By the eighth month of his Fulbright Teaching Assistantship in Colombia, the new environment felt like home to Henry Shuldiner ’19.
An English language teacher at the Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia in Villavicencio, Shuldiner had made friends, grown familiar with the city, forged relationships with his students, and improved his Spanish. He’d built structure and routine.
“I was really deep into my stride, and I feel like the next two months would have been some of the best that I was going to have there, which I guess is what I was most disappointed about,” Shuldiner said from his parents’ home in Washington, D.C. The coronavirus pandemic cut short the assistantship that was supposed to end May 30.
On March 16, after initially suggesting that participants consider a voluntary exit from the country, the Fulbright organization notified Shuldiner that he must leave by March 22, which set him scrambling to prepare for the trip home. Fulbright arranged for his flight from Bogota to the U.S., but he had to devise a way to get himself the 80 or so kilometers from Villavicencio to Bogota.
At that point his college had closed and the country was in quarantine, with domestic travel restricted. He couldn’t take a bus or catch a ride, as he would normally have done. Instead Shuldiner found and booked a flight, hoping it wouldn’t get canceled. It didn’t, and from there, the journey went smoothly. He left Bogota late March 21 and arrived home the following day, still trying to absorb his whirlwind change of direction. Shuldiner wishes he’d had time to say goodbye to all his friends. Contacting them through WhatsApp and Instagram wasn’t the same.
Still, eight months was long enough for him to truly experience the culture, language, and people, and to build his teaching skills. Shuldiner, who majored in literature and minored in Hispanic studies and government, plans to find a job abroad, maybe in Colombia or Spain, maybe somewhere else. He’s open. The Fulbright experience left him eager for more travel.
“The thing I was amazed at the most was just how easy it was to make friends, how easy it was to find things in common, with my students and people that led very different lives than me,” Shuldiner said. “But we still watch similar TV shows and listen to similar music and have similar ideas about what we want to do in life and about what friendship means, just a lot of different stuff.”