Digital Nomads

An Opte Project visualization of routing paths through a portion of the Internet. ( via Wikimedia Commons.

One thing that I have noticed teaching entirely online is that some of my students are digital nomads, which are sometimes also called digital wanderers. These are people who live their lives and careers in multiple countries, typically while self-employed. I believe that two different phenomenon served to drive this trend. First, the financial crisis of 2008 was followed by a boom that left out many younger workers, who faced student debts, jobs with poor wages and pensions, as well as rising real estate costs. At the same time, improvements in software and digital connectivity made it increasingly easy to work from outside the country. People realized that they could live well in Thailand, and make their living online doing everything from building websites to data entry in health care. As my department has created an online track, there are always a few of these students in my classes, and they bring an interesting perspective when they discuss global issues. These people build their entire lives outside of a particular place or nation.

It’s not always easy to be a Digital Nomad. One needs to deal with visas, health care, local regulations, taxes and broadband access. For that reason, one great resource is Nomad List, which is a website that allows people to search for the best city in the world for them to work. One can search cities using headings such as clean air, near a beach, nightlife, female safe, and fast internet. Of course when you do a search for cities and city icons come up, they always prominently display the typical broadband speed. Once you click on the city’s icon, a plethora of rankings appear. Right now, it looks like it’s hard to beat Budapest, Hungary and Chiang Mai, Thailand. But who knew that Richmond, Virginia would also score so high?

Aveiro, Portugal. By Gabriel González from Pontevedra, España (Aveiro – Portugal) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Anyone who truly wishes to be a Digital Nomad should also investigate the subreddit r/digitalnomad. The discussions may bring a touch of reality to the romance. I do sometimes wonder if the barriers to becoming a digital nomad haven’t increased over the last five years. How many people can really make a living marketing items on Amazon, or working as a web designer?

If you are intrigued by the idea the website Nomadic Notes might be helpful. The Remote Year site is getting attention for its idea of bringing people together in 12 difference cities for one year. Mike Elgin has an article titled The Digital Nomad’s Guide To Working From Anywhere On Earth, which has some practical tips. Lastly, travel blogger Aileen Adalid has a blog post titled The Ultimate Guide on how to become a digital nomad, which is well done. If nothing else, it might be fun to fantasize about life in Portugal or Cambodia for a while. Aveiro anyone?

Are you you interested in teaching about all things digital? Check out my syllabus for an online class on Digital Globalization.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

Hakai Magazine

In International and Global Studies departments we often organize our curriculum by geographic region. At Portland State University, students in International and Global Studies can complete tracks in the major with a focus on Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. In many programs there is now a move towards focusing on topics in the curriculum, rather than geographic regions. For example, in my own department we created a track in development studies three years ago, and it is now the most popular track in the major. How might we organize information if we decided not to begin with geography as defined by our traditional boundaries?

Perhaps one answer might be that we would look at what unites regions at a truly global level. Hakai Magazine, for example, provides content about the world’s coastal regions and our oceans, with an emphasis on the environment and coastal populations. There is a good mix of long and short form material, and a truly global perspective. For anyone with an interest in the world’s oceans, this is a great resource.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

Endless war in the Eastern Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, from the CIA World FactbookThe Council of Foreign Relations website has useful background reports on a number of major issues, such as cyber security, but by far the best is their report on the Eastern Congo. This conflict has taken more lives than any other conflict such World War Two, and at times threatened to destabilize much of Africa. Nonetheless, it seldom receives media coverage, especially compared with events in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though 5 million people have died of violence and starvation during the years of crisis in the region. The CFR’s new storyboard combines multiple media formats such as text, video, a slideshow, maps and a timeline. The video itself is about ten minutes in length, yet provides most of the key information needed to understand they key actors and issues in the crisis. Overall, the video is concise, well-organized and thoughtful. The slideshow also does an excellent job of integrating text, images and audio. I mainly teach online, and I find that students particularly like formats that ask them to interact with the media, such as the slideshow. Together, the different media address all the key issues: child soldiers, rape as a weapon of war, Belgium’s horrific colonial involvement in the region, the history of U.S. involvement during the Cold War, the long shadow cast by the Rwandan genocide, and the participation of a U.N. force. I will be teaching an “Introduction to International Studies” this spring quarter in an online format, and I’ll likely be using this page in the week on security. For any instructor who wants to include African content for this section of an introductory course in International Studies, this website provides a great resource. Recommended.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

The Top Posts in 2015

Every year I look at the most popular posts for the last year. There are a few common features, one of which is that book reviews are always popular, especially if they cover theory or literature. International mysteries also draw readers, as do teaching materials. Finally, although I haven’t posted many maps, they also attract attention on the blog. At the end of 2015 the top ten blog posts were:

  1. A book review of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s Provincializing Europe
  2. Sample exam questions for faculty teaching an introductory course using our textbook.
  3. A book review of Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach. 
  4. A blog post that asked what is International and Global Studies?
  5. A recommended films list for an “Introduction to International Studies” class.
  6. A map of Mexican drug cartels.
  7. The mystery of Witches’ Broom in Brazil.
  8. A global map of U.S. security interests.
  9. A syllabus for an “Introduction to International Studies” course.
  10.  A book review of Dave Zirin’s Dance with the Devil.

