For students who are studying East Asian languages at Yale, applying to the Richard U. Light Fellowship is becoming a rite of passage.

Established in 1996, the fellowship — which provides full funding for students to study Chinese, Japanese or Korean for a summer, semester or year in Asia — has become increasingly popular among students studying the three eligible languages. Since the 1996–’97 school year, the number of fellowships awarded to students has increased from 22 to 155. The growth in the number of Light Fellows over the past decade follows a language study trend in Yale College: While the number of students studying Chinese has increased by roughly one-third, the number of students studying European languages like French and German has been steadily decreasing.

“For the past five years, there’s been a consistently high level of student interest,” Light Fellowship Director Robert Clough said. “I think there’s a genuine curiosity about East Asia, and the fact that this fellowship can accelerate a student’s language level is part of what attracts a lot of students.”

Clough added that factors such as positive reviews from returning students and the fellowship’s high level of flexibility and financial coverage also appeal to students. The fellowship covers language study at one of several programs in South Korea, China and Japan, and fully funds all tuition and living expenses, including flights.

The fellowship received additional funding from various sources including the Greenberg Yale-China Initiative in 2006, and “around that time, the China numbers really exploded,” Clough said. Clough added that he hopes student interest in the fellowship will continue to grow in the future, so that it can further expand financially.

“We’d love to see the application numbers increase so we can talk to the funders and others interested in supporting this type of work,” he said. “Even now … there’s not enough funding to enable some students [to receive the fellowship]. There’s still kind of an unmet need.”

Clough declined to provide the number of students applying to the program because he did not want the admissions rate to discourage future applicants.

Korean professor Seungja Choi said the fellowship is “pretty well-known” among all students who take an East Asian language because of Yale’s academic fair, the fellowship’s online presence, classroom visits and instructor recommendations. Japanese professor Michiaki Murata said he thinks at least 60 students applied for the Japanese program this year.

Five students said they think the Chinese program is especially competitive in comparison with the other two languages, due to the growth of China as a world power and increasing interest in Chinese as a global language. Light Fellow John Maheswaran GRD ’16 said he thinks the University seems to be “struggling to get people interested” in Korean, the smallest program of the three.

Though student interest in the fellowship has risen, Marko Micic ’15, a Light Fellow, said he thinks the fellowship is “certainly less competitive than getting into Yale in the first place.” Students who have less exposure to Asian countries and are in their younger years of language study are definitely preferred, Micic said.

Four students interviewed said they think priority tends to go toward students with less experience in their language field.

“Most people who apply are probably at the L1-L2 level — they look for someone who will progress a lot, and who will get the most value out of the trip,” said Peter Wyckoff ’16, who recently applied to the fellowship.

Light Fellow Helen Fang ’15 said she thinks the fellowship is an especially coveted opportunity because it is open to students of all majors, whereas funding for language study abroad is only available for students in the corresponding majors at some other universities.

“I would definitely recommend it any time Yale throws money at you,” Light Fellow Ned Downie ’14 said. “You get enough money to cover tuition, airfare, vaccinations, food. … I know other students [who] said they had money left over.”

Students who applied to the Light Fellowship this month will be notified of their admission this February.


Hannah Schwarz contributed reporting.