Following the terror attack in Vienna on 2 November 2020, I want to start by saying that all of our program participants living in and near the Austrian capital have reported that they are safe and healthy, as is the entire Fulbright Austria team. I empathize not just with the victims and their families, but also with everyone in Vienna and Austria whose life has been disrupted by this attack. It was a terrible act of violence, a despicable deed meant to divide us and make us afraid, and these actions can have a powerful effect on us. But in the hours and days following the attack, we have also seen things that I believe are even more powerful: compassion, empathy, and community. This gives me hope for the future.
The attack happened the night before new nationwide measures came into effect to address COVID-19, a pandemic that has affected all of us as we struggle to make sense of the new normal. It too is a cause of division and fear, but it has also helped us feel compassionate and empathetic towards others, and being part of a community has allowed us to stay connected and #supporteinander at a time when we must limit physical contact. This too gives me hope.
From cancellations and postponements to administrative delays and uncertainty, COVID-19 has impacted each and every one of our 2020–21 program participants. Yet in spite of the hurdles 2020 has relentlessly put in their way, they continue to pursue their academic and cultural endeavors in the US and Austria. They have proven themselves to be incredibly resilient in the face of both the known and the unknown, and for me, this is a source not just of hope, but also of inspiration.
I am inspired by the Austrian and US teaching assistants who managed bureaucracy in two countries during a pandemic in order to achieve their goal of teaching their native language in their host country. I am inspired by the USTA regional advisors who have volunteered their time to help their fellow USTAs cope with the stress of waiting for their work permits to be issued so they can start their jobs. I am inspired by the Austrian and US students and scholars who will stop at nothing to follow their dreams in spring 2021. And I am inspired by the Fulbright Austria community, which has stayed connected online throughout the pandemic and rallied together after the terror attack. Having a community is great in the good times and vital in the difficult times, and our community is certainly a strong one.
As we approach the Thanksgiving season, I am reminded of what this holiday means and want to express my thanks and gratitude to our program participants for their continued belief in the importance of their Fulbright Austria experience and to our alums, partners, and donors for their continued support in these difficult times.
As Epictetus said, “Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.” The road we must travel is still long, but together, we can overcome hatred, show resilience in the face of a pandemic, and stand united as a community that spans cultures and nations. As a community, we can embody the values at the core of the Fulbright Program and come through the other side of terror attacks and pandemics—and any other crises we may face—with compassion, empathy, and mutual understanding.
Hermann Agis, PhD