Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome, State University language learners!  Mashallah, you’ve all arrived safely.  Except – yes, I did hear about Claire.  I expect the host country authorities will indicate which lockdown unit they’ve confined her to within the next few days.  OK!  Get ready for the opportunity of a lifetime, to interact – at a distance of six feet, haha! – with people from this rich and historic culture.  Well, of course, after the fourteen-day quarantine.  Which is where we’re headed now.  Oh – Jack, I’m going to have to stop you, before we exit the airport.  The local officials are a bit touchy about foreigners wearing hazmat suits.   

                Yes, perhaps I should have mentioned that in the briefing notes.   

                When we arrive at the dormitory, just follow the plastic sheeting to your rooms.  You’ll find your temperature charts and COVID-symptom dual-language flash cards inside.  Remember, once that door closes, it doesn’t open for two weeks, except in case of fire.  So call out your farewells using your new language skills, and settle in!  And please keep maudlin emails home to a minimum – you really want to be focusing on second-language vocabulary.   

Anyway, there’s no reason that this pre-entry isolation period can’t be a fortnight of fun!  Obviously you’ll be enjoying the privacy of your own rooms – a great opportunity for some self-care and self-study! 

We’ll be starting our language lessons over Microsoft Teams – tomorrow, at 9:00 a.m.  For all you early birds, Sara is a certified Zumba instructor, and she’s generously offered to lead a “lockdown lesson” over Teams starting at 7:30.  Thank you, Sara.  Anyway, your sterilized meal kits will be delivered through the door flaps at seven, noon, and six.  Feel free to holler thanks to the local teams on the other side of your door!   

                I feel confident that we won’t lose more than thirty percent of you to infections from the plane.  After the quarantine period is over, the other seventy percent will be free to enjoy this beautiful country.  Just remember, these folks are aware of the infection rates in America, so be sure to show them your I Graduated from Quarantine yellow stickers, once you get them.  I recommend keeping them on your foreheads.  

The teachers and staff at the International School of Language Training are particularly delighted to welcome you all – and will be offering you fresh personal protective equipment daily.  And you’ll finally get to meet them in person – or, at least, with only a plexiglass shield and a couple of masks between you.  I understand some of you have reached out to your conversation partners already – that’s excellent!  

Ah, yes, Stephanie, thanks for your question.  Yes, am aware.  It’s just a question of one or two cases among the teachers.  Three at most.  Definitely not more than six.   

Well, I was coming to that.  It seems that the school has suggested condensing our classes somewhat in light of the… brief staffing interruption.  So instead of eight classes of two, I think we’ll be moving to one class of sixteen.  And I’m assuming they’ve bleached the relevant classrooms and corridors and restrooms and offices, so, with normal precautions, your language learning should not suffer from any major disruptions.  And, Jessica, you’ll still all have plenty of time to practice your listening.  Don’t forget, the school offers a language lab for up to ten minutes an hour between deep-cleans. 

And let’s talk about all the amazing things you’ll be able to do here.  Once the curfew lifts, you’ll be able to dine al fresco at one of the city’s three COVID-service-licensed restaurants.  The wait list at the International Café is down to a mere five weeks.  You can see the beaches from your dormitory, and there are some encouraging rumors that the government might reopen them in another month or two.  Really, a great place to meet other young people – from a safe distance!  Frisbee and hand sanitizer: that’s the new ‘let’s grab a coffee’.  No, they don’t sell Frisbees here.  But, anyway, the museums are now open from two to four on Saturday afternoons with a timed ticket.  Just follow the prescribed route at a strict pace of sixty steps per minute, remaining six feet from the artwork and any other visitors.   

And really, these are just a few of the many non-pointless opportunities to immerse yourselves.  So, enjoy it, everyone! 

Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories and the occasional poem have appeared in over seventy literary magazines.  She may be found on Twitter: @LindaCMcMullen.  This piece is dedicated to the members of the UFAPO.