Perspective on: Internationalism at Princeton

Internationalism index

Diana Davies, vice provost for international initiatives, joined the University in 2008 to help carry out the goals in the report "Princeton in the World," which mapped out an international vision for the University. One of the report's goals was to enhance international experiences for undergraduate and graduate students. Davies is overseeing efforts to increase ways for students to travel abroad, whether through study abroad programs, international internships or the University's Bridge Year Program. She also works to promote intercultural opportunities for students, faculty and staff across campus.

Photo by Brian Wilson

Name: Diana Davies

Title: Vice provost for international initiatives

Administrative focus: Davies joined Princeton in 2008 to help carry out the goals outlined in the 2007 report "Princeton in the World" that maps out an international vision for the University. She works with academic leaders and senior administrators to implement policies and programs that support international opportunities for Princeton students, faculty and staff. She serves as secretary to the Council for International Teaching and Research, the faculty governance board that provides leadership and advocacy for international endeavors, and she also works to forge new links between Princeton and universities abroad. Davies has a doctoral degree in comparative literature and studies Russian, Spanish and Czech.

One of the key goals outlined in the "Princeton in the World" report was to enhance international experiences for undergraduates. Why does the University feel going abroad should be an integral part of students' time at Princeton?

The reasons are both practical and idealistic. First, we live in a global economy and being able to communicate with people from other cultures will help students in anything they do. Even if they never leave the United States, knowing another language and being familiar with other cultures are important skills that can help students after they graduate. We know employers are foremost looking for candidates with expertise in their particular field, but if that candidate also speaks another language and understands the cultural nuances necessary for working with clients or colleagues in another part of the world, he or she is in an even better position.

Internationalism Sicily

Rachel Poser, a member of the class of 2011, photographed ruins in the ancient city of Selinus during a class trip to Sicily for the course "Island of Cultures: Sicily from the Greeks to the Normans." (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Marriott)

Second, Princeton is producing graduates who are likely to become leaders in their field, so we are in some ways obligated to make sure our students are open-minded and can appreciate alternative perspectives and other cultures. The best thing we can do for a lot of our students is to push their boundaries and comfort zones. One way to do this is to have them go somewhere where they may not yet speak the language very well or even where they just need to remember to look the right way when crossing the street. The horizons that open during an international experience can be quite amazing, and it is virtually impossible to replicate that in another environment.

About 47 percent of undergraduate students have an international experience, and we want to get that number up to 100 percent. Although many of our graduate students also study and conduct research abroad, we'd like to increase their opportunities to spend significant periods of time studying and researching at partner institutions overseas.

How is the University working to enhance international opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, and increase the number of students who are able to travel abroad in various ways?

A lot of our focus has been on getting rid of the barriers to international experiences, while at the same time creating more opportunities.

One institutional effort is to change students' mindset that they cannot go abroad. When I speak with alumni, some say they were not encouraged to study abroad while they were students. Some felt they could not manage time abroad with their academic commitments and independent work, while others did not want to miss the great educational experiences at Princeton if they left for a semester. We are working to overcome these assumptions and show students there are many ways to have an international experience that complements, not competes with, their life on campus.

The Office of International Programs has developed programs targeted to students in specific majors that traditionally have lower levels of participation. We now have an exchange program with Università Bocconi in Milan for economics students and a program at the École Centrale Paris that was developed with the School of Engineering and Applied Science, to name a couple. The Graduate School also supports a number of exchange programs for graduate students in a wide variety of fields, such as programs at the University of Oxford, the Freie Universitaet Berlin and other top-notch European institutions.

We also are working to overcome practical impediments to students being able to have some kind of international experience.

Internationalism Machu Picchu

Mark Limperis, a 2010 graduate, visited Machu Picchu while studying abroad in Buenos Aires through the Argentine Universities Program. The program in Argentina is one of the many semester- or academic year-long study abroad opportunities available to students through the Office of International Programs. The University also offers a variety of international programs over the summer. (Photo courtesy of the Office of International Programs)

We are in the process of creating a central funding portal for undergraduates, which we hope to roll out next academic year. Students will be able to use the online database to see all of the offices and programs with funding available for their particular international endeavor, whether that be credit-bearing study abroad, research opportunities, an international internship or an international service program. The portal also will allow the various offices to work together to help fund a student's trip. This way, offices will be able to better coordinate resources so more students have an opportunity to go abroad.

Another practical step has been the enhancement of the University's travel registration database. Undergraduate and graduate students can enter their information and itineraries before traveling abroad so we know where they are and can help ensure their safety. Faculty and staff also are encouraged to use the database. We've been able to use this to great effect in a number of cases when there was a natural disaster or other emergency in another country. For example, we were able to use this recently to locate all of our undergraduates studying in Egypt when political unrest broke out unexpectedly in the country. This was critical to our efforts to get them assistance and make arrangements for them to leave the country as quickly as possible.

When universities talk about undergraduates gaining international experiences, many people think of studying abroad. How is the University promoting international opportunities outside of the traditional junior semester abroad?

Well, of course, there is the Bridge Year Program launched by the University in 2009 for incoming freshmen. Bridge Year allows a group of students to delay the start of their freshman year to participate in service projects at one of four international locations.

