The Foreign Service Journal, December 2020

84 DECEMBER 2020 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL EDUCATION SUPPLEMENT Leaving Campus Behind BY SEAMUS GORMAN F or me, the beginning of March is when COVID-19 transitioned from a frightening story in the news to an event with profound personal conse- quences. Tom Hanks announced that he had been infected with the coronavi- rus, the NBA suspended its season and universities across America began to close their facilities. As college students across the United States packed and went home to their families, I discovered I was stuck. I’m a Foreign Service family member, and the rest of my family was about 5,000 miles away, in Russia. Because of COVID-19 travel bans, getting back there would be extremely difficult—and I wasn’t even sure whether to make the attempt. There were only a few flights into Moscow. I could try to get on one. But if I made it back, I knew I might get stuck again and be unable to return to school in the fall. If I decided instead to stay in Virginia, school might move online, and I would have stayed for nothing. Worse, I knew if I got sick, I’d be on my own. When the Arab Spring broke out in the early 2010s, my family was posted in Amman. I was 13 years old, and I remember having to pack a go-bag with everything I might need, just in case we had to evacuate in a hurry. We had to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This Foreign Service experience frommy past helped me navigate the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. What would happen if I got sick? If school shut down? How could I prepare for the worst? The distance between my family and me made the question of what to do more difficult for me than for many of my peers, but my FS experiences better equipped me to handle it. Ultimately, I decided that the worst case, if I got very sick, would be much easier to handle if I were with my family in Moscow. My State Department connection created a difficult situation because I was separated frommy family. But strangely, it also provided a solution: Eventually, through the Operational Medicine program I was able to get on an OpMed flight back to Moscow. And after a 14-day quarantine, during which I did not write this essay as I’d planned, I was finally reunited with my family. Now back in Russia, I am taking a gap semester. Instead of going to school in Virginia, or logging into online classes, I am working at the embassy and studying Russian—remotely, of course. Instead of walking across campus, I walk around Moscow. Instead of eating at a school dining hall, I am ordering Georgian food na dostavky —for delivery. My situation isn’t easy—I’m away from close friends and had to put my college career on hold. But I realize I am also extremely fortunate to have the opportunities that being connected to the State Department has given me. I’m living in my parents’ basement, yes, but it’s a pretty interesting place to be. Seamus Gorman is a Foreign Service family member who has lived in Moscow, Yerevan, Almaty, Beijing, Amman and Northern Virginia. He is currently a junior at James Madison University. The Foreign Service Family But it turns out, I was far from alone. All across the globe, Foreign Service par- ents and their college-age kids were hav- ing the same conversations at that exact same time. What’s going to happen next? What should I do? What if I get sick? And we parents, for the most part, had no answers for our children. We had the same general thoughts, though: Don’t worry. It’s going to work out in the end. When it’s time, we’ll get you back to post. After all, we have those fancy black pass- ports. We’re not just Americans, we’re U.S. diplomats. We’re used to flying in and out of sketchy situations, and our passports are our shields. Except this time, the danger was worldwide, and the State Department was directing all its resources into secur- ing our embassies overseas and getting U.S. citizens home. Nobody, it seems, was thinking about that small group of people who desperately wanted to travel in the other direction, who needed to get back into those suddenly locked-down embassies. That small group of people included my baby. FS College Students: Not Quite EFMs Part of the problem is that, despite the fact that I still see him as my tiny firstborn, the child who loves Tonka trucks and won’t eat vegetables if they are touching Seamus Gorman on the job, providing VIP visit support in Moscow. COURTESYOFSEAMUSGORMAN