International-education groups call for a moonshot on global learning. And hear from students who bucked the odds to study overseas during the pandemic.

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The Ones Who Went

As Covid-19 spread worldwide, Briana Maldonado, a junior at the University of Colorado at Boulder, figured that her longtime plan to study abroad was off the table.

But when she checked in with her adviser, she found that she could still apply to go abroad. “What do I have to lose?” she told herself as she filled out the paperwork. “The worst that could happen is that I couldn’t go.”

Instead, Briana is one of a dozen students in Florence this spring on a program run by CAPA, a private, nonprofit provider.

By and large, the pandemic has grounded education-abroad programs for the past year. Yet, a small number of students have managed to study overseas. I talked with three of them about what they’ve learned — and why they were so determined to go.

Catalina Barroso Delarosa, a senior at Temple University, had just arrived in South Korea last February when Covid cut her program short and she was told to return to America. This might be her only chance to get an international experience, so she crammed as much as she could into the day before her flight, visiting sites, going shopping, eating out at Korean restaurants.

But this semester, Temple decided to open its campuses in Rome and Toyko to study-abroad students. (You can read about how the university navigated Covid protocols in my article for the Chronicle, The Year Without Study Abroad.) Catalina, who had won scholarships for study in Asia, decided to go to Japan.

There were a few hiccups — when Japan abruptly imposed an entry ban, Catalina and her 35 classmates had to depart early before the border restrictions took effect.

Living in Tokyo, where case counts have been low, she has mostly been struck by how normal everything is. Classes are in person, and the subway, which she takes to her internship working as a teacher’s aide, is crowded. When we spoke, she was planning a weekend bus trip to Osaka.

“It’s kind of like how I always imagined it would be,” she said of her study-abroad experience.

In Italy, the pandemic picture has been more mixed. With case counts on the rise ahead of the Easter holiday, Briana’s classes temporarily moved online. She also had to quarantine for two weeks upon arriving in Florence, but she says dealing with the safety protocols was worth it: 

“If I’m going to have to stay inside, I might as well have a different view, a different country, a different culture outside my window.”

Florence usually teems with foreign students, and residents have embraced the few studying there now, Briana said. While she hasn’t been able to travel to Paris or Rome, as she had expected, she has been exploring the city. She has her favorite coffee shop and gelateria and has learned to cook Italian dishes.

After a year of online learning, “I feel like this is really what I needed,” she told me.

Tracy Ridley Jr., a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has spent not one but two semesters abroad during the pandemic: In the fall, he studied in South Korea, and this spring he is doing an exchange program in Germany.

Tracy, whose mother is German and who speaks the language, had been planning for more than a year to do the dual semesters abroad.

“I think going into the unknown can bring out parts of yourself that you didn’t know were there,” he said.

Coming back to the United States between his semesters away was, in some ways, the biggest culture shock of all, Tracy said. Seeing people without masks was “crazy.” His parents supported studying abroad because they felt he might be safer overseas.

In Germany, where there have been Covid-related restrictions, Tracy’s classes have been online, but he said the experience has still been valuable. His advice for other students going abroad in the wake of the pandemic: “Go in without expectations. You’ll find little things that bring you joy.”

After a pandemic time-out, what does the future mean for education abroad? Read more here. (Registration required.)

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“It’s About Getting Better”

A new white paper from the International Coalition for Global Education and Exchange lays out an aggressive set of goals, calling for doubling the number of students American colleges welcome from overseas as well as the number of underrepresented students they send abroad by 2025. 

After a year in which global mobility was pretty much at a standstill, it could be tempting to suggest half-measures, said John Lucas, president of ISEP, a study-abroad and exchange provider. Instead, the coalition — which includes colleges, study-abroad groups, exchange programs, and others — proposed a moonshot.

“If you don’t have a bold, ambitious plan, people are not going to get inspired to follow you,” Lucas said. “It’s not about just getting back. It’s about getting better and doing more.”

