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Students and Alumni around the Globe During the Pandemic

Satellite image of Asia from east Africa across Russia and Pacific ocean.

May 12, 2020

With the pandemic has come a break in most everyone’s routine. We reached out to some of our students and alumni to see what that break looks like in their part of the world. As expected, people are responding to the evolving situation with flexibility and adaptation.  Not only the UW is teaching coursework on-line, and this is not news.  Juan Felipe Arroyave (Asian Language and Literature student) is attending the Inter University Center for Japanese Studies in Yokohama, and although students were advised to return to the U.S. Juan has remained in Japan.  Arroyave reports that “Online instruction has been very effective, in my opinion. Sometimes it is hard to be productive at home and I miss the Center’s library and study areas, but I am very satisfied with the content of the classes I am taking this quarter and feel like I am not missing anything crucial. I naturally miss seeing my professors in person and interacting with other classmates, but my biggest concern, which was that the quality of education was going to drop, has proven to be unfounded.”

Rebekah Harmon (MA 2008) has been living in Japan for several years and while she and her husband both continue to be employed and are able to work from home, her job at the Tokyo National Museum translating exhibitions and interpreting for visiting curators is diminished. The museum closed near the end of February, before Japan’s declaration of a state of emergency on April 7th. (The original state of emergency was issued April 7–May 6, but has been extended through May.) And aside from postponing international travel, she reports that businesses and public transportation continue to operate, albeit less than usual.

Choosing to return from Japan, Nikki Brueggeman (MA 2015) relocated to the U.S. in March when traveling through the Kansai airport was strangely quiet and nearly empty. Since returning she has founded ‘The #DocumentingCOVID19 Project’, an effort to collect oral histories from people in the United States experiencing the pandemic. The project goal is to have an audio collection that can be shared with institutions such as museums or universities for future research or historical purposes. “Thus far, we have 10 interviews completed. These are with people who are sheltering in place, essential workers, and COVID-19 survivors. I was inspired to start this project by a tweet I saw that asked people to start keeping journals during the pandemic. As a historian, I realized we needed interviews with every-day people. With people who may never speak with the New York Times or be on CNN, but still have unique stories to share” says Brueggeman. If you would like to be interviewed Brueggeman invites you to start by completing the Google Form, at

Onur Kanan (MAIS 2017) is in his home country of Turkey. Although he recently caught a flu, it was over quickly much to his relief. Going out only twice in the first seven weeks, the lockdown has him continuing to work from home. “Schools are shut down. People under 20 and over 65 are not allowed to go out. Only those who cannot work from home are allowed to go to work…But there is a complete lockdown on weekends for everybody,” says Kanan, adding that the deterrent for getting caught outside is a hefty fine.

In an op-ed from April, Kanan writes about how the virus might affect our lives, especially our working habits, in the future. Read the article here: it:

If you are a former or current student, we would like to hear from you. Let us know how the pandemic is impacting your life by writing to us at JAPAN@UW.EDU.