Suddenly, we received a message that all courses were going to be continued online via Zoom until mid-April. I was a bit surprised but understood why this was necessary. Then we received an email that the dorms might close, after that we received another email from the president of the university, and she said that all classes would be online until the end of the semester. I was in shock. Everything seemed so normal in St. Paul, but it changed completely in a couple of days. I started to be scared, and all the other TAs felt so as well. Some cried and didn’t know what to do, and when we received an email that all the dorms would close and only international students would be allowed to stay, everybody started to panic. Even at this moment, I still wanted to stay, but some colleagues had already decided to leave. I was sad but I still didn’t want go. However, I was very worried and I talked to my parents. My parents said that I should do what I wanted, but I sensed some uneasiness in their voices. Maybe it was even my own. But I still wanted to stay.
Two weeks ago I started with my online courses. I also emailed a professor that I couldn’t participate in one of his classes because everybody was freaking out, and he answered that I shouldn’t worry about it but that thinking about going home was a good idea. When I read that sentence, I was devastated but knew that I had to book a flight home. He had also said that it was only a matter of time before the whole university was going to shut down. I still didn’t want to think about home, but I talked to all the international students and said that I had to go because I didn’t know what to do anymore. I started thinking about becoming homeless, ending up at a professor’s place for months, and I couldn’t handle it anymore. I tried to look for flights and was so confused. I tried to book a flight to Munich, but my credit card was declined. Then I wanted to get the last Austrian Airlines flight to Vienna, but the website said that online booking was not possible anymore. So I called the airline and there was one seat left. I bought it and was the happiest man alive because I thought that I needed to get out immediately. I was emotionally so exhausted that I had stopped thinking rationally for a while. I told my friends, and everybody was so sad, but we decided to party hard one last time, and I had the best farewell party in my life. I went to bed at 4 a.m., got up at 6 a.m., packed all my things by 10 a.m., and took a Lyft to the airport. Many people were crying; I hadn’t started yet.
I arrived in Vienna on Thursday, 19 March. It was the last plane that landed in Vienna. Since then, the airport has been closed! Today, I still cannot believe what happened to me. No, what happened to all Fulbrighters—correction again: what happened to the whole world. I still can’t believe it, and I think it will take a couple of years to digest this experience. My Fulbright year was not always perfect, but I wanted it to be as perfect as possible. However, it turned out to be an experience I will tell my kids, my grandchildren, and they will very likely continue talking about it. Since I arrived at home, I’ve had many Zoom meetings with my Fulbright friends, colleagues, and professors. I never spent more time on my phone or computer socializing. Who knows, maybe we all needed this, but I know one thing for sure: I’m going to see many of my new friends again, and it doesn’t matter if it takes three months, two years, or a decade. Thank you, Fulbright!