UCLA International Institute, April 9, 2021 — Since precautions related to the global coronavirus pandemic sent everyone home in mid-March 2020, the staff of the International Institute have worked hard to keep its operations going.
It took only a few weeks for most people to acclimate to the new work reality: downloading needed communications and security software, learning how to use a Virtual Private Network and becoming skilled at convening office meetings and public seminars via Zoom. We are now adept at organizing events, counseling students and managing center and institute finances from a distance.
Yet most staff keenly feel the absence of human connection, particularly the offhand conversations with colleagues that occurred in the hallways or kitchen areas on the 10th and 11th floors of Bunche Hall.
To sustain those informal chats, the institute began holding weekly virtual "coffee hours" within weeks of Los Angeles County's initial stay-at-home order. The coffee hour is still going strong a year later.
Conversations touch on developments in Los Angeles and the nation, but mostly center on fun exchanges about the best stores for different kinds of cooking ingredients, children's mischief, knitting projects and movie and TV show recommendations — with a running joke about people's big plans for three-day weekends. Lately, of course, vaccination dates have predominated.
Similarly, the institute's Equity Advisor Robin Derby and its EDI group initiated an anti-racism reading group. The group has met regularly throughout the pandemic to discuss books on racial justice issues by Americans from a broad spectrum of racial and ethnic backgrounds.
The biggest collaborative effort of the year has been the "Our Recipes with Love" cookbook. Because, in truth, what better way is there to connect with others than through food?
Spearheaded (and designed and compiled) by Kaya Menteşoğlu, the institute's IT manager and senior web developer, the cookbook collects recipes from around the world contributed by institute staff members, together with accompanying family stories. The result of the ongoing project will be an enjoyable, easy-to-follow collection of recipes from the long list of countries with which Institute staff have a connection (see a sample of the ongoing collection here).
Once social gatherings are again possible on campus, the recipes are sure to be put to use in regular potluck lunch hours, together with in-person conversations that don't require a computer!