Living in America my first learning was that everyone has to prepare their calendar at least a month in advance. Plan everything, your weeks, weekends, activities, work, parties and hours in your day. Plan, plan and plan.
For the past seven months, we followed our calendar in the Humphrey Program. Even two weeks before planning our last mission and future objectives, nobody knew if the universe had other plans. There was another unknown calendar that was being prepared. The calendar that would smash our plans.
Amid this global pandemic, current Fellows of the Hubert H. Humphrey Program, are being told by The Institute of International Education (IIE), to highly consider going home without completing their Professional Affiliation, a six-week mandatory internship in U.S. organizations.
There are so many concerns and different emotions that us Fellows, from different universities and states, are experiencing at the moment. There is definitely a sense of fear, concerns for their families and unfulfilled professional goals in the face of this adversity.
Here are some responses from Fellows in my Cohort from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
Pierre Negaud Dupenor, Fellow from Haiti said:
“Despite the awkwardness, sadness and uncertainty the situation arises, I am thankful for having able to complete the Humphrey Program and stayed during one year in the US. Even though it’s disconcerting to leave the US earlier than expected, and not being able to do an in-person professional affiliation, I try to remain focused and optimistic, hoping that things will improve soon.”
Deusdedit Ruhangariyo, from Uganda:
“Of course, I am disappointed that our Fellowship is ending in a rather awkward way with the virus being the cause of all this. Some of our countries have slapped a ban on people currently in the US. Like my country, they have banned visitors from 16 countries including US and UK and the ban includes also Ugandan nationals. So, as I had already identified an organization here in Phoenix where I could do my Professional Affiliation even before all this started, I am continuing with that plan until the official end of the Fellowship in June.”
Nera Valentić, from Croatia:
“I’m sad for leaving program but excited to go back home and produce news in these challenging times. I’m not especially concerned about anything; this is nothing we can affect. Let’s just hope people will start to obey rules in order to make it spread slower. Anyway, I would rather be in crisis in my country than here as a foreigner. So, I’m going back first from the cohort.”
Chentao Cui, from China:
“I felt complicated in recent days. Comparing with the COVID-19, the uncertain future is more concerned. Our Humphrey cohort has to encounter leaving before we had expected and because of the concern of the virus, we could not have a goodbye party. Our PAs also become remotely at all. All our plans and decisions have to be made in just short period of time. That is not an easy time.
For me, first I want to try my best to confirm my PA as soon as possible. Second, I want to stay in Phoenix to finish this semester and see what will happen in May and June. Third, because of the pressure from IIE, I start to pack some luggage to avoid hurrying to leave, if we finally will be kicked out of the States.
Anyway, the happiest time recently is to see all our Humphrey family online, familiar faces, voices and jokes make me feel relax. Hope every member keeps safe no matter if they are at home here, or if they are on the way to their home country.”
Ha Tran, from Vietnam:
“I don’t worry too much about the spread of COVID-19 if we can protect ourselves with necessary precautions. The situation is the same in every other country, not only in the States. So, if we have to take a long flight to return home, it’s better to stay here and try to be safe. We will have a high risk with the long flights. The second thing, surely, I felt disappointing about quick changes in the program. I don’t have any final decision yet! Just waiting for some time because my country is also messy with the pandemic, although they have done well to control the spread of pandemic. I think, staying at home is the best solution now.”
Arizona, Washington and Massachusetts. Every other fellow in a different university campus are really disturbed over the sudden events.
Asma, a lawyer from Pakistan currently at the American University said, “We are all observing this unfortunate situation constantly and we totally understand IIE and the State Department’s concerns in this regard as nobody can predict what would be the future ahead and what if the situation does not improve till June and all borders are closed? IIE will have to be responsible about Fellows, but this is an emergency situation and emergencies always need extraordinary measures. While, ideally, everybody would like to be with their families and their loved ones but this is not a normal situation, as traveling at this time will expose Fellows to many risks and will put their lives in danger. We totally understand that the resources matter but nothing can be more important than human lives and safety. These are testing times for everyone and everywhere. Thus, it is important instead of pressurizing and stressing out all the Fellows in a foreign land, IIE should support us.
Kunduz Almazbekovna, Humphrey Fellow from Kyrgyzstan also shared her story.
According to her, she can’t leave the U.S. as she is here with her family and she doesn’t want to take risk of travelling because it’s not safe. She is also informed that all flights to her country are closed. So, she thinks it’s better to wait here. She’s also hopeful for confirming her virtual PA with her host organization.
Sri Mulyani, Fellow from Indonesia told me she is weighing the situation realistically.
She said, she is trying to accept the reality. “I came here for study, improving my capacity, so this condition is unpredictable. I will go back to Indonesia in early April. I think IIE is right. The situation is getting worst day by day. We saw what happened in Iran, Italy, South Korea. So, we cannot predict. It is getting worse; some borders are closed. Even Dubai, they have closed the airport.” She added.
These are the accounts of different Fellows currently in different states, which are no different from one another. But there are other Fellows in different campuses who share their miserable situation. Those Fellows had been living on campus. There’s no straight pressure from IIE or the State Department, but their universities have asked them to leave the on-campus housing. They had no options but to leave this weekend.
Many Fellows shared a common state of mind, they are all living in a paranoia. They feel alone, as if nobody has any immediate relatives or loved ones to vent out their concerns. Most of them feel sorry and have one question on their minds.
We were told this is a highly competitive program. We were high achievers and will be future leaders of our countries. Now in this scenario, who will take responsibility if something happens to the future leaders this program has just prepared? It’s like putting life at risks. In this time, rather than listening to go home as soon as possible, it would have been great listening from IIE. You are not alone; we are standing by you whatever you decide.