Response to a Friend on Teaching, Traveling, and Job Transitioning during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Conan! How are you? Are you guys having classes? Is the university closed? I got a job at XXX University! I need your advice as to how to transition and start somewhere new. I am not sure how to begin. Can you give me some advice???

Hey, friend!

I am doing well. Thank you for asking. Long story short: we are not having classes at Qatar University for the foreseeable future. Classes will be online starting this week.

Here’s the long story…

Last Friday, I flew back from my spring break in Singapore and Malaysia. My vacation was excellent. Singapore is one of the cleanest, most organized countries that I have been to in my travels. Malacca and Kuala Lumpur were both amazing cities. Malaysia is safe and has reliable transportation options: I used buses, metros, taxis, and an airplane to get around the country with no problems. For some reason, I was quite impressed by this. Still, while I had a great time on my trip, clearly Coronavirus was taking a toll on tourism in the two countries. As I explored the Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, there were no lines and hardly any people at the attraction on the Saturday morning when I visited it. In the restaurants and shops that I patronized in Malaysia, there were only a smattering of tourists, and the staff stood around as if they were used to or expecting more business that wasn’t going to come. There were not the throngs of Chinese or South Korean tourists, like when I visited Vietnam during my winter break. The anxiousness of servers and shop clerks reminded me of how people in my hometown would react when a warm spell would melt the snow prematurely during the winter months. We would all worry about the impact that this would have on the local economy that depended on skiers and snowmobiles. Additionally, everywhere that I went in Singapore and Malaysia there was temperature scanning technology set up to scan people for the telltale fever of Coronavirus.

On my way back to Qatar from Singapore, I had an eight-hour layover in Sri Lanka! This past October, when I bought my plane tickets through Sri Lankan Airlines, I only had a reasonable one-hour layover in the country. However, closer to my trip, flights were canceled and rescheduled. I wanted to complain, but as I researched alternate flights through the airline, I could see that there were no longer multiple flights from cities entering and leaving the country. Flights had been pared down to one flight to or from a particular city on any given day. I was lucky that the flight from Singapore preceded the flight to Qatar. If it were the inverse, I might have had to wait an entire day for my flight back to Qatar! At least Sri Lankan Airlines provided me with a room in the airport hotel to lessen my discomfort during my layover.

As I was flying back to Qatar, I learned that people who visited Singapore would be subject to a medical test to check for Coronavirus on arrival at Hamad International Airport. I quickly disembarked from the plane upon arrival and darted to airport immigration. Normally, I could scan my passport through the E-gate at HIA and be on my way. However, this service had been suspended, and I found myself at the front of the queue of recently arriving passengers. When I approached the immigration officer, he looked at my boarding pass and the stamps in my passport. “Where were you?” he asked. This morning I was in Singapore. Yesterday, I was in Malaysia. “Go to the medical test!” he commanded. I then headed in the direction of the medical center where a Filipina in scrubs and a medical masked asked me a series of yes/no questions. “Do you have a sore throat? A cough? A fever?” No, no, no. She then stamped a photocopy of my passport and boarding pass and told me that I could return to the back of the now lengthy immigration line. Ugh!

