Professors react to COVID-19; adjust international research plans

By: Huntre Keip ’20, Editor in Chief

On opposite sides of the world, two LVC professors dealt with unsettling experiences to re-enter U.S. soil amid COVID-19. 

As a recipient of a Fulbright grant, Dr. Chris Dolan, co-chair of social sciences and professor of politics and global studies, was conducting research and teaching at the University of Phristina in Kosovo. Beginning in February without fear or speculation of the growing virus, Dolan quickly developed a new lifestyle. 

Then, his anticipated time of research and study was put on an indefinite pause. 

On March 11, President Trump issued a travel restriction ban for travelers from 26 countries in Europe for 30 days. 

“The day after the president issued his travel ban, I had a previously-scheduled standard security briefing at the U.S. Embassy in Phristina, and I asked my foreign service officer in the education division for guidance about the ban,” Dolan said. “I was told to ‘sit tight’ and wait.” 

Dolan and the U.S. Embassy was informed of the president’s announcement simultaneously which seemed ill-prepared from the White House. As an American citizen looking from the outside, Dolan believed the U.S. federal government did not thoroughly think of Americans overseas. 

“There was no initial clarity regarding if Americans were provided an exception to the ban,” Dolan said. “It was confusing, unclear and very frustrating.” 

In a closer proximity to the United States, Dr. Kathleen Tacelosky, professor of Spanish, went through a similar ordeal. 

Since 2018, Tacelosky, a sociolinguist, has researched linguistic realities of primary and secondary school children under the Ministry of Education in Zacatecas, Mexico. Her time in Mexico is spent during the spring semester through June. 

This year, Tacelosky was writing a course called Attención educative a la communidad transnacional, a 10-module project which proposed inclusion into the curriculum at the State Teacher Training Colleges. 

“Each module revolves around a topic,” Tacelosky said. “I invited experts to give 30-minute talks on the subject, and we would record the presentations through video, and I would write activities to go with the videos. I was able to get four out of the 10 videos completed. Now, I am working on the activities.” 

Initially, Tacelosky and her partner planned on staying in Zacatecas, but on March 16, she received confirmation on LVC’s suspension of international travel for both students and professors. 

“I took the recommendation seriously and began to make drastic and expensive arrangements,” she said. 

Dolan’s and Tacelosky’s plans changed in the matter of days, and their journeys back to U.S. turf was not pleasant either. 

Dolan received an email from the State Department and the Institute for International Education that he needed to book the first commercial flight out of Kosovo due to a government ban. In addition, land borders were to be sealed, a curfew was issued while grocery stores and police departments remained open. 

“At that point, I knew I had to get out,” he said. “The U.S. Embassy started sending emails referencing messages from U.S. Ambassador Philip Kosnett ordering Fulbright recipients and non-essential embassy staff to return to the U.S. on the next available commercial flight.” 

His original flight was with Austrian Airlines, but the airline immediately cancelled flights to Newark through Vienna. Then, he found a flight on Turkish Airlines to JFK airport through Istanbul. The one-way, overpriced flight was one of the last flights from Turkey to the U.S. 

Arriving to the Mexican airport, Tacelosky experienced total chaos consisting of health forms, thermometers and additional documentation. 

“Because of my residency renewal was in process, I was told I needed additional documents that would take 24 hours, three professional photos, an online form and more,” she said. “The alternative was to suspend the renewal application and start over upon return to Mexico. Although much time and money had been spent on that process, I opted to suspend it so that I could depart.” 

Once she made her decision, Tacelosky needed to wait in a 22-person deep line plus security before boarding. Fear consumed her as she thought she would miss her flight. 

“Somehow, we made it, literally running. We flew into our seats and heard the door thud behind us. Our hearts were racing,” she said. 

Since returning to the U.S., the professors participated in a two-week self-quarantine and resumed most their work virtually. Both wish to travel back to their prospective locations and finish what they left behind.