As much as Yale may work hard to be thoughtful in its relationship with New Haven, sometimes we cannot help but feel that the University is trying to persuade its undergrads to escape from the brick and mortar of our Connecticut campus. The new distributional requirements for the classes of 2009 and 2010 emphasized the importance of studying a second language, and Undergraduate Career Services has the zeal of an evangelist in its enthusiasm for finding new places to send Bulldogs for the summer. Uganda, Belgium, Singapore, India — there’s a reason last year’s “Bulldogs in Baghdad” prank was so entertaining.
But, as the News reported Monday, Yale recently cut back spots available through the Light Fellowship, a popular program that funds summer or term-time study in East Asia. Administrators estimated that 90 fellowships will be awarded this year, down from 118 last year.
It is, of course, disappointing that fewer students will be able to travel and study Chinese, Korean or Japanese this summer. However, the high level of demand for Light Fellowships reveals a much deeper frustration: The Light Fellowship is one of the only programs of its kind to fund international language study, not just international internships. The availability of Light funds, part of President Levin’s heavy emphasis on Yale’s Chinese connection, is credited with increasing dramatically the number of students majoring in East Asian studies — a boon that other area studies programs do not have access to.
Although internships and research abroad are invaluable experiences, language acquisition of the sort funded by Light is a necessary foundation for future professional and academic growth, as students go on to obtain jobs abroad or do advanced primary source research. Bulldog programs that require existing language aptitude are poor tools for encouraging American homebodies to go abroad. Even on programs that do not have such requirements, Yale students live together, discouraging the language immersion necessary to achieve advanced proficiency.
The Light Fellowship also serves as an excellent model insofar as it fully funds the summer or term’s study. The International Summer Awards are an undeniable improvement for students on financial aid, but they do not cover all a program’s affiliated costs and are available only for internships or the limited language study options offered by Yale’s Summer Session.
The clamoring for spots in the Light Fellowship should show Yale that students can be encouraged to study foreign languages — the key to truly and meaningfully understanding a foreign culture — if funds are available. As Yale continues upon its Yale Tomorrow capital campaign, the News would encourage our administration to remember that there are a plethora of important languages and culture outside of East Asia. The Light Fellowship is a fantastic opportunity, and we just wish there were comparable opportunities for students of Russian, Arabic, or any of the other Eastern European, South Asian or Middle Eastern languages that too few Yalies, and Americans, speak. Bulldogs in Baghdad might be a bit harebrained, but we hear Cairo and Moscow are quite lovely.