Internationalism St. Petersburg

Students explore St. Petersburg, Russia, during the Global Seminar "The Future Is Now: Revolution and Utopia in Early Soviet Culture." The seminars are organized by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies and are led by Princeton faculty. Students are able to spend six weeks during the summer in a country at the heart of the courses' subject matter. (Photo courtesy of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies)

We also are concentrating on summer and other short-term opportunities, whether they are credit-bearing study abroad programs, international internships or senior thesis research trips. Last year, 209 students studied abroad during the academic year, while 375 studied abroad during the summer. Nearly 200 had international summer internships administered by the Office of International Programs and hundreds more conducted research abroad for their senior thesis or went abroad for other short-term opportunities. Because there are many students who do not want to leave during the academic year, a summer abroad is a value added to their Princeton experience.

One great example is the Global Seminars program organized by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies. The program allows freshmen, sophomores and juniors to spend six weeks during the summer in a country at the heart of the seminars' subject matter. For example, one of this summer's groups is traveling to Galway for a course on performance and theater in contemporary Ireland. The classes are led by Princeton faculty and instructors from the host university, so students get outside of the "orange bubble" while still maintaining that Princeton connection.

We also are looking at ways to encourage students to go abroad earlier in their academic careers. Most students do not declare their majors until the end of sophomore year, so having an international experience before then may be a wonderful way to open their eyes to different perspectives before they focus on curriculum requirements.

Internationalism Ghana chess

The University's Bridge Year Program allows a group of students to delay the start of their freshman year to participate in service projects at one of four international locations. Ryan Fauber (far left), who is currently participating in a Bridge Year in Ghana, enjoys some free time with local residents while in Accra. (Photo courtesy of the Bridge Year Program)

Speaking of the Bridge Year Program, now that the first 20 students have begun their freshman year, how do you see their experiences affecting student life on campus?

Whenever I travel abroad, one thing I often hear is that Princeton should be proud of the way we approach international service, and the Bridge Year Program is the perfect illustration of that. I see the program as a jumping-off point for a number of international and service opportunities a student could have while at Princeton.

You could imagine a future in which students go on a Bridge Year, do an international internship the summer of their freshman year, study abroad for a semester their junior year, write a senior thesis using another language and then participate in an affiliated program like Princeton in Africa after they graduate. We would be saying to the world, "We are not just a globally networked institution; we are a university that is interested in graduating students who are international service-oriented leaders."

To promote this continuum of experience, we will have to look more closely at how to empower Bridge Year students once they are on campus. For instance, what do we do with Bridge Year students who were in Ghana and may now speak Twi? We will have to be creative about the ways we help students sharpen the intercultural and linguistic skills they gained while away.

We also want to connect Bridge Year students with other students on campus who took their own gap year to keep the Bridge Year students' spark for international service alive. These students also can serve as ambassadors, sharing their experiences and encouraging peers to think about going abroad.

Another aspect of the University's global efforts is promoting a diverse campus community that supports international and intercultural perspectives. In your experience, what have been the most fruitful ways to create this type of community?

There are a lot of different ways, and the University's Council for International Teaching and Research has been actively involved in these efforts.

One step has been encouraging faculty to develop more international connections for their students. We have a wonderful resource in our faculty, both professors from other countries and professors who engage in research partnerships across the world. How do we get them to bring their international experiences and research into the classroom? One way is through the use of technology, as many of our classrooms have Web and video capabilities that allow students to work in real time with students or professors across the globe. Instead of assigning a class project, why not assign students to work with a team in France?

The council also has been promoting intercultural exposures on campus through the creation of the Global Scholars Program, which brings academics from outside the United States into multiyear teaching appointments in all disciplines. A requirement is that visitors must interact with students, whether it is teaching a course or giving public lectures. One example is Professor Ge Zhaoguang from Fudan University in China, who is a great resource for faculty and graduate students in the East Asian studies department. He also is a real connection builder, and partly as a result of his stay here, we now have a three-way partnership between Fudan University, the University of Tokyo and Princeton.

The council also oversees the new Global Collaborative Networks Fund, which supports the development of international scholarly networks that engage Princeton with centers of learning worldwide. The program has been a particular benefit for graduate students by providing international research opportunities. The mathematics department, for instance, was awarded a grant to facilitate an exchange of graduate students at institutions including the University of Cambridge, the Independent University of Moscow and the Hausdorff Center for Mathematics in Bonn, Germany.

Outside of the classroom, the Davis International Center serves as a key link for international students and scholars following last year's restructuring of the University's international services. What are some of the center's new or expanded programs that the campus may not yet be aware of?

Internationalism St.

Veronica Pillar, a 2010 graduate, captured this photo of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Russia during a 2007 international summer program. (Photo courtesy of Veronica Pillar)

An exciting endeavor is the new International Programs Advisory Board, which includes representative international undergraduate and graduate students who help develop Davis Center programming. We want to be sure we are offering activities and events that are not just what administrators think are interesting, but are actually things students want. It is great to see some of the new ideas being discussed by the board, and to have students feel that they have ownership of the center's programming efforts.

The Davis Center also is trying to do more for the hundreds of international visiting scholars, as well as the families that often accompany them to the United States. We want the center to be a resource for these visitors, whether they have a question about a visa issue or are looking to make connections with other international communities on campus.

Along these same lines, we also are stepping up efforts to help international students navigate U.S. culture through various programs and activities. Close to 40 percent of graduate students are citizens of foreign countries, and international students make up 11 percent of the undergraduate population. By making the transition for these students easier, we hope they will feel more comfortable engaging with the campus community. These efforts also will benefit U.S. students because international students will feel more empowered to reach out and make connections with different groups across campus.