Within the undergraduate community at Yale, there exists a bias against study abroad. Unfortunately, the standard responses given by students as to why study abroad will not be a part of their undergraduate experiences are shrouded in misunderstanding and hearsay. I aim to debunk these rumors and delineate a cogent argument for why more Yalies should embrace the opportunity to study abroad.
First, many believe there’s no difference between a summer abroad and a semester or year abroad. On one level, this view is correct. Both experiences require one to obtain a visa, take a long plane flight over a body of water, navigate a foreign airport, take classes and deal with jet lag. But beyond these formalities, the two experiences are vastly different. As a summer study student, you’ll feel like you’re on an extended vacation; as a study abroad student, you’ll actually be living overseas. Surely nobody feels as though he or she truly lived at Yale within the first month of freshman year; the same theory applies to life overseas, but in a more acute manner.
Indeed, you can’t really get to know a place, understand its culture and language, and establish strong relationships within two months. It just isn’t possible. If you’re going overseas to actually learn something about the rest of the world, a summer won’t cut it. (Side note: A semester might not either — many one-semester students I’ve spoken with lamented the fact that they did not spend a year abroad.) If you want to go overseas in order to hang out and drink legally because you’re under 21, I suggest you save your money and head to Cancun over spring break. If, on the other hand, you’re actually interested in the world at large and other cultures, it behooves you to stay somewhere for at least a semester.
The second widely propagated rumor about studying abroad is that Yale is the best place to get an education, and therefore that it would be foolish to leave New Haven for an extended period of time while school is in session. To use a cliche, the world is becoming smaller, and having an ethnocentric view of the world is becoming more dangerous. If you’re an art history major, it might be nice to actually see the works you study. If you’re into anthropology, you could go to a site you’ve researched. If, like me, you study political science, it can be very useful to get a non-American perspective on the U.S. and international relations. If you’re a writer, going somewhere and experiencing new things might be just the inspiration you need. And, for scientists, learning a little bit about the rest of the world will help with your career in an increasingly global marketplace. If you’re concerned about pre-med or major requirements, talk to your director of undergraduate studies and see what he or she will accept from overseas. At worst, you might have to spend a summer at Yale taking classes. Big deal. If Yale is the cradle of world leaders, shouldn’t those leaders-to-be have familiarity with somewhere other than New Haven?
Some people believe their friends won’t remember who they are or they’ll miss too much at Yale if they go abroad. Bullhonkey. Do you ever find yourself doing the same thing weekend after weekend? Do you rush from class, to a meeting, to practice, to the library, to Toad’s without ever doing something out of the ordinary? I’m guessing most people do. In the pressure-cooker that is Yale, we tend to fall back into a static rut that’s comfortable and do the same things, with the same people, at the same places, over and over again. I left for a year and I can tell you that very little — if anything — changed here during that time.
Finally, some students believe that if they study abroad, they won’t be employable. At a recent career fair, Phil Jones, director of Undergraduate Career Services, walked around and asked employers at every table what they thought about study abroad. The overwhelming majority replied emphatically, noting that the ability to adapt to new environments, try something different and deal with adversity greatly strengthen the resume of a job-seeker. While one or two employers were ambivalent, none said study abroad hurts a student’s resume. Period.
After having studied abroad for a year, I am thoroughly convinced of the merits of exploring other regions of the world during one’s undergraduate years. But if you have any further questions or concerns, or if you want to debate me, I’d be happy to talk to you.
J.R. Siegel is a senior in Trumbull College. He is a study abroad assistant for the International Education and Fellowships Program and spent his junior year at the University of Sydney in Australia.