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Letter From the Deputy Director

Photo: Sameer A. Khan/Fotobuddy

In retrospect, the banner headline for the fifth edition of Princeton International — “A Year Like No Other” — proved optimistic. Indeed, it would be easy to imagine that little has changed for international at Princeton during 2021. In fact, two significant developments are increasingly apparent. The first is that the innovation we celebrated in the adversity of 2020 was merely a foretaste of what would prove possible. Last year’s pivot was a remarkable achievement, but who could then have imagined we would now be reporting, for example, on a seminar that showcased an international collaboration to produce musical theater — entirely online? The second is that the human tragedy of the pandemic has served to reinforce the critical importance of the international engagement it did so much to disrupt.

Effective international engagement is ultimately predicated on dialogue. The COVID crisis has highlighted the need for that dialogue to be as accessible and equitable as possible. Though largely born out of necessity, increased digital communication has done much to advance that goal. Participants in a variety of virtual events — the queer politics webinars, online Global Seminars and the migration conference — all highlight the increased inclusivity of this format. As they point out, many of those involved in these conversations would not have been able to attend traditional in-person events. Immersive and experiential international activity must of course return as soon as it safe and appropriate for it to resume. Its loss has served to underline how critical this is to our collective mission. We are also, rightly, embracing the return to in-person instruction that lies at the heart of Princeton’s high touch educational philosophy. Yet the proven potential of virtual communication to open up new audiences for our research and teaching has highlighted exciting opportunities for the further development of our international work.

COVID-19 has also thrown into stark relief the collective human challenges of pandemic management, climate change and structural inequalities. It is no accident that these themes resonate so strongly through this issue and its predecessor. We used to wonder aloud where our students’ international journeys would take them. Now we see that for many the international experiences Princeton made possible inspired them to lives of international research and service, as exemplified by some of the alumni stories featured in this issue. As we progressively restore those experiences in person for the present generation, we will be ever-more conscious of their potential impact in an uncertain future.

What of that future? What might reimagining Princeton’s international mission involve? While it is impossible to predict specific outcomes, the enforced hiatus and disruption of many of our longstanding activities has at least served to clarify the approach required of us. As some of those activities begin once again to return, triumphalism would be both premature and inappropriate. Instead humility in the face of circumstances beyond our control, determination to contribute to international problem-solving and partnership across the globe are the order of the day. Never has this work felt more important.

 

David Jarvis

Deputy DirectorPrinceton Institute for International and Regional Studies