Dear Global Languages community,

Today marks a milestone I never imagined: the end of the first week of remote instruction at MIT.

If someone had told me a year ago that the whole university would move online, I would have thought it was a science fiction story! Yet here we are. And by all accounts I have heard from students, instructors, and staff, everything went much more smoothly than could have been anticipated two weeks ago, though not entirely free from glitches. I know this is due to the dedicated work of so many on our instructional and staff team, as well as to the students in their preparation, flexibility, and patience with the hiccups. We have also been supported by so many across MIT, from Open Learning, to the Teaching and Learning Lab, IS&T, DSL, OVC and so many more. Thank you all !

These two weeks have flown by with so many swift and unexpected changes in our world, but when I take a moment to step back and reflect, I am deeply inspired by our community—the resilience, the willingness to help, and the dedication to problem-solving big and small: whether it’s the PPE donation initiative, the prototyping of disposable face shields, PBE’s offer to provide quarantine housing for Cambridge emergency personnel, the commitment of dining services in provisioning meals during social distancing, teamwork in bringing classes online, or the person who took the time out of their own busy schedule to help me figure out the hand raising function on Zoom! Out-of-the-box thinking, creativity, and a willingness to go above and beyond are all around us. As many others in our community have said, while the greatest challenges may yet lie ahead of us in the coming weeks, I believe that we will get through this together.

We are together though physically apart. Like many of you, I’m not spending today where I expected to be. I’m writing to you from my house where I have been since March 12, in self-isolation with my family. I’m not working on the research papers I had planned to deliver this spring in New York City, Virginia, Cambridge (UK) and London. I’m not launching my new oral history project. I set those aside to focus on the day-to-day of caring for my family, figuring out remote teaching, and the regular activity of leading an academic unit (if “regular” can be used to describe anything in this all-but normal situation!). It’s an unexpected pivot, and we are all in that boat together. You too, I know, have put your plans for the spring on hold, taken detours, found yourselves in unexpected places, and been compelled to try new ways of doing things, often in challenging circumstances.

Many in our community are more well-equipped than I to talk about the important public health impact of the steps we have taken, so I would just like to close this letter with some small, modest observations of some “silver linings” I have found in the dark clouds that hover over us:

  1. Working from my residence means no more commute. I can’t lie—I don’t miss the commute! I have two extra hours in my day, which means I can exercise daily and have more time for my family.
  2. This new mode of life also means I’m cooking for my family regularly (not much choice here!) and we are eating much more healthy meals as a result. Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies, so I’m using this opportunity to experiment with new recipes that can effectively use up all the leftovers in my fridge.
  3. The shift to remote teaching and work has provided an opportunity to learn a lot of new technologies. It’s been a crash course and I’ve learned so much. I have new skills that I can use in the future.
  4. I’m seeing the “best” MIT shine forth: the MIT that tackles world problems with teamwork; the MIT that shows compassion; the MIT that spans the globe; the MIT I know and love.
  5. Social distancing has led to more people reaching out than ever. I’ve connected with old friends, colleagues, and conference acquaintances, and renewed connections I never imagined I would. The travel agent in India who helped me with my last trip to Delhi even reached out over What’sApp to check in on me and my family! So some distances have actually shrunk as others have grown.
  6. I can’t go to the gym so I’m exercising outdoors, and I’m exercising alone. Unexpectedly, it’s providing quiet time to notice my natural surroundings more closely. I’ve discovered so many new wildflowers in our woods! They bloom for such a short time each year, that I think they have usually come and gone without me taking the time to notice. They offer me the gift of such beauty.

You all are a gift to me as well, so I would like to stop and express my appreciation.

Things may get worse before they get better. But even as clouds gather over us, never forget that so many members of the MIT community are working around the clock to pull together—and our community stretches across the globe. I have heard from alumni and colleagues in China, South Korea and other Asian countries that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that light will come to us. They are bringing us this light: this morning I learned our current student and alumni network in Greater China has mobilized pledges and in-kind donations: 2-4 million PPEs are on the way to the Commonwealth thanks to their efforts. With all this in mind I look forward to a time when we are physically together once more, and I can hear in person all your stories of the ways we met this adversity together.

Until that new day, I hope you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy.