American Sociological Association

ASA Footnotes

A publication of the American Sociological AssociationASA News & Events
May/June 2020

Insights on the Pandemic from Abroad

Angel Hoekstra, Anglo American University, writing from Prague

I am an adjunct faculty member teaching in the Czech Republic. I trained in a PhD program in Colorado, but chose a part-time career over a tenure-track position to focus on being a mom (my kids are three and six) and supporting my family. During this crisis I have been working each day to help my daughter complete her homework – in Czech. I am still reading to my son, preparing meals and writing lectures, but now I am answering more emails, cleaning up more toys and washing more dishes. We’re doing our best to weather this storm together as a family, but being stuck in a 900-square-foot apartment with four people is tough! 

The personal and the professional have become intertwined during this crisis in ways we’ve never seen. As an expat teacher, I am facing new challenges. Many of my students flew back to the United States. A few are watching videos of our class after it happens and writing weekly reflection papers, but the majority in other time zones are still logging in and attending—even though this means a commitment to attending class in the middle of the night, for eight weeks. 

The government surprised us all: shutting down schools and businesses and implementing legal requirements for face masks and social distancing, all in one day. Watching the community respond has been compelling. As a consequence of Communist rule until 1989, the Czechs have a history of “rule following.” People responded to the restrictions—not by arguing for their personal freedoms or complaining—but by wearing masks. Citizens came together quickly: sewing masks at home and creating videos in support of mask-wearing. Minority groups, the Vietnamese and Roma, have been praised by (white) Czechs for participating, yielding a powerful visual public statement of solidarity. In the Czech Republic, mask-wearing is not about passive submission, it’s about exercising your agency in support of communal need. 

Perhaps it’s time to (re)affirm how important it is to balance our distinctly North American support of individual voices, needs, and freedoms with our collective need for safety, peace, and solidarity. Each of us faces unique challenges; no one expected to convert to an online teaching and learning format so quickly. As we adapt to new norms, may our actions, reflections, and online interactions help us to better understand the truly global nature of our community.