International Internship and Community Engagement during the Pandemic
Opportunities and Challenges
The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered many changes in global communication, raising barriers as well as opportunities for interactivity. While physical travel came to a near halt at the beginning of the pandemic, this has mandated new forms of forging connections. Through the expanding capabilities of video conferencing, the pandemic has catalyzed academic institutional collaboration, not solely among domestic institutions but international universities as well. This presentation will discuss the challenges and opportunities of conducting a cross-cultural internship, collaboration, and community engagement, despite the absence of direct physical interactions. Between January 2021 and May 2021, the authors designed and implemented a cross-cultural online internship program along the lines of sustainable development with team members from the University of Bengkulu’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Center, the agrarian community Bandung Jaya, and an American collegiate institution, Warren Wilson College. Together, these individuals built a website advertising the school of SDGs in Bandung Jaya, highlighting the community’s grassroots, women-led organizing around sustainable agriculture and waste management, initiatives taught to outside visitors. Not only did the participants accomplish their immediate goal of expanding an agrarian community’s online presence, but they also laid the groundwork for an international network of student and faculty collaboration. With faculty and students from both the University of Bengkulu and Warren Wilson College, the internship allowed for team members to work towards a uniting goal of sustainable development, as well as an opportunity to learn about one another’s institutional experiences. The participants set aside time in their weekly meetings to provide an overview of their institution and the general model of higher education in their countries. While halfway across the world from one another, the researchers found common ground in their respective institutions’ community engagement emphasis. The online internship program allowed for the collaborators to work alongside a rural community in their efforts to model their sustainability practices, all without leaving one’s own home. The partnering agrarian community was able to communicate their goals in the website design regularly, allowing their input to be a directing force in the process and helping to sustain transnational relationships within a postcolonial critical service-learning framework. The participants enhanced the reach of their community engagement network, paving the way for increased global interconnectedness in years to come.