10 July 2020

A Story of Perseverance and Improvisation

Written by: Liliana Calderon

What a time!

I know I am not the only one who has had to cope with the sudden changes that the pandemic has brought on. It is an event that has impacted the entire world.

Although the changes have been difficult to work with, it gives me so much hope to see many of us taking these difficult times with stride in order to protect one another. One thing many of us have had to deal with are the disappointing pangs of cancelled plans. These plans can include trips, celebrations, trainings, conferences, new jobs, current jobs and much more! I feared many times that I would not be able to start my position and compose this blog for you all to read, but with a bit of perseverance and improvisation, I am able to tell my story to you all today.

I was in Costa Rica serving as a bird bander for the Costa Rica Bird Observatory when the pandemic started to prompt shutdowns in North and Central America. I had been up in the chilly highlands of Costa Rica for a little over a month when our operations were finally being taken to the tropical Caribbean beaches. We had only been a couple of days into our new and humid adventure when my fellow crew member and I learned that Costa Rica was planning to close its borders to international travel. We traveled in with boats full of tourists, and days later the once bustling town center and beaches were quiet. Things were becoming very serious very quickly and every day brought new uncertainties. My mom, of course, urged me to cut my Costa Rica adventure short and come back home to Chicago. Convinced, I looked into changing my flight back home and I learned that the airline I booked with had cancelled all of their flights until further notice! Costa Rica is great, but I much preferred to be home with my family during all of this. Given the severity at the time, I began to ponder if and when I would see my loved ones again. In addition to those worries, I was also extremely anxious to make it back to the U.S. in time for my fellowship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service!

Well, long story short, I found a flight back home and I even had a bit of time to spare before the fellowship was scheduled to begin. In that time of waiting, I anticipated what the Directorate Fellows Program (DFP) would do. Surely, the program would cancel the training we were scheduled to have at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. This training was something I (and I’m sure many other DFP fellows too) was very much looking forward to. Would the entire fellowship be cancelled as well? May came and I was still biting my nails waiting for the deliberation. An email finally appeared in my inbox and Marlene (our HAF Program Manager) asked if I was interested in participating in the program remotely. What bitter-but-mostly-sweet news! I was relieved that the program wasn’t cancelled, but I also felt a bit of disappointment that I would not be traveling to my site in Oregon. A few years ago, I had the great opportunity to spend 8 months in Oregon and I absolutely fell in love with it.  I was very excited to be in the wonderful green of the Pacific Northwest again, and maybe some day I will find myself there again.

I am a couple of weeks into my fellowship and although I am currently not where I was expecting to be, what an amazing experience it has been so far. During our first week, the program had a very welcoming virtual orientation. During the training the fellows met one another, mentors, the program directors, and even the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service! In between the online orientations, I met my supervisor and she introduced me to staff members in the office I would have been stationed at. I learned more about the project I would be dedicating my summer to and got to work as soon as I was set up with my computer, another test of improvisation and perseverance.

I am so honored to participate in a program where many folks decided that they couldn’t let us, the fellows, down. They scrambled to improvise, to onboard us, gear us up, and welcome us into the fellowship. As I continue to work, I become more and more passionate about my project and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Until the next blog!


Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service - DFP

Location: Portland Regional Office

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