominated by her advisor at Tec, which contains over 90,000 students on 32 campuses across the country. Laredo — who studies international relations in Mexico — had often considered studying abroad in Europe. But when she learned of the opportunity to apply to Yale, she changed her mind.
“I didn’t even think about it twice. My plan of going to Europe didn’t even matter,” Laredo said.
Ong said he was especially attracted to the program because of the chance to study with world-renowned philosophy professors like Shelly Kagan and Michael de la Rocca, whose works he had previously read in Singapore.
This sort of expectation is what the program was designed to fulfill, said Bell.
“I don’t know why the program was only just created, but I’m happy it was,” Bell said. “It’s a great opportunity for these visiting students.”
She added that plans for the continuation of the program depend largely on whether or not this pilot year is “successful.”
Bell’s definition of success?
“It is too early to say exactly,” Bell continued. “But for now, I’d say success would be if students learn things here that they could not have learned at home, if they become socially integrated into clubs, organizations and other groups and if they return home enriched. I hope we can provide this experience again.”
Whether or not Yale can provide this type of experience remains to be seen.
The structure of non-academic life at Yale is explicitly hierarchical: students join organizations freshman year and work their way to the top: at the Yale Political Union, students start out as mere members before becoming leaders of the different political parties. At publications, students often spend a year or two writing before they make staff or go on to edit the magazine or newspaper. In a cappella groups, many rush freshman year and go on to become rush managers the next and perhaps the business manager the year after.
This extracurricular framework is one that emphasizes intense commitment and loyalty. Yale extracurriculars become more than after-school activities; they become communities, sometimes families. Together, Yalies go on retreats, organize initiations, and pull all-nighters to finish their duties. Ask anyone what they do on campus, and most will proudly tell you they are a Duke’s Man, a member of Yale’s Anti-Gravity Society or Chairman of the Independent Party.
These identities suggest the importance of extracurriculars to the Yale social scene. For most students, participation in these groups is a vital part of their college experience, so much so that many decline to take a semester or year abroad for fear of missing out. In fact, during the 2009-’10 school year, only 100 undergraduates took advantage of Yale’s term or year abroad programs according to data from the Center for International and Professional Experience — less than 2 percent of the college’s roughly 5,000 students.
The exchange students have in a sense arrived two years too late. The very nature of the exchange program limits the extent to which students can integrate into the college, Ong said. They never have the opportunity to develop deep relationships with organizations, a cappella groups or sports teams the way the typical Yalie does.
Susannah Shattuck ’13, director of the improv comedy group The Viola Question, said it “would not make sense” for the exchange students to join a comedy group because improvisation works better when people have worked with and learned from each other for a few years.
“If someone had to quit after one year, we’d rather have someone for the long haul,” she said. “Improv is all about getting better over time and getting to know other members of the group. If they left just as they got good, it would be a bit pointless.”
Like Shattuck, a vice president of Kappa Kappa Gamma Camille Buchanan ’12 said she would not encourage exchange students to rush a sorority because the community Greek organizations build are meant to last for more than one year. For those interested in singing, Baker’s Dozen member Matthew Boone ’12 said that losing a singer after one year would be a huge loss for the group.
Perhaps, then, the objectives of the program — to integrate socially into the Yale community, as defined by the program’s director — are incompatible with a Yale lifestyle.
“We have to come in knowing exactly what we want to do, and we really have to play to our strengths,” he said. “We don’t have time to shop around or move up in the ranks, so we just have to go for it. One of my friends is a great singer, so he had to know he wanted to audition for the Glee Club straight away.”
Ong knows he cannot catch up to his other Yale peers. He and his Singaporean friends are “not in the circle” of Yale’s extracurricular social scene, he added.
“I would say the typical Yalie would have a broader experience of Yale, primarily because they’re here for four years and we’re here for one,” he said. “But the upside to our approach is that being here one year makes us treasure the time a lot more.”
Compounding this problem, Gochicoa said she has also found it difficult to connect with Yale classmates she will only know for a year. Although many exchange students have been put in suites with regular Yalies — many of whom have helped the visitors meet new people and adapt to the new college environment — most have thus far stuck to spending time with one another, Gochicoa said. Within the first few weeks, the exchange students have had many group outings, from buying cellphones to opening bank accounts to picnicking at East Rock.
“If we see each other in a dining hall, we’ll sit next to each other,” Gochicoa said. “But if we’re alone, no one will really sit with us. That’s normal; it’s not a function of Yale.”
When in doubt, exchange students have gravitated not only towards each other, but also towards regular international students. Since international students share a similar background to the 17 newly arrived exchange students, they are often more understanding and welcoming, Laredo said.
Despite difficulties making friends or finding the right extracurriculars, the exchange students to whom WEEKEND spoke seemed genuinely excited to be at Yale — and have begun the slow process towards what may be true assimilation. To be fair, less than a month has elapsed, and extracurriculars are just getting started for the year.
“I’ve gone to the gym, I joined the running club, and I’ve explored New Haven,” Gochicoa said. “Last time we hung out, we went to a really good Thai place, and we’ve been to FroyoWorld as well.”
Yale’s exchange students will certainly benefit from their time at the University — socially, academically and extracurricularly. But in one year, they can only possibly skim the opportunities Yale has to offer. The University does not seem to be cut out for this type of exchange.
Correction: September 11, 2011
A previous version of this article referred to Faggioni as Mexican. In fact, she is an Ecuadorian student studying in Mexico.