New York Times journalist came to campus in October to discuss his work on global poverty and to advise students on how they can get involved. He explained that every student has the capacity to help, as every “drop in the bucket” provides an important contribution. But he also mentioned a huge downfall of university programs: the tendency to study the world without actually seeing anything beyond campus. Kristof’s “Go West, Young People! And East!” emphasized the importance of study abroad as the most effective way to broaden perspectives and understand other cultures, lamenting that “fewer than 10 percent of college students study overseas during undergraduate years.” Students study international poverty and history and politics and brainstorm international solutions, but they rarely apply these lessons outside of Princeton during their college years.
At a university with the informal motto, “Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity,” it is counterintuitive that only in the Class of 2016 studied or worked abroad for at least a month. To genuinely instill these values in students, the University should make study abroad a requirement.
The University has demonstrated its awareness of the importance of study abroad. , then-Provost Eisgruber and President Emerita Shirley Tilghman in response to rapid globalization. Their goal was to “develop a set of strategic priorities and … specific measures that will enable the University to fully realize [its] aspiration to be an American university with a broad international vision.” At that time only 38 percent of the graduating class had had at least one international experience, so the charge included efforts to remove “the barriers that inhibit our students and faculty from going abroad.” The committee outlined ways to make study abroad more accessible and encouraged within the unique research-focused undergraduate curriculum by emphasizing increasing funding and programs.
Now, the University has a variety of abroad options, from the Bridge Year Program to Global Seminars to the International Internship Program. But many students still go through Princeton without reaping the benefits of international immersion. The reason may have nothing to do with a lack of opportunities. Rather, the low rate of engagement with international experiences may be the result of students’ risk-averseness and unwillingness to stray from an orthodox education. In response to Kristof’s 2014 column, Aaron Schwartz ’17 explained the benefits of his Bridge Year experience in a , but commented that “American students struggle with the idea of separating from the educational fast track that parents and educators expect.” to Kristof’s column suggested, “We need to shift the paradigm so that study abroad is seen … as essential so that students go to college wondering not if they will go abroad but when.” By making study abroad a requirement, the University would integrate it as part of the undergraduate experience rather than just an (often intimidating) option.
Tilghman and current University President Eisgruber also acknowledged, in the report, the unique barriers on Princeton’s campus: “Princeton’s ethos nurtures and depends upon a rich and demanding form of community. We insist that our faculty be present on the campus and in the classroom, and our students often develop such strong loyalties to the institution that they are reluctant to spend time away from it.”
This sentiment continues in 2017 to be a great obstacle to studying abroad, especially during the academic year. Students feel a sense of academic FOMO (fear of missing out) — with so many opportunities and courses on campus, it can be hard to peel yourself away. Socially as well, students sometimes struggle to find a semester they would want to off campus. By requiring study abroad, the framework will be strengthened and the time away will be normalized. This will mitigate many concerns as the time off campus will be expected and experienced by all undergraduates, changing the perception from time missed to an opportunity experienced.
In my six-week Global Seminar experience in Cuba, I felt challenged in ways I never had during my first two years on campus. I was constantly placed in situations beyond my comfort zone: navigating the language barrier, understanding religious ceremonies, being perceived as a clear outsider for the first time in my life. But the fact that the course was a Princeton program provided a comfortable community to share all of these experiences. I learned while being mentored and was challenged alongside my peers. Having grown so significantly, both personally and academically, in only a half-semester, I cannot imagine my Princeton experience without this international component.
As a communal experience and integral part of the undergraduate curriculum, required study abroad would promote the global features necessary to develop students reflecting the University’s mission. The social and academic framework established and normalized could relieve many students’ anxieties and apprehensions. For academic concerns, robust programs designed to accommodate every student would ensure that adequate courses and credits seamlessly integrate the semester abroad into the student’s course of study. Socially, time away would be experienced by all our peers so would not feel as much like missing out. The University requires Writing Seminars as preparation to contribute to the academic discourse; it should place a similar emphasis on preparation to contribute to the global discourse.
Jessica Nyquist is a junior in computer science from Houston, Texas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.