I met her last school year on Spring Break. Lum, ES ’14, was one of 19 in the Yale Visiting International Students Program (Y-VISP), an honors program started three years ago that now has partnerships with the University of Hong Kong, Tecnológico de Monterrey, NUS, Waseda University, and Universidade Esadual de Campinars.
This year, 25 Y-VISP students are Yale juniors. To get here, they had to undergo an extensive application process. Through NUS, for example, students complete applications, receive nominations, submit test scores, and interview with both NUS and Yale. These students pay for airfare, NUS tuition, and part of Yale’s tuition and fees. They are not eligible for Yale scholarships or student fellowships. Some are rejected from extracurriculars because they can only commit two semesters to these student groups.
They came for what they think of as the quintessential American collegiate experience, to explore liberal arts. “In Hong Kong, you choose your major in high school,” said Rosa Yee Lee, SY ’15; all noted how refreshing it is to engage in discussion-based seminars with professors who work to know their students well. They’re integrated into residential colleges, and feel like “pieces that fit well into the Yale puzzle,” said exchange student David Alatorre Lopez, JE ‘15. “We’re kind of like freshmen-seniors,” said Montserrat Legorreta Luna, Calhoun ’15, a student from the Tec de Monterrey. Luna said that while everything feels new and exciting and daunting (dining hall farro! Penny shots! The Saybrook-Branford Room labyrinth!), they all share a sense of urgency to take advantage of their time here. “We only have two semesters to squeeze in all that we want to do,” said Lopez.
Y-VISP-ers don’t share that freshman enthusiasm about alcohol accessibility. Many are of legal drinking age in the US or were in their home countries, so guzzling Dubra at DKE is less than enticing compared to Mexico City clubs. YVISP students are also adjusting to Yale punctuality (“in Mexico, 8 p.m. really means 10 p.m.,”) a different sort of friendliness (“you don’t just say hi to random people on the street here,”) and “definitely, definitely the importance of a cappella.”
But YVISP students are bold. They’re selected, perhaps, because they’re “incredibly curious people,” according to one of their four Peer Liaisons, Stefan Palios, TC ’14. Lum, one of last year’s exchange students, lead our scrappy group in Tanzania’s Eastern Usambara Mountains to produce a documentary. She wrote poetry for Yale’s Undergraduate Journal of Comparative Literature and had an impressive photography exhibit with work from Iran, Tanzania, and New Haven in the Stiles gallery.
This year’s Y-VISP students are also excited about Yale’s “dynamic and artistic culture,” says Luna. While Lee (University of Hong Kong) spoke of Yale Faith and Action, Luna is checking out the Women’s Leadership Initiative and Lopez will try Ultimate Frisbee.
In Tanzania, Lum spoke to me about feminist artists, the fox tattoo she covets, and her favorite comics. Like all of us, her tastes are influenced by the communities in which she has lived. Yale is no exception. She says she was taken by the “sheer devotion Yalies have to what they do. An American style of bravado seeps into the school’s culture.” Having returned to NUS, Lum “tries to maintain a sense of continuity from [her] experience.” She continues to work on documentaries, noting, “My time at Yale made me braver, more decisive, and trustful of my instincts.”
Non-Y-VISP students can’t get in on their group texts or Yale-sponsored trip to Six Flags, but can get to know transfer students during their year on campus. They have weekly Wednesday dinners in Trumbull; lurk and you’ll meet students eager to learn about others, with much to share about themselves.