‘’To be realistic today is to be visionary. To be realistic is to be starry-eyed’’, said Hubert Humphrey decades ago and still today, we have never left that Milky Way of visionaries and dreamers, even in the year where nothing seems the same as before.
Nine people from different parts of the world, nine Humphrey fellows, arrived in Phoenix, Arizona, on December 1st and continued the eleven years-long program timeline at Cronkite, joining 101 other past fellows from 60 different countries in the world. Nine fellows in the year of the new normal and new methodology of living, combined with stress, fear, virus, and uncertainty, have started their Humphrey fellowship program with their visions and dreams following the path of many others, in the COVID era and everything new and different. Are visionaries realistic?!
COVID safe travel was the first challenge that the Fellows experienced. Safe travel, social distancing, masks, different flying rules, flight options, controls, restrictions…
Samantha Pilane had a 27 hours exciting trip from her hometown Gaborone, Botswana, and she was overwhelmed when she approached Phoenix that she took pictures of the mountains. And she said the trip was exhausting but worthwhile as Phoenix posses endless possibilities even just by looking at it from above. Delia Marinescu from Romania will remember this trip for sure. Her luggage was 6 kg heavier and first, they told her at the airport that she has to pay $320 and then $150. She thought it was a waste of money, so she unpacked at the airport. She planned to go skiing, but she will have to rent some boots and a ski suit because they weighed too much. Although, she is happy that a 400g jar with Romanian plums-marmalade, the taste of childhood has passed the controls because it’s for her sister who lives in L.A.
Teodora Trifonova from Bulgaria has an interesting story about her stay in Phoenix. She stayed in the same hotel as she was for her November visit to Phoenix, when she was covering the US elections. She knew all the good spots in the area as well as the best coffee places and was a bit more familiar with the Downtown area than the rest of the cohort.
Xaviera Arnhem from Suriname explains that she had an awesome experience while waiting for the transfer to Phoenix. She was waiting for her flight for almost 7 hours so she used the time to walk and research the airport. After she realized that she was 20 gates from her gate and they were calling in. She ran and made on time and after passing the gate she did some yoga exercise to overcome the cold and tiredness.
Elma Velic from Bosnia and Herzegovina came to Phoenix with her six-year-old boy, who was the greatest worry during the trip and onwards. The first time flying and the worry of how a six-year-old will conquer the scare of flying and leaving his home became a funny story where he hadn’t had a slight scare not worry and enjoyed the whole way experiencing difference and variety. This teaches us one thing – don’t worry upfront. Farhat Javed from Pakistan also experienced some airport control inconvenience where she thought she was asked to unpack and explain the herbs she was taking with her as well as some powder milk, cinnamon and a bottle of national mixed pickles. She says that she pretended to be very calm and relaxed, but inside she felt the storm and was thinking of all the movies she had watched and stories she has read about drug and human trafficking.
As for others, COVID testing became the Hunger games, with endless waiting and repeating the method. Sladjana Lucic from Bosnia and Herzegovina has been isolating for ten days and after three covid tests that somehow got lost, has proved that positive thinking can save your mental health while waiting to be negative. Yana Pashaeva from Russia has also experienced some test malfunctions. She said that some tests were lost, some of them were neither negative nor positive. In total, she got tested three times and in the end, ended up being negative. Fakhar Durrani from Pakistan arrived the latest, a week after everyone else, experiencing some technical difficulties and being cut off from his family and friends. With the support of others, he managed to overcome it and after testing negative he joined the cohort at the end of the orientation visiting the Botanical Garden Phoenix.
New normal means new ways of living, learning, teaching, and experiencing the US culture and fellowship program and these fellows are aware of it as well as the coordinators and professors. Social distancing, no travel rules, masks, and health checks are more than just a story from the papers. That is reality and if we want to be safe and responsible, that is the new normal we are going to live with. And to live in a reality is to be starry-eyed and with a mask!
Starting from there, from the test results, isolation, and social distancing, this year will be different for sure and this cohort will have to adapt and make new paths for many others that will come – the visionaries with starry eyes and the ones that believe that dreams and reality are a vision of life, that has to be worked for, lived for and truly passionate about, what the vision is and could be in the future. Real!