Letter From the Associate Provost

It may seem mildly counter-intuitive — if not outright dissonant — to be releasing this fifth edition of Princeton International in a year that has compelled us to turn inward, homeward and seemingly away from the wider world.

However, as I contemplated the stories in these pages and reflected on the extraordinary changes wrought in the months since I became associate provost, I was struck by the remarkable ingenuity, resilience and grace with which the Princeton community has managed to maintain its commitment to international scholarship. This in the face of long odds and — for international students in particular — significant adversity. Indeed, in some respects, Princeton is a more global institution today than it has ever been in its storied history. 

The impact of the pandemic has been seismic and historic — curtailing mobility and international engagement, upending lives and economies, amplifying inequities and political polarization, and catalyzing a long overdue reckoning with systemic racism. Nevertheless, the Princeton campus now extends into bedrooms, basements and kitchens in a multitude of locations around the world as we bring our classrooms and laboratories to those who cannot come to us. Though unanticipated, the international now permeates the way we learn, research and serve.

Thanks to the innovation and gumption of our faculty, staff and students, Princeton has found a host of new ways to engage with the world. Researchers have redirected their energies to unravel the mysteries and reduce the threat of COVID-19 (p. 8); undergraduates can take advantage of language programs and virtual internships in over 45 countries (p. 22); and the University library is engaged in a massive digitization and access effort (p. 30). Transnational conversations and collaborations continue in virtual formats, and even some field-based research persists. For example, at the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya landscape-level experiments have continued to yield critical insights about conservation and climate change, even as planning proceeds for a groundbreaking online field experience in spring 2021.

Although many of these activities cannot compare to the in-person programs they have replaced, they have delivered two underappreciated and unexpected positives: we have been forced to jettison our discomfort with virtual engagement and we have discovered how virtual elements can complement physical experiences, delivering more opportunities for teaching and learning than is possible on a short overseas trip.

At the same time, we have rediscovered how crucial physical presence is for substantive international engagements such as fieldwork, study abroad, internships and scholarly collaborations. We see even more clearly how the value of international engagement is anchored in the serendipity that comes with “being there.”

And so, despite this year’s many challenges, Princeton’s commitment to internationalization remains stronger than ever. We are planning for growth, as you will read in the interview with our new Director of Global Safety and Security (p. 6). The new unit is a tangible down payment on the future, when Tigers will again be able to experience the world. We will not step backwards from the international Princeton we have become, nor the one we aspire to be.


Aly Kassam-Remtulla

Associate Provost for International Affairs and Operations