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Overheard Off Campus

“Until now, Princeton has defined a ‘significant international experience’ as one conducted abroad for a minimum of four weeks. The more immersive and extensive the direct engagement with another culture, the better. This was a truism for those of us engaged in promoting international education, and shaped our pitch to perspective students. Given the dislocation caused by COVID-19, however, what now constitutes a ‘significant’ international experience? We need to recalibrate our thinking. This is not about fatalism or the abandonment of long-held beliefs. Rather it is about open-mindedness, creativity and experimentation. In offering virtual or hybrid platforms, we will deliver new experiences and, crucially, sustain student interest in international activity. We may risk ‘over-achieving’ — generating remote programs so attractive that when circumstances change, there is greater student demand for them than ‘the real thing’ in situ. Such concerns should not deter us: for every student content to confine their international activity online, there will be more who treat the latter as a gateway to a more immersive experience. ‘International’ at Princeton will need to be defined anew, but its potential will be kept alive in the minds of our most important audience.”

– David Jarvis, deputy director, Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS)

“The pandemic has prompted serious reflections on the sorts of collaboration we want to create. We’ve become more intentional — and more self-questioning. In many ways, the online context makes it much easier to collaborate, and less expensive than pre-COVID conferences, workshops, or visiting lectures. How inclusive can we make these collaborations? How far can they reach, into which parts of the globe? Across which languages, bandwidths and time-zones? And how can conferences and research projects better engage, support and connect rising generations of scholars, writers, teachers? How responsive can our efforts be to a world that’s been transformed — not just by the pandemic but also by movements for social justice (worldwide protests against racism, economic inequality, environmental degradation)? How might we more clearly understand the different geo-political contexts in which globally-linked but locally experienced problems and initiatives occur? How might we hear local voices and connect more regularly with colleagues in different parts of the world? What role might the humanities play in such cross-border connections and research? In these and other ways, the pandemic has prompted a greater sense of solidarity and an expanded sense of global purpose.”

Sandra Bermann, the Cotsen Professor in the Humanities, a professor of comparative literature and acting director of the Fung Global Fellows Program.

“Professors and students alike have risen to the challenges of a virtual semester, demonstrating creativity and flexibility as we quickly adjusted to a new way of learning and living. Our field trip to Hungary went ahead — albeit with interviews conducted from our childhood bedrooms over Zoom, rather than over delicious Hungarian meals — and we were fortunate to be joined by politicians, journalists and NGO representatives to learn more about how coronavirus was impacting the country in real time. With so many people being forced to go virtual and lock down at home, one unexpected benefit of virtual classes has been the willingness of people to come as guest lecturers for our courses; no longer having to travel to Princeton to talk to students, I’ve been lucky enough to speak to leading journalists from The Atlantic, The Washington Post and The New York Times in my classes. And, with the opening of many digital archives and e-library collections to the wider scholarly community throughout the pandemic, new avenues have opened up for research as I look towards my senior thesis, after my original idea became impossible due to travel restrictions.”

– Jack Allen ’21, a senior in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, and pursuing certificates in Russian and Eurasian studies, East Asian studies and journalism.