Light Fellowship distribution remains steady

For Yalies, Richard U. Light Fellowship program provides a major incentive for studying Chinese, Japanese or Korean.

Founded in 1996, the Light Fellowship provides full funding for Yale students to study Chinese, Japanese or Korean for a summer, semester or year in Asia. As enrollment in Chinese classes continues to rise, students in the Korean and Japanese programs said they are worried that the growing Chinese program will eventually eat into resources for their own language study. But faculty members interviewed said they are not concerned by the growth of the Chinese department at Yale, adding that the distribution of Light Fellowships between the three language departments has not changed significantly in recent years.

“The committee gives this issue careful consideration each year,” said Rob Clough, the Light Fellowship director. He added that the Greenberg Scholars program, which is specifically dedicated to Chinese, has helped mitigate imbalances between the departments because it has enabled the Light Fellowship to support more Chinese language learners while not reducing the number of Japanese or Korean language learners supported.

Clough said 141 Light Fellowships have been awarded for the summer of 2014 and the 2013–’14 academic year, with approximately 70 percent of the recipients studying Chinese, 20 percent Japanese and 10 percent Korean. According to Kelly McLaughlin, deputy director of the Center for International and Professional Experience and the director of fellowship programs, 67 percent of recipients studied Chinese, 22 percent studied Japanese and 11 percent studied Korean during the summer of 2013 and 2012–’13.

Still, six of the seven students interviewed shared the sentiment that the size of the Chinese department poses a threat to the Japanese and Korean programs. As the Light Fellowship is critical to the study of Korean and Japanese at Yale, some students said even the slightest decline in Light Fellowship funding may have adverse consequences on those programs. Students who do not receive a Light Fellowship may stop taking the language, causing higher level classes in these already small departments to be canceled from lack of enrollment, they said.

“Because [Korean is] such a small program, there’s not a whole lot for you to keep doing once you get to a high enough level,” said Jake Albert ’16, who received the fellowship last year to study in South Korea. “If you want to keep on doing Chinese for a long time there’s a lot more options.”

Though Albert took an L5 Korean course in the fall, he said his spring course was cancelled when only two people expressed interest.

Andrew Stein ’16, who received a Light Fellowship for the summer of 2013 and has received another Light Fellowship for the 2014–’15 academic year to study in Japan, said the presence of Chinese undergraduate students at Yale and the sheer number of native Chinese speakers at the University mean there are more opportunities for students to practice Chinese outside the classroom than Japanese or Korean.

“If you don’t send as many people [on Light fellowships], it’s harder for a department to sustain student interest at the higher levels, beyond fulfilling a language credit,” said Jeremy Liu ’16, who was denied a Light Fellowship to study in Korea.

While Albert said at least seven students in “Korean 120” received the Light Fellowship last year, Liu and Mahir Rahman ’16 — both enrolled in Korean 120 — said their instructor told them only two students in each of the two L2 Korean courses would receive a Light Fellowship this admissions cycle.

McLaughlin stressed that the number of applications from each language program still fluctuates year to year, adding that the application numbers for Japanese and Korean were lower than normal this year. Although each student’s application is evaluated on its individual merit, McLaughlin said the Light Fellowship currently aims to distribute funds in line with the overall enrollment rates of the three languages, and it is unusual for the committee to diverge significantly from these enrollment rates.

East Asian Languages and Literatures department chair Tina Lu said she highly doubts that any slight decrease in awards to students studying Korean or Japanese this year was intentional. The Richard U. Light Foundation stresses that the fellowship should serve students interested in different East Asian languages, she said.

Ruchi Gupta ’16 and Sei Han ’16 said the Light Fellowship’s percentage system, although seemingly fair, could threaten the Japanese and Korean departments in the distant future if the number of students studying Chinese continues to rise relative to the number studying Korean and Japanese.

Gupta suggested that the University implement a minimum threshold to guarantee that each language receives at least 10 percent of Light Fellowship funding. Ensuring that a significant proportion of students return to campus with exposure to all three languages and cultures is critical to maintaining Yale’s intellectual diversity, she said.

Liu said the fellowship gives students the opportunity and incentive to study a language beyond the L3 level. Cultural exposure gives students a newfound appreciation for their language studies, he said.

“Without the Light, I think Japanese would suffer greatly,” Stein said. “You can’t get significantly better at Japanese without being totally immersed in it, and with such a difficult language, what’s the point studying it for four years in college if you can’t master it upon graduation?”

The Light Fellowship has funded study in Asia for over 1,000 students.

A previous version of the article misspelled the name of Light Fellowship Director Rob Clough.

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