First Thought

Insights drawn weekly from Karin Fischer’s global-education newsletter, latitude(s). Subscribe here.

I was talking with a group of study-abroad students when the peal of bells on the campus of Queen’s University Belfast temporarily drowned out our conversation.

As we paused while the bells chimed the hour, it occurred to me how familiar our conversation had been — talking about the ways in which exploring a new country had led to unexpected insights about themselves and their home — and yet how rare such interviews with students had become over the 18 months of the pandemic.

The students — Corinne Bobb-Semple of Pomona College, Nikita Joshi of the University of Missouri at Kansas City, and Cameron Lovings of Hampton University — were in Ireland and Northern Ireland for the summer as part of the Frederick Douglass Global Fellowship. The fellowship, named for the famous abolitionist, covers the full cost of a four-week study-abroad experience for diverse student leaders.

Education-abroad programs are only beginning to restart, and the students told me they hadn’t been sure that they would get to go overseas. Lovings was selected as part of the previous year’s fellowship class, which had its travel to Cape Town, South Africa, canceled because of the pandemic. Joshi had been anxious for the program to happen but said she didn’t believe it would until she was on the plane.

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“It seems that you don’t even need to have bad intentions. As long as you are connected with China, that is a bad intention.”

—Zhigang Suo, a professor at Harvard, on what he found as he dug into the documents charging his longtime friend Gang Chen, a professor of mechanical engineering at the MIT, for allegedly concealing his Chinese affiliations. Suo is an American citizen; he has lived in this country longer than he lived in China, and he never felt singled out or targeted because of his Chinese heritage, he said. Now, though, he feels vulnerable.

Karin Fischer writes about this and other impacts of the China Initiative in The Chronicle: “Has the Hunt for Chinese Spies Become a Witch Hunt?