Study abroad and international travel came to a screeching halt in March of 2020. Fall 2021 is not looking much better for these life-changing student opportunities, as many schools have delayed traditional study abroad out of concern for student well-being and the inability to plan around an unpredictable pandemic. Even if planned programs rebound this spring, many students will still be unable to go. Some can’t afford it. Others will have ongoing concerns for their health. And many students juggle significant life responsibilities. These responsibilities can include parenting children, taking care of older loved ones, full-time jobs with limited leave, and medical conditions requiring regular interventions. Pandemic aside, a study abroad trip or major international adventure is not accessible to everyone. There is, and will continue to be, a need for virtual international exposure. In a recent joint statement from the Department of State and Department of Education, the Federal government renewed U.S. commitment to International Education. Included as a priority are actions to “promote expanded access to international education, including through the use of technology where in-person experiences are not feasible.” We need these.
I will be the first to admit a virtual international experience is not the same as planting your feet on the soil of a new country. Little can replace what you learn as you struggle to order food in a restaurant or hold up the grocery store line after failing to weigh your produce correctly. It’s hard to replace the feelings of triumph when you master a foreign public transportation system, figure out how to mail a letter at a post office, or get mistaken for a local by a tourist. These experiences do more than give us great stories to tell, they broaden our mind to the world. They expand capacity to collaborate with those different from us and they increase awareness of global concerns. However, while virtual international experiences are not a replacement for in-person ones, they are an excellent replacement for no international experience at all. Because of this, many college systems are investing in diverse virtual international programs (like these). I’ve decided to throw my hat into this ring; however, I am going to structure mine a bit differently.
After two months of coursework this fall, I am flying to Greenland to deliver a virtual field trip to my applied anthropology students. This project won't be executed alone. I am teaming up with some amazing project partners (more on Alice, Hans, and everyone else making this possible soon)! The goal is to feed students constant, diverse content (live-streamed interviews, videos, photography, blog posts, and more) to provide unique access to this Arctic country. Some of the things this content will expose them to include:
In addition to following along with the content, my students will be asked to answer surveys (“what aspects of life in the Arctic would be hardest for you?”) and journal regularly on critical questions (“Consider the pros and cons of increased tourism for Greenlandic communities?”). Likewise, they will use anthropology as well as knowledge from different career paths they are each pursuing to design their dream impact project.
I am excited to bring this experience to my applied anthropology course at SUNY Potsdam, but I don't want to stop there. I am using this open-access website to host the content so that others can join us. Please, if you are interested, participate in any posted questions, surveys, or project-building! Or just read, watch, and experience from the comfort of your home. I can't wait to explore this remarkable country and bring it home to you all.
If you plan to join the virtual field trip and would like to be notified when new posts are added, sign up using the contact form on this page.
I am an anthropology professor, writer, researcher and global traveler. This fall, I will be recording a research trip to Greenland as a virtual field trip for my students (and anyone else interested). Join us as we travel to the Arctic and learn about life in the far north.