I spoke with Lucas and another of the white paper’s co-authors, Dawn Whitehead, vice president of the Office of Global Citizenship for Campus, Community, and Careers at the Association of American Colleges and Universities. It wasn’t just the pandemic that spurred them to act, Whitehead said, but the recent Black Lives Matter protests and the calls for racial justice. International education must also become more equitable and accessible to all students.

Whitehead said the group emphasized embedding global learning throughout the curriculum so that it would become “part of the fabric of the student experience.”

“One thing that I’m hopeful with this is that we will have a broader understanding that international education is essential,” she added, “and all of our students need it, not just those who opt in.”

There is a role for colleges to play in mainstreaming the global experience, the pair told me. But the U.S. government also needs to have a national strategy for inbound and outbound mobility, they said.

Among the coalition’s goals, by 2025, the U.S. should:

  • Double the number of international students and exchange visitors who study, work, intern, and train here; 
  • Double the number of high-need Americans who study abroad;
  • Double the number of U.S. students studying science and technology abroad; and
  • Increase resources and opportunities for students traditionally underrepresented in education abroad in order to double the number of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and first-generation college students and to increase the number of LGBTQ+ who go overseas.

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How International Are Academic Journals?

There’s a trend toward the internationalization of higher education, yet academic journals of higher education tends to be dominated by research and researchers from a handful of Anglophone countries, including the United States, Britain, and Australia, according to a new study.

The paper, published in the Journal of Informatics, found that even journals that espouse an international orientation may not necessarily be international their editorial boards, their authors, and the scope of published studies. The authors — from Australia, Japan, and the U.S. — also found that the most prestigious publications tended to be Anglophone, while the least prestigious are more geographically diverse in their orientation and contributors.

The researchers note a variety of effects of the less-than-international nature of some international journals. American publications, for instance, can lack geographic context in their writing, assuming that all readers will know what the author means by the “Midwest.” Perhaps more seriously, a lack of transparency about scope can lead researchers to submit papers to journals that may in reality have a different or narrower focus, effectively setting themselves up for rejection. That failure can be consequential for early-career academics who rely on having international publications for tenure and promotion.

Around the Globe

President Biden let a ban on visas for certain temporary workers, imposed by the Trump administration, expire.

Scientific journals have retracted at least 370 research papers since last January, part of a “systemic production of falsified research” linked to China, Nature reports.

Rutgers has updated its vaccine policy for international students, saying that students who can offer proof they have been fully inoculated abroad with a U.S.-approved vaccine will not need to be revaccinated.

A Georgia Tech professor has been charged with visa fraud for allegedly bringing researchers to the U.S. on exchange visas who then worked for a private company.

The U.S. Department of Labor has opened a request for information on the H1-B wage rule.

Moody’s calls continued uncertainty around international enrollments a “credit negative” for U.S. higher education, saying that it could have a multi-year financial impact on colleges.

Australia’s federal education minister said it could be 2022 before international students returned to that country in large numbers.

At Cornell, both faculty members and students have passed resolutions opposing a dual-degree program with a Chinese university.

Senator and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he welcomed Chinese students but not those who “were here to steal technology.”

Scholars are circulating a statement in solidarity with academics and research groups recently sanctioned by the Chinese government.

Turkey has detained at least 70 people related to university protests.

Does internationalization put academic freedom at risk?

Dozens of university presidents have committed to take action on United Nations sustainable development goals.

Bring back the Lincoln Commission, this commentator argues.

And finally…

Over the years, colleges have made — or were forced to make — a number of choices that left them financially reliant on having students physically on campus, an enormous vulnerability when Covid hit. Among them is the increased dependence on international-student tuition. I talked with Karen Weaver about this phenomenon and the pickle it put colleges in for her podcast. Take a listen.

‘Til next week —Karin

A freelance journalist and expert on global issues in higher ed, Karin has been writing for more than a decade about the changing relationship between American colleges and the world.