By Abby Weingarten
Global travel has been a non-option for many students during the pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped Novo Collegians from thinking outside the scholastic box.
With a little reconceptualizing, Ky Miller (a third-year student with an anthropology and environmental studies area of concentration), turned a recently foiled study abroad experience into a virtual one. She will be working remotely on an ethnographic research project about Costa Rica until she is able to physically travel there, hopefully in the wintertime.
“Ky deserves credit for a creative and innovative response to the situation, and finding a way to carry on,” said Duane Smith, Ph.D., assistant director of prestigious fellowships for New College’s Center for Career Engagement and Opportunity (CEO).
In mid-March, Miller submitted a Student Research Travel Grant (SRTG) proposal to spend the summer in Bocas del Toro, Panama, working with the Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation (ITEC). It was supposed to be a 12-week-long project, which would have involved studying the Ngäbe communities around the San San-Pond Sak reserve. But, before the SRTG committee met to review proposals in early April, Miller realized that summer travel was not going to be feasible. So she asked to submit a revised proposal.
“About a week later, Ky resubmitted a proposal that impressed all the committee members, not only with the substance and strength of the proposal, but with the rapidity with which it had been done and the creativity it showed,” Smith said.
In the revised version, Miller reimagined the ethnographic study and found a 12-week-long virtual internship to pursue through the Monteverde Institute in Monteverde, Costa Rica.
As with the first proposal, Miller still plans to explore the relationship between rural communities and conservation efforts. But she will further focus on the impact that a transition from a subsistence farming-based economy to an eco-tourism-based economy has had on the region. Miller plans to conduct stakeholder interviews through Zoom, and travel (advisories permitting) in December or January to complete the project.
“I will be working with medical anthropologist Dr. Allison Cantor. I am particularly interested in questions of power and resource distribution in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic vacuum it has created,” Miller said. “The virtual internship with Dr. Cantor is as close as I could get to in-person ethnographic research. I am still amazed at how perfect the timing was and that I managed to adapt my previous topic, establish a connection with Dr. Cantor, and revise and resubmit my SRTG application.”
Miller is looking forward to both the remote and in-person aspects of the opportunity.
“I think a virtual format for ethnographic work, and for research generally, presents a really unique challenge and cannot compare to in-person, boots-on-the-ground research and interactions with people,” Miller said. “But I would recommend that students pursue a virtual internship if it’s possible, simply for the fact that it’s still an extremely valuable opportunity to get experience in their field, develop interests and make connections.”
“A virtual course or internship provides a great opportunity to engage with one’s study and research interests (as well as with people in another country) when health concerns and travel restrictions prevent visiting and interacting in person,” Smith said. “While it can’t really provide the immersive experience one gets in another country—sights, sounds and smells—it can connect students with each other, allowing them to share their cultures, articulate mutual concerns, and build connections with people (which some might argue are the richest and most valuable aspects of an international experience).”
Some students may not be aware that virtual study abroad programs and summer internships are available. New College staff members are currently aiming to raise more awareness and interest.
“While these virtual opportunities do not provide the same multifaceted, immersive experience as spending time in a different country, they may serve as a valuable alternative for those students who are generally hesitant or unable to travel,” said Florence Zamsky, Ph.D., the assistant director of off-campus study/study abroad programs, and National Student Exchange and EcoLeague coordinator for New College. “An increase in access to cross-cultural interaction and the acquisition of global competencies to a more diverse student population may be one of the most positive outcomes of the current circumstances.”
Zamsky recommends that students visit the OCS/SA webpage for information on the available options this summer (some application deadlines are quickly approaching). Students interested in completing these courses or internships as a summer Independent Study Project (ISP) should consult with Zamsky and their adviser before beginning an application on the provider’s website. The deadline to submit the Summer ISP Description Form is May 8.
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.