“I had to be there, in Phoenix”: A Memoir of Navigating COVID Times

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My US experience was different. Weird and different. I kind of loved it.

I sometimes think that it wouldn’t be possible to do it differently. I was one of nine Humphrey fellows, only one with the kid, living in the Phoenix Downtown, without a car, a plan, or daycare money.

I arrived in December. COVID! Restrictions. No people in Phoenix. Masks. 2 feet apart from anyone. And few stores working.

January. Schools start. First grade, him. College courses, me. ZOOM.  COVID. Restrictions. Few students. RIOTS!

February. Vaccines. Controversies. Dos. Don’ts.  MASKS.

March. Still covid. Still vaccines. Lines on stadiums. Healthcare issues. Volunteering. Vaccinations.

April. Graduation. Restriction policies don’t rest. Masks. Saying bye. No hugs.

May. Internship at the federal government institution. Proud. Scared. Tired. Saying bye to the US. Still no hugs!

It was hard. Different. Restrictive. Open as it could be. You can use options. And opportunities. But there were not many.

But I have learned a lot.

I have learned that no matter what you do in life, it is your mindset that makes it an unbelievable experience or a terrible one. A mindset will let you explore and use the most of everything or leave you without anything if you put your mind to it.
Life is a mindset.

Cronkite’s Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship 2020-2021 cohort.

The Mindset after

The cultural shock we were told about during the Fellowship was huge. I was constantly battling the system, people, myself. Even though I knew I was going back to that I wasn’t aware that I had changed. The place stayed the same. And the system. And most of the people. My job became a prison, with more restrictions than during the covid. My life became a restrictive reality. Towards me.

The struggle was for a while. I wanted to overcome it as soon as possible, because I didn’t have time to adjust to it sequentially, nor funds to overcome it easily.

I have started working on my capstone. I quit my job at the newsroom and started my own company. PR. Something I have moved toward throughout the fellowship and after it. Something that has come to me, as an epiphany, during one of the speaker’s talks at our Humphrey class.  Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mr. Twain was right!

Agency Krater was a year old in August! A small company that thrives to get bigger, and better and overcome my desires and dreams, of making a meaningful impact in the world which surrounds me.

So, I am a business owner. I game changer. And a nerd when it comes to doing the homework right. (laugh)!

I can tell you about amazing projects I have worked on. Amazing people I have met. And opportunities I have gained. And missed. I can tell stories about how it could be better. And move faster. And invest more money. Or less time. Or opposite. Or how it is still not where I want it to be. But again, it wouldn’t be the experience it is, If it was different than I am doing it now. I am learning. Every student needs their own pace and circumstances. And I believe these are mine. And in a few years, I promise, I will be one of the speakers that will change someone’s life!

With Cronkite HHH 2020-2021 fellows.

Would it be different?

It has been two and a half years since I came back home. Do I miss Phoenix?


Do I want to go back and do it all over again, in some of these ‘normal’ years and life conditions?

Not really!

I have learned my strengths and possibilities just in the era of my fellowship. They have helped me to become who I am now. And how to treat myself and people and jobs and life. And how to deal with situations. And obstacles. And problems. And myself. And for that I am grateful.

I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. And that I had to be there, in the US, in Phoenix, at that time and with that exact opportunity.

Elma Velic (right) pictured at the Humphrey Alumni Global Policy Series in Serbia, September 2022.

And that is the mindset I want to live by.

I will come back for more! I promise. But till then, forks up and seize the day. And the opportunities given. Every one of them. Because they are all worth it.

Over. Out!