“Sitting in the Irish Fulbright Commission satellite office in County Kildare it is sometimes easy to consider 2020 a lost year, roll on 2021- back to normality. This must not be the case. It has in fact
been a year of tremendous learning so far. Facing a pandemic, social, economic and racial turmoil continues to test us all. Some requires reflection and remedial action; some brings tremendous hope of changes we all have wished for, even before the world tilted. Fulbrighters have been in the midst of all that has been happening. In reality we only have a snapshot of this, so forgive us (and update us) if we have missed your efforts. We have seen: Fulbrighters involved in Covid-19 response, at the front line, policy & strategy, drug and test development. Fulbrighters addressing racial discrimination. Fulbrighters advising on technology to work, study and teach from home or remotely.
The Fulbright program was faced with a huge global decision in March 2020. Exponential infection rates in China, Italy and other countries meant that a never used US Dept. of State plan was enacted. Each country with Fulbrighters had to address this on a global and local scale. Fulbrighters made their own decisions to remain or leave the U.S. and Ireland. Many left, but some remained and a few are in both countries still.
The world moved from in person meetings to video meetings. Whilst there were downsides to this, unexpectedly there were also lots of upsides. As a Commission we moved operations to our homes in mid-March and have remained there since. For me this meant a reduction in commute from 3 hours to three minutes, daily. As we have full access to all of our systems remotely, we were able to maintain almost the same level of activity. Where we couldn’t meet targets, we set them aside, for another time. We left many plans and events in our calendar so that we could watch them go by, replaced by an alternative activity or event. Some will become part of our operations in the future. Some are better in person, for example, the Irish Awardee Ceremony and Orientation.
All of the 2019-2020 Fulbrighters who were able to go during the period were successful in their work and engagement. Even those who had their time cut short managed to create opportunities so that their engagement could continue. This is the essence of Fulbright intent. A few Fulbrighter colleagues were not able to go in this academic term but instead will join the 2020-21 Fulbrighter cohort, from January 20201. I commend their resilience and hope that the experience is all the sweeter for it. As we reach out to Fulbrighters, alum, sponsors and hosts I know that Fulbrighters are also reaching out to each other. Some with a shared Fulbright-in-a-pandemic experience; a story to tell for decades. For this edition I will end on a hopeful note. Monty Python got it right when they sang “Always look on the bright side of life”. I hope I have left you with an ear worm. – Dara”