You can bookmark the blog here. Happy New Year!

Shawn Smallman

Portland State University, 2016

Mel Gurtov’s blog “In the Human Interest”

Mel Gurtov is an Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, and the author of over twenty books on topics that range from the politics of East Asia to Human Security. His blog, “In the Human Interest,” presents analyses of contemporary issues, particularly concerning  East Asia and U.S. foreign policy. I enjoy reading the posts because they consistently provide a thoughtful analysis of a global issue in a manner that reflects both time and expertise. If you are on Facebook, or have ever wondered about the meaning of privacy in a digital age, I recommend his post, “Manipulating Reality: Facebook is listening to you.” The post is likely to leave you feeling a little paranoid. I’m teaching a class on Digital Globalization in a fully online format in winter 2016, and this post will be in the syllabus (You can quick register as a non-degree student at PSU here, and find the class here. Or take a quiz on Digital Globalization to test your knowledge). Gurtov posts regularly, and with nearly a 100 posts there is a lot of content to explore on this blog for anyone interested in International and Global Studies.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

INTL at Portland State is on Facebook

Quite a few of the people who follow this blog are either at Portland State University, or in the Portland area. So I wanted to let people know that the Department of International and Global Studies is now on Facebook. We have a lot going on, as you can see here. I also want to give my thanks to Katrina Grundman for her fantastic work building this.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University.

PDX Scholar

I have blogged before about the importance of open access journals to provide access to academic articles that too often wind up behind a pay wall or on a university shelves in another state or province. Recently my university developed its own response to this problem when it created a new database called PDX scholar, which allows the university to give free access to works by PSU academics and students, as part of the Digital Commons Network. For the top ten downloads, see here. You can also search by discipline, such as International and Area Studies. You can also seem some of my publications in International Studies here. Of course, not every journal or publisher gave permission to place material on-line. But it has some of my presentations, book reviews and abstracts. I hope that other libraries can also adopt this approach, and help to break information out of their current silos. Shawn Smallman, Portland State University


Class Assignment: Blog Review and Rubric

In the past, I’ve typically asked students to do a book review in my “Introduction to International Studies”

Image of globe courtesy of digidreamgrafix at
Image of globe courtesy of digidreamgrafix at

course. But as students have increasingly moved to using alternative media sources to get their information, I want to make sure that they are thinking critically about these sources. For this reason, I’ve required that my students this quarter write a review (four pages in length) of one international blog. I’ve told the class that the blog review should be a critical look at the blog, which follows the same basic format as a book review. The review asks what the writer is trying to do, and how well do they do it. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the blog? Once that question is answered, then can explore particular questions the blog raises, connections to the class, etc. But the core of this project is a critical evaluation of the blog itself, rather than a summary of its content.  …

The Graphic Vault at Canada’s National Post

Edward Tufte’s work, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, is a beautiful book, which enables the reader to interpret statistics in a new light. The chart displaying the size of Napoleon’s army as he first invaded then retreated from Russia is awe-inspiring. No chart of the same information could have conveyed as effectively the extent to which French forces evaporated away. I thought of this recently when I looked at a graphic series in the National Post, one of the two major Canadian newspapers. The vault contains a rich array of images, which could be powerful tools in the classroom. For example, Rubab Abid and Richard Johnson produced a striking series of maps (in a graphic work titled “Out of Africa’) that showed the level of investment by former colonial powers in Africa, as well as the natural resources that might have attracted them to these countries. This one chart could spark a powerful class discussion about the nature of neocolonialism in Africa. As with all items in the vault, it is possible to download a high-resolution copy from the site. …

More websites for teaching International and Global Studies

Since I last posted some suggested websites to the blog, I’ve learned about several others that are useful for an introductory class in International and Global Studies. I’ve tried to focus on sites that emphasize analysis or resources rather than news, with the exception of one suggestion from The New York Times:

Financial Crisis:

Some students are visual learners. For those trying to understand current economic news in Europe, the New York Times has a set of interactive graphics that convey relative GDP, and debt flows, to make sense of the crisis. …

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