A Princeton education doesn’t all take place at Princeton

A Princeton education doesn’t all take place at Princeton. During the summer, 74 Princeton undergraduates traveled abroad as part of the Global Seminars program, immersing themselves in the language, culture, and history of one of five countries — each group with a different academic focus. It’s one component of Princeton’s recent push to produce what President Tilghman has called “globally competent citizens.” 

The Global Seminars program just celebrated its fifth birthday. It began in 2007 with one seminar in Vietnam; this summer, students traveled to Greece, Poland, Turkey, Brazil, and Japan. The students explored topics that were central to these places: ancient drama in Athens, for example, and Islam and empire in Istanbul. Six seminars are planned for 2013. Topics and ­locations change often, with seminars having been offered in 16 countries on four continents.

More than 350 students have participated, with about 70 percent receiving financial aid. Trap Yates ’14 traveled to Rome, Venice, and Krakow in 2011 for a seminar on the “global ghetto,” and recalls examining bullet holes in the walls of the World War II ghetto in Krakow and visiting Auschwitz, of which he says, “No textbook or photos can convey just what that place is.” 

Each global seminar is taught by a Princeton professor, with additional lectures by local scholars, along with visits to museums, events, and historical sites in several towns and cities. Students have daily instruction in the local language, spend time with local students, and ­participate in community-service projects such as tutoring children in Vietnam and working with the homeless in Rome. They also have free time to explore. By taking place in the summer, the global seminars address some students’ reluctance to leave Princeton for a semester of study abroad. 

“The students are learning how to live abroad and gaining deep knowledge about another society,” says Mark Beissinger, the director of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, which oversees the seminars.

In the following pages, PAW profiles two of this summer’s seminars: “Hope as the New Normal: Tokyo after the Disaster,” which looked at Japan one year after the tsunami, and “Polish Jews in the 20th Century: Before, During, and After the Holocaust,” which examined the difficult trajectory of Jewish life in Poland. Each offered Princeton students a ­life-changing exploration of resilience in the face of adversity.