We, along with the 17 exchange students from NUS in Singapore and Tec de Monterrey in Mexico who comprise the Yale Visiting International Students Program (Y-VISP), read the Sept. 9 article in the News “Neither here nor there” with a mixture of disappointment and confusion. The gist of the article is that “the structure of non-academic life at Yale is explicitly hierarchical,” and as a result “the exchange students have in a sense arrived two years too late.” We contest both the theoretical premise that the Y-VISP program is “incompatible with a Yale lifestyle,” and the factual account that the Y-VISP students are “having difficulties making friends or finding the right extracurriculars.” These conclusions are remarkably clumsy renderings of a much richer reality.
The theory that Yale is inhospitable rests on the premise that Yale’s social scene revolves around “intense loyalty and commitment” to hierarchical extracurricular groups — ladders the Y-VISP students will be unable to climb in a year. Alas, the Y-VISP students will not be President of an undergraduate organization (the horror)! But allow us to put forward this heresy: perhaps there are other metrics of success at Yale besides “how far I have advanced up an organization’s totem pole.” Consider the academic growth the Y-VISP students glean from their classes or the relationships they form with their fellow Yalies. They will evaluate their year by reflecting on the happiness and personal fulfillment they found at Yale, and — believe it or not — this may not be wholly dependent on how deeply entrenched they are in a single extracurricular.
The Y-VISP students are not “just like typical Yale freshmen,” as the article states. They are not only juniors and seniors, but also the cream of the crop of their respective universities. One of them is a 28-year-old air force pilot who has served three tours in Iraq. The 11 Mexican students were selected from the 90,000-strong Tec de Monterrey student body. These are experienced adults, not babes in the wood. Many of them are taking graduate level courses, and all of them have had immense success getting into advanced seminars here at Yale, due to their impressive specialized coursework at Tec and NUS. Moreover, only a week into classes they are already involved in organizations ranging from the Yale Glee Club to Yale Road Running to Amnesty International. Needless to say, the Y-VISP students are not “having difficulties making friends or finding the right extracurriculars.” The article implied that a year at Yale is too short to be meaningful — on the contrary, precisely because they have only a year, they are determined to wring every last drop of opportunity out of Yale.
However, all of these questions of reporting aside, we are still left puzzled. The fact is that Yale is by no means so parochial; the students’ experiences and the truly warm and kind reception they have received in even these first two weeks testify to this fact. Their happiness to be here and the sense that they are already making friends is a far better rebuttal to the original article than we could ever write. So we must ask: whose interests are served by portraying Yale as a overly hierarchical and insular campus, that is neither equipped nor interested in welcoming a group of students different from themselves into their fold? We understand that journalists are inclined to look for a catchy title and controversial hook. We also recognize that it is not the News’ job to coddle the Y-VISP students by reporting that all that awaits them at Yale is peaches and cream. But why does this article cynically conclude that the University itself “does not seem to be cut out for this type of exchange,” and insinuate that this program’s first year will be unsuccessful?
We believe these questions are important because they are intimately connected to the campus’s attitude towards study abroad and, more broadly, to Yale students’ engagement in the world. The article correctly cites that less than two percent of undergraduates study abroad during the year, a statistic that pales in comparison to other Ivy League institutions. Could the overly tracked “Yale lifestyle,” one that encourages the sum of one’s undergraduate experience abroad to consist of a few weeks of Reach Out or a summer with a Bulldogs internship, be depriving our students of a broader education? It is telling that this article views the Y-VISP students’ interaction with the University community as purely unidirectional, and does not once mention what our students might learn from these 17, who have done what few Yalies would and chosen to spend a year abroad.
Perhaps this glaring oversight is not symptomatic of navel-gazing tendencies. We know that Yale students are not uncurious or unwilling to participate in the broader world outside of campus. But perhaps we could all use a gentle reminder that the Y-VISP program is not only a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the participating students, but an invaluable opportunity for Yale as well.
Vanessa Murphy is a senior in Saybrook College. Nick Rosenbaum is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. They are Y-VISP peer liaisons.