Hello everyone! My name is Brendan and I was studying abroad with USAC in Haifa, Israel this semester. Today I am going to be writing to you about my overall feelings on the coronavirus situation and the silver lining in studying abroad during this time.
To be completely honest, the first word that came to mind for me when thinking about this situation was “devastated”. At least that is how I felt at first. This virus has taken experiences away from me that I spent years looking forward to and planning for.
Originally, I was supposed to study abroad in Haifa, Israel through USAC for two semesters (September 2019-June 2020) and then study through the Critical Language Scholarship Program (CLS) in Tangier Morocco the summer after. Unfortunately, I received news on Friday, March 13th that my USAC program was going to be canceled because of the Coronavirus. I fully supported USAC’s decision to cancel the program because the U.S. State Department had increased its travel warning for Israel to a level 3 out of 4 at the time. Now the travel warning is at a 4 and the majority of flights out of Israel to the U.S. have been canceled. Thus, those students who chose to stay against the wishes of USAC ran the risk of being stuck in the country for an indefinite period. This is not a risk that I was willing to take and after speaking with my local friends in Haifa I am reassured that coming back home to the United States was the best decision for me at the time.
Israel is currently in a state of complete lockdown and residents are not allowed to leave their place of residence further than 100 meters. I can’t imagine being stuck in my dorm room in Haifa for an indefinite period of time with no family or friends around. Additionally, I was required to return home because of the federally funded David L. Boren Scholarship I received. The Boren scholarship team sent me an email around the same time that USAC did asking that I return home as soon as possible.
I remember when there were only a few confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in Israel and then it had dramatically increased to hundreds of cases within a few days and is currently in the thousands. During my final days in Haifa, the atmosphere of the country was completely different than what I was accustomed to. Everything that I knew and loved was closing and going into a complete lockdown.
I am grateful to the University of Haifa International school for allowing me and my fellow colleagues to complete our classes online via zoom and moodle. Taking classes online is not nearly as engaging as a physical class and requires a great amount of discipline and self-motivation to complete them. I would prefer to be back in Haifa taking my classes in person but in light of recent events that is clearly not possible.
As I am writing this blog I am currently on my 14th day of self-quarantine in Minnesota. After being abroad for so long it took me a while to adjust back to life in the U.S. Something as simple as hearing people speak English around me was shocking at first because I was so used to always hearing Arabic and Hebrew. Now that I have had time to reflect upon this situation I have realized that it has not been as devastating for me as I initially thought. Although my program was cut short, I was still able to live in Haifa, Israel for 7 months and complete 1 1/2 semesters there. I met the most wonderful people and visited places that I will never forget.
During my break in between the two semesters, I traveled to Cyprus, Malta, Morocco, Paris, Budapest and South Africa. Additionally, I gained an unmatched first-hand experience of the Arab-Israeli conflict. I now look at the conflict in a completely different light and believe that I can take my new perspectives and apply them in my future career working for the federal government.
As cliche as it sounds, the greatest lesson that I learned from this situation with the coronavirus is that life does not go to plan and when it doesn’t you have to adapt and keep pushing forward.
When I first arrived back in the U.S. two weeks ago I had lost all motivation and was not sure which direction I wanted to take with my life anymore. Everything that I worked so hard for had perished overnight. After speaking with my TRiO coach Daniel, Mr. Davidson from the U.S. Embassy in Israel, my academic advisor Anna from the UNR College of Liberal Arts, and Jade Wright who generously created the “Discover Middle East” USAC scholarship which helped me study abroad, I felt much better about the overall situation. They helped me recognize that everything I had worked for is still there and I am fortunate to have the opportunity to continue my Arabic language studies online and reapply for the CLS program for the next summer. Furthermore, I plan on applying for graduate school to Georgetown University this upcoming fall to pursue a master’s degree in Arabic.
Before this situation, I was naive in my belief that my life was going to go perfectly according to my plan. I placed a great amount of stress on myself to ensure that I would be able to attain my goals through the very precise plan that I had created. I now know that life will not go to plan. There are many different paths available to me and I am learning to go with the flow and enjoying the ride.
I would advise future USAC students to study abroad! Do not let this situation deter you from experiencing and immersing yourself in other cultures. My study abroad experience was a defining moment for me thus far in my life and I do not regret it at all.
I applaud USAC for their handling of this difficult situation and attending to my needs during this time. They have done a great job of facilitating open and active communication throughout this time. The staff at the UNR Student Health Center was also a great asset to me during my time in self-quarantine. The nurse, Tammy, was especially helpful to me and provided me with useful information for me to have an inhaler prescribed to me even though I do not currently have medical insurance at the time.
I would like to end this blog post by expressing my gratitude to everyone that helped me in my journey abroad. Thank you all for reading this, and if you’d like to read about my adventures in Haifa you can do so on my blog where I blogged weekly about my study abroad experience.