The Council of American Overseas Research Centers: Facilitating scholarly exchange across the globe
By Jeanne Marecek, PhD
Are you or your students interested in cultural psychology, global studies or international psychology? If so, the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC) may offer programs, educational resources, and funding opportunities for you. CAORC is a global network of academic centers that supports U.S. scholars and researchers. I‘ve worked with CAORC for over 15 years, and I now serve as the chair of CAORC‘s board of directors. Only a few U.S.-based psychologists have drawn upon the resources of CAORC and its member centers, and I hope that can change. This column gives a glimpse of what CAORC and its network of overseas centers can offer to researchers, and how these centers can enhance your work.
CAORC comprises 23 members, with centers in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Turkey, West Africa, Palestine and Yemen. Around 400 educational institutions, most of which are American colleges and universities, sustain the centers as institutional members. If you are part of a research university that offers courses of study or advanced degrees in such fields as anthropology, international studies, Middle East Studies, South Asia Studies, classical archeology or classical history, chances are good that your university is a supporting member of at least one — and possibly several — of these centers. This means that the programs, funding opportunities, library facilities, and logistical support provided by these centers are open to you. Many centers also offer memberships to individuals.
There is no single blueprint for the development of centers and their areas of focus. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) was established in 1881, while the American Institute for Indonesian Studies in Jakarta was formally inaugurated less than six months ago. The ASCSA, with its extensive library holdings in archeology and ancient history, is a sine qua non for archeologists and historians. The American Institute for Indian Studies houses extensive archives of recorded music and archeological materials; it also supports research on contemporary society, politics and popular culture, as well as linguistic and literary studies. The American Center for Mongolian Studies in Ulaanbaatar extends its reach to studies of nomadic culture and herding societies, environmental degradation and conservation. In short, the scholarly emphases of each center are particular to its host country.
These centers play a dynamic role in facilitating research by American scholars. Most centers house academic libraries. (For a comprehensive catalogue, see website.) Centers may also help to locate translators, researcher assistants and language instructors, in addition to providing practical help with housing, transportation, visas and research permits. For those new to a country, center staff can advise on matters of protocol, proper dress, decorum and personal safety. In politically turbulent areas, the center personnel will provide information on security to supplement the advisories issued by the U.S. Embassy. Staff at the centers may introduce visiting researchers to local scholars and help them gain entrée to archives, research libraries and research settings. Perhaps most important, the centers are spaces where scholars meet, forging transnational friendships and collaborations.
CAORC has played a role in shaping the objectives of international research and scholarly exchange and in securing funds to accomplish these objectives. CAORC and its member centers organize conferences, workshops, and public forums in host countries and the United States. Most centers offer research grants and graduate student fellowships, and some provide language instruction. CAORC itself offers a unique fellowship for multicountry research projects. For students interested in cultural psychology and for those who hope to engage in international collaborative research, language skills are crucial. The Critical Language Scholarship Program (clscholarship.org), which CAORC administers for the U.S. Department of State, offers beginning and advanced language training for students. Competitive summer programs offer in-country immersion experiences in such languages as Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Urdu and Turkish, among others. Few psychology students have taken part in the CLS program thus far; however, the program is an excellent way to develop linguistic and cultural skills.
At the ground level: Scholarly exchange in Sri Lanka
Let me close by telling you how CAORC and the American Institute for Lankan Studies (the center in Colombo, Sri Lanka) have benefitted me. Through this center I was drawn into a global network of scholars in psychology, as well as in a number of other disciplines. As part of this network, I was offered continual opportunities to learn about the history, culture, and social structure of Sri Lanka, as well about the global flows of labor, capital and ideologies that are transforming much of the Indian subcontinent. Although my research remains psychological in its focus, it is increasingly anchored in cultural and socioeconomic particularities of the region. The center in Sri Lanka has helped me to find venues for sharing my work with local academics, practitioners, policymakers and students. The center also has provided funds for several small conferences of local and U.S.-based scholars who share my interests in youth movements, gender relations, gender and development, and the dramatic — albeit uneven — transformations in family life brought about globalization. With the center‘s help, I‘ve been able to build an international community of scholars who share my twin passions for psychology and Sri Lanka and to play a part in bringing forward academic psychology in a country where it has been slow to develop.