While great interest has surrounded President Levin’s expansion of Yale’s involvement in international affairs many on campus are unaware that there is a branch of Yale University in London. The thousands of students that clamor each year to get into Yale don’t know it. Most of the students currently at Yale don’t know it. Yet, as one of the University’s best kept secrets, the Yale-in-London program makes it extraordinarily easy for any Yale College student to experience European life firsthand.

Founded in the late 1970s, the program utilizes a University-owned building in the West End that houses the library of Britainiphile and alum Paul Mellon for its Yale-approved classes. Four courses are offered each spring semester and deliver one Yale course credit each, no hassles. This type of information can be found on the Web site, but just as significant are Yale-in-London’s living arrangements and class trips. Arriving in London dazed and confused after a red-eye flight only to be taken to a full-floor apartment they could have used for MTV’s “The Real World,” a stone’s throw away from Regent Street — the Fifth Avenue of London — was a pleasant surprise to say the least. I won’t go into details but I think the phrase “there’s a washing machine inside the apartment” gives a good indication of the luxury supplied. All for the price of my 10 x 7 x 15 x 5 x 8 dorm room (yeah, I’m in Stiles).

Unlike contestants on reality TV, we are expected to go to class. Yale-in-London holds one three-hour class a day, four days a week, purposefully leaving a three-day weekend for individual travel. The classes are up to Yale’s rigorous standards while also leaving time for that more intangible form of education, experience. Frank Salmon, architecture professor and head of the program on a daily basis, says: “Yale-in-London doesn’t just try to teach academic subjects, it tries to impart culture in a way that reflects its unique location in a major European metropolis.” So all the classes have something to do with British studies and London, giving them a contextual basis unseen in most Yale classes.

Indeed, the program even builds field trips into the structured class time in an effort to utilize the city’s rich resources. These trips to museums, architecturally significant buildings, plays (one a week) and even to Rome offer students a chance to have a private tour guide who really knows his stuff while also sharing the experience with their peers. Reciprocally, professors are given a chance to bond with students.

In addition to its extensive collection of museums, pubs and stores, London functions as a hub from which to explore the rest of Europe. Amsterdam, Prague, Paris, Germany, Scotland, the Alps and Ireland are all a few hours away on the dirt-cheap flights offered by low-cost European carriers. Through these excursions, it becomes quickly apparent that while these cities and countries all border each other, they have nothing in common. From things as simple as trains running on time to death penalty laws, each country has a different system to be learned. This kind of an education is invaluable and impossible to teach.

While Yale-in-London does offer a two-course summer program, the experience generated by only six weeks stay is inferior. There is a process of getting to know a place, a process of discovery that can’t even really begin in such a short time. “The merits of the spring semester as opposed to the summer are that students get a full immersion over four months as opposed to a quick dip of six weeks in the summer. Plus the summer is an extra fee (in addition to regular Yale tuition) and in the spring, apartment accommodation is given instead of dorms,” said Salmon.

As the world continues to get smaller and smaller it makes sense to really try to understand the opinions and life experiences found in different cultures. Learning about them safely in New Haven is about as close to understanding them as sympathy is to empathy. But other foreign exchange programs can be spotty, failing to deliver the tools to unlock a new environment. In short, Yale-in-London delivers a great gift: it allows students in New Haven to get away for a semester but bring Yale right along with them.

Jeffrey Yohalem is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. He is studying abroad with the Yale-in-London program.