For Hannah Slater ’13, a typical Tuesday morning last semester included bus rides through South Africa’s Kruger National Park with sightings of giraffes, elephants and other wild animals — all before her first class that day.
“It was like being in the Lion King,” she recalled with a laugh.
Slater was one of 82 Yalies to study abroad last semester, spending time in South Africa, Brazil and Vietnam. 36 students had studied abroad in the fall, and four were abroad for the entire academic year.
The number of Yalies abroad last year was approximately the same at Harvard and Princeton, according to assistant director of study abroad at the Center for International Experience Susan Evans. Yet this group represents less than 3 percent of the undergraduate population at Yale.
Six students interviewed, who have gone or plan to go abroad, attributed the small number of students who study internationally during the academic year to the lack of a “study abroad culture” at the University.
Although Slater had not initially planned to leave during the school year, she said she had always wanted to travel and “get that international perspective.” After discovering a global health program run by a nonprofit that would allow her to pursue a “health and community” track of study, she said she couldn’t resist.
Slater said the experience taught her more in that semester than she could have learned had she remained at Yale. But at a University whose undergraduate life is campus-oriented, students interviewed said going abroad required a certain degree of initiative to resist a culture largely unreceptive to studying abroad during the academic year.
SACRIFICING THE YALE EXPERIENCE?
For some students considering spending time abroad, an attachment to the Yale community and need to complete academic requirements on campus prevent them from leaving New Haven; for others, the notion of studying abroad would simply detract from their already-limited four years at Yale in ways a summer abroad might not.
Natalee Pei ’13, who will leave for China next semester under the joint study abroad program between Yale and Peking University in Beijing, said she thinks most Yale students do not study abroad during the academic school year simply because it is not the norm.
“People who do study abroad feel a little bit left out and it perpetuates this attitude that you’re going to miss out if most people aren’t doing it,” she said, adding that this atmosphere creates a self-enforcing cycle where students do not think to study abroad.
Lucy Brady ’12, who also studied in China last fall through the Yale-PKU program, said that she believes many people do not study abroad because of peer pressure. Brady said that when she told her friends she planned to go to China for a semester, they were surprised and tried to make her rethink her decision.
By going abroad, she said, her friends said that she would be sacrificing part of her Yale experience.
“It’s not that you’re gaining a new experience, it’s that you’re missing out on your Yale experience,” Brady said.
Still, she added that studying abroad was “hands-down the best experience” of her life.
Others attributed Yale’s small study abroad population to broader institutional issues. Eric Jones ’12, who spent his sophomore spring semester in Morocco, noted that academic departments at Yale do not include study abroad as part of their curricula. As a result, he said that for most Yalies going abroad during the academic year is not part of the “quintessential Yale experience.”
Jones, an economics major, added that students majoring in certain departments may have difficulty going abroad because of Yale’s strict policies regarding credit transfers. Jones said he thought departments such as Global Affairs could require students to spend time abroad, but Director of the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs James Levinsohn said that while his department will accommodate students looking to go abroad during the year it does not actively encourage them to do so.
To experience academics in another country, Dominic Insogna ’13 — who spent 15 months in China — said Yalies are also generally too involved in schoolwork and extracurriculars to “stop their activities” for a semester.
“But I don’t think it’s a very good reason,” he added. “[Studying abroad] is a once in a lifetime experience.”
Brady said part of the reason students don’t go abroad is they don’t know where to start. She said that she sees little advertising for programs, and applied to the Yale-PKU program after hearing about it through a friend, not through Yale or UCS.
“At times, I feel that UCS is very far, and not only in distance,” she said. “When you go, it’s exceptionally helpful, but you never think to go and you don’t really know that it’s there until you go seek it out yourself. You have to take the initiative.”
In addition to its Yale-PKU and Yale in London programs, Yale is now offering two new term-time options through its Year or Term Abroad Program for students thinking of spending time abroad. Economics majors can study abroad in Italy through the Università Bocconi — Yale College Economics Exchange Program and up to three to five English majors can spend their junior year studying at Balliol College, Oxford University.
Evans, who helps in the Center for International Experience to coordinate students’s experiences abroad, said in an email that the study abroad office also reached out this semester to students who have returned from time abroad to form a Study Abroad Student Advisory Group.
“Not only can these students assure others that it is okay to leave Yale, but often they describe their study abroad experience as the most rewarding semester of their college career,” she said in an email. “It is our hope that these students can help us develop ways of creating a stronger sense of term-time study abroad community.”
All six students interviewed said they would highly recommend studying abroad regardless of outside commitments. For some, going abroad fulfilled their love for traveling and exploring, while for others, it helped them develop as individuals and opened their eyes to other experiences and lifestyles.
“By studying abroad, you just mature as a person much more rapidly,” Jones said. “You have to physically change the way you perceive things around you, the way you perceive your habits, and the way you perceive the world. You go beyond the comfort you’ve lived with your whole life.”
Applications for next semester study abroad are due by Saturday, Oct. 15.