We’re interconnected. There’s really no way around it.

Even if we’ve never set foot outside of the United States, our lives are impacted by things happening all over the globe every single day. For a long time we didn’t realize it.

And then there was COVID-19.

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The pandemic taught us that all it takes is one person on one international flight and within weeks an unknown virus can literally circle the globe and wreak havoc and devastation.

That interconnectedness can be really hard and bring about unimaginably difficult obstacles. As humans we have a tendency to want to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction. If interconnectedness brought us a pandemic then it’s a natural self-perseveration move to run from it. We shy away from the things we think will hurt us.

Interconnectedness brings us challenges but it also brings us amazing opportunities. Think about the global collaboration it took to produce an effective vaccine in a year or the outpouring of international support to get aid to India, a country that is experiencing a catastrophic wave of COVID-19 deaths.

Thanks to the internet, it’s impossible to put the genie of global connection back in the bottle. And while there are serious consequences — both good and bad — to global economies and trade, I’m thinking there is some serious good that can come from the simple idea of human connection.

Take for instance the idea of international travel. I think everyone should go to another country, preferably one with significant cultural differences from their own, at least once in their lifetime. It’s an excellent way to gain perspective and to learn. I realize how privileged I have been in my life to be able to travel and I am incredibly grateful for people in my community who helped me to do that.

But sometimes travel isn’t possible. Even if one wants to go, sometimes the financial burden is just too much to bear or there are a million obstacles that make it impossible to leave home and immerse oneself in another culture for a while. There are tons of good reasons that make this idea a non-starter for many people.

That’s where this interconnectedness we have comes into play.

A story came out of Nigeria recently about virtual book clubs that were bringing readers from all over the world together to discuss life through literature. At first it started as a way for international students studying in the West to connect back with people from home. Once the pandemic hit, it seemed like a good way for friends to keep in touch with one another because it was an easy transition to a virtual setting.

But the movement caught fire. People from all over the world began joining these reading clubs with total strangers from all over the world. What people started to realize was that a small community of people reading the same book at the same time and offering their perspectives to one another was not just a way to stave off loneliness but it was a way to better understand global events, to better empathize with different people, and to learn just a little bit more about the things that connect us as humans.

It’s brilliant.

I’m not suggesting that everyone rush to join an international virtual book club. It’s a pretty specific interest. But what I am saying is that while we are all really tired of the virtual life, these resources like Zoom and Google Meet and other types of web-based communication platforms may just open us up to opportunities we’ve never considered before.

I know we’re all ready to throw off the chains of most things involving long hours at a computer screen. We’ve had enough of talking with people in little boxes.

But after we’ve reentered the normal social thread of face-to-face living again and the glorious feeling of being together begins to fade some, as it inevitably will, I’m hopeful that we will be open to these new opportunities that will be available to us moving forward.

Virtual connection may have more to teach us than we think.

Cortney Stewart is a 2003 graduate of Lecanto High School. She has bachelor’s degrees in political science and international affairs, a master’s degree in intercultural studies and is currently working on her Ph.D. in international conflict management. She most recently spent two years teaching and training students, teachers and government officials in Baghdad, Iraq. Email her at seeingbeyondccc@gmail.com.

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