Study abroad numbers soar

The number of Yale students who study abroad jumped by 50 percent in the last year, according to an unreleased annual report from the Center for International and Professional Experience.

According to the report — which included data from the 2012 fall semester and the 2013 fall semester — 45 students are enrolled in study abroad programs this semester, a sharp increase from the 30 students who studied abroad last fall. While CIPE Director of Study Abroad Christina Johnson said the increase in numbers could reflect the rising popularity of study abroad programs at Yale, she cautioned against fixating on the statistics as measure of the success of study abroad.

“For us, this is not about numbers,” Johnson said. “This is actually more about enhancing a Yale student’s experience.”

Data from past CIPE reports shows that the number of students opting to study abroad each year has stayed relatively steady, with 160 students studying abroad in the 2011-2012 academic year compared to 156 in 2003-2004. The most recent increase in numbers marks a potential break from the trend and contradicts the common perception amongst students and administrators that study abroad programs have a limited niche at Yale.

Both students and administrators interviewed said that intense social and extracurricular attachments to campus often discourage students from pursuing study abroad. Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry said he believes study abroad programs may not appeal to many students because they are already satisfied with their campus experience.

“A lot of people don’t [study abroad] because it’s not a thing people do,” said Nicola Soekoe ’16, who plans to study in India next semester. “If there was more of a culture at Yale of studying abroad, most people would do it.”

Mary Shi ’14, who studied abroad at Oxford last spring, said that because studying abroad is “off the beaten path” for Yale students, she had to think at length about her reasons and motivations for choosing to go abroad.

According to figures in the report provided by Johnson, the number of students who have chosen to spend the entire academic year has increased, contributing to the increased number of fall study abroad participants. Out of the 45 students abroad this semester, seven are enrolled in yearlong programs, compared to three of 30 students last fall. Study abroad figures do not include students who participate in the Yale-in-London program.

While fall semester numbers only include juniors, study abroad programs in the spring semester — which are usually more popular than fall programs — include second-semester sophomores as well as juniors. Though she declined to say how many students applied for study abroad in past years, Johnson said 108 students applied to study abroad for spring 2014.

Yale College Dean Mary Miller pointed to the abundance of junior year extracurricular leadership positions as a potential deterrent for some students to study abroad. But Miller added that the availability of study abroad credit to second-semester sophomores — a policy that has only been enacted in recent years — allows many of these students to go abroad.

“If people don’t think they’re going to do it until junior year, by the time they get to junior year they have so many commitments they feel like they can’t leave,” said McKenna Keyes ’14, who studied in Spain during her sophomore spring. A study abroad peer advisor, Keyes said the most frequent concern she hears from other students considering studying abroad is the common fear of missing out on experiences at Yale.

Shi said that while she regretted missing senior society tap night and internship recruitment sessions because she was abroad, she also went abroad to “escape extracurricular culture” in the first place.

But though many voiced apprehension about leaving behind campus culture, students interviewed said they were not as concerned about missing out on Yale’s academic offerings.

Soekoe said her time working in India will make her Yale coursework in international development feel more relevant. After first studying in the Turks and Caicos for marine biology research, Benedict Scheur ’14 later studied in Thailand to gain a richer cultural immersion experience.

While academics at Yale are stronger than they are at most other schools, Keyes said, one cannot assess the value of study abroad solely in terms of academics — as studying in foreign countries provides for an unparalleled level of language and culture immersion.

Most students interviewed emphasized that the choice to study abroad did not mean they were dissatisfied with their time at Yale. Soekoe said students sometimes need to distance themselves from Yale to appreciate it.

Now a freshman counselor, Scheuer maintains that he has not lost touch with campus.

“You establish Yale as a home, and that just makes it easier to go out on these journeys to the unknown,” he said.

The deadline to study abroad in the spring semester was Oct. 15.

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