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The coronavirus pandemic is at least temporarily putting the brakes on some college travel activities — things such as international studies and internships, faculty travel and even faith-based mission trips abroad.
Maybe it's just a short pause. Maybe, once the virus wanes, things will quickly snap back to normal.
Everyone has their fingers crossed.
In the meantime, nobody questions the need for public health precautions.
Nevertheless, the interruptions spotlight how much the movement of faculty and students abroad has become woven into the fabric of modern higher education.
By one estimate, more than 15 percent of college students in the United States now earning undergraduate degrees will spend at least some time studying abroad.
Last week, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga canceled "all outgoing international travel" because of the coronavirus. "This includes travel related to teaching, research or grant activity, internships, conferences and presentations, performances and athletics," the university said in a news release.
Meanwhile, in Dayton, Tennessee, officials at Bryan College have postponed international mission trips which had been scheduled for spring break (but not domestic mission work). Too, the school is said to be keeping an eye on conditions around the world where students are scheduled to serve internships abroad this summer.
Michael Palmer, associate professor of communications studies at Bryan College and a native of South Africa, brings an interesting perspective to the situation at hand. Disruption in student travel — while unquestionably warranted for public safety — will nonetheless be disappointing to those who crave those experiences, he says.
Palmer was born in South Africa and later became a U.S. citizen. He went to college here, and is now involved in an academic exchange program in the Czech Republic. For the last seven years, Palmer has spent some time each year teaching classes at Placky University, a 24,000-student campus in Olomouc. Before that, he served as a visiting lecturer in a former study-abroad program based in Italy.
Last semester, students from Placky University came here and, among other things, they learned about the American space program in Huntsville, Alabama, and immersed themselves in the country music culture of Nashville.
Palmer says student exchange programs have become an important part of Bryan's culture. A group of students is hoping to go to the Czech Republic in the summer of 2021, he said.
"The travel meets the school's mission statement for making a difference in the world for Christ," he said this week. "It has educational merit. When you travel, you grow up more, you learn more."
From personal experience, Palmer knows that having people from other countries around makes for a richer campus experience. For example, besides teaching, Palmer has been involved in Bryan's soccer and rugby teams, partly because of his boyhood pursuits as the son of a South African miner.
As a communications professor, he also knows it's important for people of different cultures to come together to share life experiences. For example, part of Palmer's personal narrative is the loss of two close relatives in the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing in 1995.
"There is a need for effective communal communications," he said, noting that people of different cultures should share the stories that shape them as people.
Travel, he says, is more than visiting tourist attractions and snapping pictures. It's an important part of the human experience.
"The root word to education is a Latin word that means to 'lead out.'" Palmer said. "Travel does that. You get led out. Your mind, your heart, your sensibilities [about culture] get enhanced."
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645.