When several dozen Fulbright grantees gathered in Amman, Jordan, for a meeting about their program’s status on March 15, some were still optimistic they could stay. They’d received the same email that most Fulbrighters worldwide had gotten the previous Friday, which suggested they should probably go home.
“It said ‘voluntary,’ but the language, it felt more like ‘volun-telling,’” said Hana Hobscheid, a 25-year-old Fulbright grantee who had been working as an English teaching assistant.
All U.S. Fulbright programs worldwide — which provide grants for thousands of academics, students, artists and professionals to study or teach at global universities — were suspended on March 19.
For the Jordan cohort, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic didn’t seem like much of a threat there at the time. There had been one travel-related case, and after that individual recovered, the country had declared itself free of the virus. But over the weekend the situation escalated quickly.
By the time they gathered in Amman that Sunday, the Jordanian prime minister had shut down schools, mosques, churches, restaurants, and ― crucially ― airports, Hobscheid said. The message from the local Fulbright officials was more straightforward than the global directive: Airports are closing in 36 hours. Leave now.
Jordan Fulbrighters gathered outside after the meeting, discussing their options. While they were told to leave, flights were climbing upwards of $5,000, they said. Even with the promise of State Department reimbursement, some scholars felt that they were being asked to do the impossible, according to Thaer Husien, a 28-year-old another grantee in the English Teaching Assistant program.
“To be inelegant about it, it was basically ‘Are we screwed’ with a question mark, or ‘Are we screwed’ with a period,” he said. A few hours after the meeting, Husien learned that Qatar Airways was opening up more commercial flights. He packed up his things...