A record number of students will study on Richard U. Light Fellowships in Asia this year at no cost, but unlike last year, the University was unable to increase its funding to accommodate greater demand.
This year, 149 Yale students won the awards for summer or school-year language study in East Asia, up from 139 last year. Funding compared to last year remained unchanged at $1.8 million. Last year, President Levin pledged to pay for all students deemed qualified by the fellowship selection committee, but this year, the University could not make the same promise. Still, Yale plans to make do with offering more awards for the increasingly popular summer study program rather than for term-time study.
“The money didn’t stretch quite that far,” Light Fellowship Director Kelly McLaughlin said.
In turn, a small number of students — fewer than 10 — were wait-listed for the fellowship, which had been common practice until last year, McLaughlin said.
Light Fellows receive funding for language study in China, Japan, Korea or Taiwan, although they must be admitted to a formal program in order to claim the award. The vast majority of Light Fellowship winners spend their time in either China or Taiwan.
There were significantly more applicants for the Light Fellowship this year compared to last, McLaughlin said, declining to cite the exact total. Because 20 percent of fellowship applicants were asking for 40 percent of the funds, McLaughlin said students applying for year-long programs — mostly seniors — were held to a particularly high standard.
In the past, he said, the office of fellowship programs had placed a cap on the number of seniors who could receive Light fellowships, he said.
This year, the Light Fellowship funded 83 students, while the remaining 66 received funding from the Maurice R. Greenberg Yale-China Initiative.
The total number of summer Light Fellowship winners increased 15 percent compared to last year, up to 122 from 106. A total of 22 students received Light Fellowships to spend at least a full year abroad compared to 25 last year. McLaughlin said this shift reflects the particularly high popularity of summer study among applicants this year.
The increased popularity of summer study through the Light program can be beneficial, given that it allows students to quickly absorb language skills that would otherwise require a full school year to acquire, said Genevieve Borgeson ’11, who spent last summer in Taiwan on a Light Fellowship. But it can be difficult to focus on work in the summer, she said, noting that it could be easier to concentrate on not speaking any English during a year-long program.
“Before the summer you go in with the mentality that you’re going to work, but at the same time, it’s the summer,” she said. “Sometimes you leave your language studies behind.”
Regardless, the Light Fellowship presents a tremendous opportunity that is difficult for any Yalie studying an East Asian language to ignore, said Sei Young Pyo ’11, who received a Light fellowship to study Chinese this summer.
“It seems like a waste to be studying Chinese at Yale and not take advantage of the Light,” she said.
The Light fellowship was founded in 1996 and has given awards to more than 700 students since its creation.