SCHNACKENBERG: Not forgetting the term

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Photo by Thao Do.

My first week studying abroad at the University of St. Andrews last fall, I attended a dinner party at a new friend’s apartment. There was a very long table, bowls of pasta and conversation uninterrupted by the constant ping of Gmail on iPhones and dashes to nighttime extracurriculars. I was doing my best not to call attention to my status as the newbie, and I almost succeeded. But towards the end of dinner, a guest sitting at the other end of the table called over to me: “So why would you ever leave Yale?”

His question wasn’t the first of its kind I’d faced. He, and others back home who asked me similar questions, had a legitimate point. Why would I leave one of the world’s finest academic institutions? Studying abroad certainly doesn’t come with any guarantees. Getting on that plane required me to believe that studying elsewhere was worth the inevitable trade-offs of leaving Yale. It is a hard fact to swallow that only 2.3 percent of Yalies are similarly getting on planes to go abroad during the term. According to the Center for International and Professional Experience’s preliminary data, only 127 students are studying abroad during the 2013-2014 school year.

It’s not necessarily a negative that only 2.3 percent of students are studying abroad during the school year. The 97.7 percent that remains on campus is investing its time in making Yale the vibrant place it is. But studying abroad during the term is the most reliable — yet most underused — way to get full Yale funding for a substantial academic experience in a different country. And the fact that so few students do so demonstrates that a major resource Yale offers remains significantly untapped.

Yale funding for summer study abroad is limited from every direction. Students on financial aid are eligible to receive the International Summer Award (ISA), which provides a stipend of up to $10,000 for a summer experience abroad. The ISA is based on an equivalent percentage system. If Yale covers 50 percent of a student’s tuition, it will also cover 50 percent of the student’s summer experience.

But there are two important caveats. First, the grant is a one-time award. Second, some summer study abroad programs are more than $10,000, and even if a student’s financial need is greater, the ISA will not cover it. If a student on 100 percent financial aid signs up for a $12,000 course, the student still receives only $10,000.

For students not on financial aid, funding comes from a myriad of fellowships and department-specific funding. This funding application process is decentralized — requiring different applications for each fellowship — and comes with no guarantees that a student will end up with funding. Efforts to get Yale to commit to more funding for summer study abroad — whether through additional fellowships, or an expanded ISA — should be celebrated.

But students should also recognize realistic constraints on Yale summer funding. Some limits are to be expected. Yale promised us four academic years with 100 percent demonstrated financial need covered. The ISA already sets Yale apart from Harvard and Princeton, which offer no comparable awards. It is impractical to expect Yale to be able to cover 100 percent demonstrated financial need for every student’s potential academic plans over three summers.

As it stands, there is not enough dialogue about how financially feasible and attractive term study abroad is. During the school year, Yale grants students the same percentage of financial aid that they receive at Yale to programs they attend abroad. The vast majority of foreign institutions Yalies attend are less expensive than Yale, and so students and families often end up saving money.

Furthermore, Yale permits study abroad for up to two semesters — about eight months — and will cover 100 percent of a student’s demonstrated financial need during that time. With all the discussion about the difficulty of funding summer study abroad, it is often forgotten that up to eight months of fully funded study abroad is available to every Yale student.

It is not easy to use Yale’s term-time study abroad resources. Doing so requires the courage to accept the trade-offs of leaving Yale. Thinking one can leave for months and not miss anything is naïve. Willingness to accept the tradeoffs, and confidence that these trade-offs are worth it, are vital for a successful time abroad.

Dialogue that marginalizes students who have the courage to study elsewhere during the term is insensitive at best. Referring to such students as outliers, or as foolish, marginalizes a segment of the student body we should embrace for what they bring back to campus upon their return.

Such dialogue is most harmful, however, because it dismisses the fact that term time study abroad may be the most financially realistic way for many Yalies to immerse themselves in a different country during college. Studying abroad during the school year is a risk, but one worth seriously considering for its many benefits, financial benefits high among them.

Kirsten Schnackenberg is a junior in Davenport College. She is a former staff reporter for the News. Contact her at kirsten.schnackenberg@yale.edu.

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