Tripminality – Gabrielle Malfatti

Gabrielle Malfatti, EdD, is the Director of Global Engagement and Associate Teaching Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Missouri.

Alaska Air flight 388 is delayed at the gate waiting for a passenger and the required paperwork to be completed when the airplane door has to be reopened as it has been now. I find it endearing that this delay is being accommodated in a world that feels so rushed all the time.

This flight is one I’ve been waiting for since 2021 when I was awarded a Fulbright International Education Administrators grant to visit Taiwan for two weeks. Originally, we would have been there in March 2021 but COVID caused a two year delay. Although I have taken international flights to Greece, Colombia, Rwanda, The Netherlands and India in the interim, this long awaited flight and the experience it ushers hold a liminal quality to it that caused me to reflect differently about it.

Having been awarded the Fulbright IEA to Taiwan at the end of 2020 and looking forward to those experiences in spring 2021 was significant to me because the prior March I had had to cut short a visit to Taiwan as the pandemic was raging in Europe and U.S. airports were closing their runaways to planes from abroad.  As a naturalized citizen of the U.S.  the news of closing borders while I was abroad generated an added uneasiness to the situation. My return to the U.S. was made eerie by going through the deserted Kaohsiung airport, and then Tokyo’s Norita, where every flight but mine had been cancelled.

I had not realized, until initiating this trip the emotional brackets leaving Taiwan in March of 2020 and returning to Taiwan in 2023 have in my experience of the pandemic. Having had to wait until now to return to the place where the global impact of it first became real to me creates consecutive, circular, threshold crossings that make me wonder if we’ll ever get out of the spiral this planetary pause became for some of us. It is as if this return to the place where it all began for me makes me aware of some sort of veil clouding all that has happened in between and what has not been allowed to happen.

The aspect of my life most affected by the planetary pause is my work because it revolves around international education, and it feels changed in profound ways that make me long for a return to how it used to be. There is a sense of loss and I ache for lost momentum, I ache for the carefree sense of adventure my students had when traveling to non- traditional destinations, I ache for the years of missed human interaction at partner schools abroad, I ache for the sheer excitement I shared with students preparing for a Teach Abroad program every spring. I had not seen it before getting on this flight, but I definitely sense now that my eagerness of returning to Taiwan goes beyond the excitement of the Fulbright. It holds the promise of making it be over, really over. And maybe, just maybe, it holds the magic of a new beginning illumined by a light break from the shadows that engulfed us individually and collectively which having been so prevalent became invisible to us. Has a new day broken for you yet?

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