The day that work resumed, I received an email from my department. Management was surveying returning instructors about the countries that they had visited during the break. I quickly replied, Singapore and Malaysia. When I showed up at work for a meeting at noon, I received a call from the Lead for Program Administration. What’s up? I inquired. “Um, Conan,” she responded, “Management thinks it would be a good idea if you got class coverage and went to Hamad Hospital to get tested. That’s unless you don’t have any symptoms.” Well, I don’t have any symptoms, but I will go get tested just to provide management with peace of mind. So, I arranged for coverage and headed to Hamad Hospital. This was the first time the I visited Hamad in the three years that I lived in Doha. Normally, I go to the nearby private hospital Al-Alhi for my medical needs. Service is better and quicker, and my insurance has covered everything after the 25 QAR co-pay (6.87 USD). When I arrived at the general hospital area, I was told to go to the emergency department. When I arrived at the emergency department, I was told that this particular department was for GCC nationals, and that I should go across the street to the department for non-GCC foreigners. When I entered the emergency department for foreigners, it was crowded with men in blue jump suits (construction laborers) who looked exhausted and miserable, and every couple seconds, someone in the room would cough. I held my breath, pushed my way to the front of the check in line, and told the receptionist that my work wanted me to get Coronavirus testing. He entered my name in the system, gave me a bracelet, and told me that they would call my name. All the seats were filled, and it was standing room only—which didn’t bother me because I didn’t want to sit next to any of the sick workers! I was a university instructor; my name should be called any minute now, right? After about 15 minutes, I impatiently approached the receptionist again, and asked when my name was going to be called. “Sir,” the receptionist snapped at me, “All these men are here for Coronavirus testing! The queue is 10 hours! You are going to need to be patient!” 10 frickin hours! I am not spending 10 hours in this room with all these sick guys. If I don’t have Coronavirus now, I will have it by the end of my wait. So, I quickly rushed out of Hamad Hospital and over to Al-Ahli to see if they could conduct the test for me. I would make my insurance pay for the procedure. “Sorry, sir,” a Filipina medical technician told me, “The test can only be done at Hamad Hospital.” I then called the Program Administration Lead. I’m not waiting at Hamad Hospital for 10 hours. I don’t have any symptoms, aside from being tired from jetlag and running around on a wild goose chase for Coronavirus testing! I’m going to resume teaching tomorrow. She supported my decision.

The day after my adventures at Hamad, I was preparing to teach my afternoon classes when I learned in a WhatsApp group that the government had announced the suspension of elementary, secondary, and university classes until further notice. Great, I needed to start thinking about how to teach class online.

So, that’s my long story to your first question. Regarding your request for advice as to how to transition and start somewhere new, that’s an interesting topic in this time of Coronavirus uncertainty. 

When I was staying in Malacca, there was a married couple who were English teachers in China. They were stranded in Malacca until the quarantine in their school district ended, and they were able to resume face-to-face class instructions. Despite being displaced because of the Coronavirus, they were having a great time in Malacca—there are worse places to be stranded than tropical Malaysia.

When I was in Singapore, I messaged a friend from grad school who lives in an Oceania country, asking if she was still planning on visiting Singapore with her family. “No, Conan,” she replied. “We have no students from China and South Korea because of Coronavirus, so my university cut my language teaching position. I just updated my CV and will be sending it out.”

When I returned from vacation and learned that I was going to be teaching online, I shared this information with an acquaintance in Lebanon. Classes at her school had been suspended the week that I had been traveling, and we were both going to start teaching online at the same time. However, she had to prep for multiple subjects for more students than me. I extended my sympathy to her, but she countered, “For two years, I didn’t go to school because there was war. This Coronavirus is not a big deal.”

Though your job change might not be directly prompted by Coronavirus, my advice for how to transition and start somewhere new is the following:

First, be grateful. Whether your new work position is a step up or slight step down in terms of pay and responsibility, it is a step forward, and you need to be grateful for the new opportunity. Entering your new workplace with a positive attitude, instead of with bitterness or disappointment, will set a better tone for your transition.

Second, listen and observe as much as possible. When starting off at your new place of employment, you need to figure out how things run so that you can effectively join the operations of the organization. Listen to what co-workers tell you and watch how they get things done (or not done). Use this time to develop your confidence and competence.

Third, treat your new position like a new relationship. Things didn’t work with your last one; you wanted new opportunities; or maybe things were becoming toxic. Regardless, you are in a new relationship. Don’t bad mouth your ex or bring them up too much. Do what you can to improve your performance in your new shot at employment. And, know that the rose-colored glasses of the honeymoon period will eventually come off. Hopefully, at that point, you are truly happier with your new position than you were with previous one.

That’s all I have. I hope that my advice helps. Let me know if I can be of any additional service to you.

Congrats, again, on your new position, and thanks for listening to my Coronavirus digressions. Best of luck, and remember to wash your hands regularly!

Your non-infected friend,

Conan  

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

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