As we enter mid-April, and I’m ending my 4th week of sheltering in place in Central Florida to avoid contracting or carrying COVID-19, I keep seeing examples of how lessons I learned in Indonesia are applicable for navigating these challenging times. So, I thought I’d use the next couple of blog posts to explore some of those lessons. As I work to stay connected to my colleagues in Indonesia and to begin the work of disseminating my Fulbright-related ideas and findings in presentations and publications, this series of posts will serve as a free writing space to help me make sense of my experiences there and practice articulating their significance for me and my work going forward.
Last week I had the opportunity to speak with a group of Fulbright English Teaching Assistants who had recently had their grant periods in Malaysia cut short as a result of the global pandemic. As the U.S. State Department grappled with how to respond to the outbreak and how to keep these and other exchange participants safe, these young people saw their plans for continued cultural exchange, language development, travel, and personal growth come to an abrupt end, and they re-entered the United States at a time of incredible uncertainty and staggering unemployment numbers. Instead of coming home in late May to fanfare and gatherings to welcome them back and give them platforms for sharing their life-changing experiences, they came home to isolation, quarantine, and mounting fears.
It was so wonderful to be able to connect with them, and I appreciated Dustin Liu’s invitation. In addition to talking with these Fulbright alumni about education and my research, we found commonality in our shared experiences in Southeast Asia and challenging re-entry to life in a time of COVID. As a means of offering some positive perspective, I passed along wisdom that I received from Puji back in September when I arrived in Semarang – to be patience and flexible. And, I reminded them that they have incredible resources available to them to chart their paths forward even in these difficult circumstances. Here’s a clip from our Zoom conversation: