The suspension of research and study abroad is hampering cross-cultural exchanges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Office of International Programs’ October announcement that study and research programs abroad remain suspended during the spring semester surprised few people. In the middle of a global pandemic, restrictions on international student travel are a small price to pay in the fight against COVID-19. However, as vaccination efforts are lagging behind and it’s still unclear when international travel will normalize, the troubling impacts of the pandemic on research and study abroad need to be discussed. The loss of research and study abroad as a tool to generate intercultural understanding is of particular concern in our remote world.
Prior to the pandemic, opinion columnist Hannah Reynolds ’22 had extensive research projects in the United States and abroad. The High Meadows Environmental Institute Granted her funding to travel to Alaska in the summer of 2020, Latin America during the winter vacation 2020, and Australia in the summer of 2021 to undertake research for a study she had designed. The study planned to cover the intersection of indigenous language, culture and land use, as well as environmental changes. COVID-19 has changed its plans; she narrowed the scope of her research to focus on Alaska and worked there virtually over the summer. Reynolds is happy with the redesign of her project, but she also noted that the kind of cross-cultural comparison she originally planned to undertake would be virtually impossible to do.
Emma Moriarty ’22 also had strong study and travel abroad aspirations before the pandemic. She was planning to study in Argentina through Princeton in Argentina, participating in a dig in Peru with a professor, and studying abroad this spring in South Africa as part of an SPIA program. Unlike Reynolds, Moriarty was unable to capture virtually any of these opportunities – all three programs were simply canceled. Neither Moriarty nor Reynolds know if or when they will be able to pursue research or study abroad again.
While disappointing for Reynolds, Moriarty, and countless other Princeton students, the cancellation of overseas programs also has broader implications rooted in the international community’s response to the pandemic. Namely, research and study abroad programs have (rightly) been put on hold at a time when the world is benefiting from their ability to strengthen the flexible links between countries and cultures.
The COVID-19 pandemic has offered an opportunity for global cooperation on an extraordinary scale. However, in many cases it deepened the divisions between countries rather than fostering international unity. Rich countries used their influence and financial resources to buy a disproportionate quantity of vaccine doses, leaving their less affluent counterparts with reduced access. Governments have used the virus as a justification for turn back asylum seekers. Racism and xenophobia against Asians have sharp worldwide.
In this larger context of what the Washington Post called “a new era of global distancingÂ», International dialogue and intercultural understanding are more crucial than ever. The importance international research both as a tool to generate intercultural understanding and as a catalyst leading to important discoveries cannot be underestimated. While some summer or semester study abroad programs are rightly criticized for being little more than glorified vacation, many study abroad programs promote intercultural dialogue and may even promote peace. Unfortunately, as seasoned undergraduates and academics, Wrestle In international research and study abroad programs remain canceled, these avenues of combating global distancing are restricted.
On a personal level, the impact of the pandemic on global educational opportunities has forced reflection. After graduating from high school in 2019, I was scheduled to spend the 2019-2020 academic year studying Mandarin in Beijing, China as part of the National Security Language Initiative for Youth. Just like the Princeton students who were forced to leave campus at any time last March, I had to evacuate Beijing at the end of January 2020. As passionate as I am about Mandarin, it has sometimes been difficult to maintain the standard of devotion. and the motivation to learn the language in a context of global distancing. I suspect that many other students who are learning foreign languages ââor planning to pursue research, study or even a career abroad have faced a similar feeling. The best way to overcome this challenge, I have found, is to remember that as a governments clash, individuals must carry the torch and continue to communicate and cooperate across linguistic and cultural boundaries.
Finally, any article on the impact of the pandemic on international research and study abroad would be negligent without mentioning Princeton’s international students. Even as the university campus wakes up, some Princetonians still reside outside of the United States. They will continue to tackle the challenges described by Won-Jae Chang and Rohit Narayanan in their eye-opening articles on the lives of international students during the fall semester. Their stories illustrate the difficulties of sustaining the momentum of international education in our globally remote world. Their accounts also underscore the tendency of U.S. residents to overlook the importance of international students, both to our academic communities and to the world.
Ultimately, it is our responsibility as Princetonians to address international issues and strive for intercultural understanding even if study and research abroad is suspended. We, as a community, can bridge the global distance.
Genrietta Churbanova is a freshman from Little Rock, Ark. She can be contacted at [email protected]