Aon Ali: How the COVID-19 pandemic has affected me

Prior to the spread of COVID-19, I worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia, West Africa. I lived in the country for half a year and planned on being there for at least two years. My work focused on child nutritional and health practices where I partnered with local professionals to establish a knowledge baseline. The community I worked in became my home as I became integrated into it. In March 2020, Peace Corps decided to evacuate its volunteers all around the globe.

The Peace Corps is commonly known for pursuing its “first goal” of “helping interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.” However, the agency’s mission has two other goals; promoting greater cross-cultural understanding between Americans and the peoples served and of Americans by those around the world. In pursuit and as a result of these goals, Peace Corps volunteers develop emotional connections to their host families, communities, and countries. In this way, the evacuation came as emotionally intense news for me and the roughly 7,000 others. In many ways, we lost our homes, jobs, and families all in one step.

Aside from being emotionally difficult, the evacuation caused a severe change in my, and my fellow volunteers, life plans. Having made a commitment for two years, I had planned to be away. I had trimmed the bulk of my possessions before leaving, planned to explore my interests and myself further before committing to a career path, and mentally prepared for my new role. The question, “So what are you going to do now” was quite common among us as we awaited our departure flights. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to gain admission to graduate school and am now pursuing a Master of Arts at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

The COVID-19 Pandemic, as with many others, cost me my job and forced a new perspective for the future. Being interested in a career focused on international issues, the pandemic worries me for the future of international travel and the nature of international work. As I adapt to these challenges, I find it important to remember that while my specific circumstance is quite unique, but how I’ve felt is pretty relatable.

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