We are back in the U.S. after quite a surreal experience overseas. We departed the U.S. for the Czech Republic on March 5, which was our college’s spring break, and we had two conferences on our schedule. The first was an all-day conference on applied integration on Saturday, March 7. This was for an association of Christians interested in the dialogue between the fields of psychology and theology. We then had most of Sunday off. The second conference started with a meet-and-greet on Sunday night and then was held Monday through Wednesday afternoon, March 9-11. This was for Christian mental health professionals from Eastern European countries. In any case, this conference also went well, but we were beginning to hear about the corona virus (COVID-19) and some of the concerns about how many conditions were worsening, particularly in Italy.
By the time the conference ended on March 11, some flights appeared to be consolidating due to a decrease in air travel that I assume necessitated some quick maneuvering by the airlines. We had originally set aside a couple of days for site-seeing with the intention of returning on March 14.
So we weren’t sure what to make of the news reports. Different reports seemed to be saying different things. We were alerted on March 12, however, that new measures were being taken and that we needed to return to the U.S. by March 13 at midnight. There was some confusion surrounding early reports, as it was unclear whether we’d be stuck where we were for 30 days if we didn’t return by that date/time. It turned out as U.S. citizens we could return later, but we were strongly encouraged to make changes to our flights.
The problem with making changes to our flights was that there appeared to be no way to do that. We tried by phone multiple times for as little as 1 hour and as much as 90 minutes at a time (on hold). Our call was dropped. We tried online, but pages either weren’t loading or they didn’t have the links they ordinarily would have to make flight changes. It was bizarre. There was no way to change flights. Some of our group went to the airport to change their flights with a real person only to find that they were redirected (by real people) to change flights by phone or internet; they were not going to assist with flight changes at the airport. It was surreal.
We ended up actually trying to enjoy the rest of our stay, content that we had taken every step we could take to change our flights but that we were blocked at every turn. Then, when we were checking in (during that 24-hour window before a flight takes off), which was the morning of March 13, we were given the option of changing our flight for the first time. All of the flights would put us on a waitlist with the exception of one, which had some open seats, which we all quickly snatched up. So we left later that same day for the airport and arrived home later that same night.
That last morning before we departed for the airport was really strange. Prague is normally packed with tourists. This time as we walked around the city, it was just the opposite. Very few people were taking in the sites. Museums had closed, as had other popular tourist sites. Some shops were open with very friendly staff hoping we would stop in and buy a souvenir.
Once we were back in the U.S., we began a 2-week self-isolation per directions from the CDC and the college. The college I work for extended spring break to provide students time to leave campus and faculty members time to move their courses online, so I’ve spent this week in online trainings and just flipping my classes, as well as reaching out to students and my research team to help them adjust to the present circumstances.
The college has done an exception job prepping faculty members, in my opinion. Many of my colleagues have not taught online, so there is a bit of a learning curve.
This is obviously just a small event in a much larger story of this pandemic. This is just a very challenging time for everyone, and there is a fair amount of free-floating anxiety in the face of uncertainty. This is to be expected. At the same time, we believe that God is providing for us each day, and that there is great encouragement to be found in reflecting in gratitude on God’s many provisions for us. For me, God’s provision included, among other things, the opportunity to be a part of these two conferences, as well as the timely departure and return to the U.S. with my colleagues, so that we could travel home together.
Another provision, of course, is the very technology that enables us to stay connected for the remainder of the semester, so we turn our attention to the work that is in front of us that enables us to do just that.