Like many people around the world, I decided to emigrate 18 months ago (from Ireland to Thailand) for what I hoped would be a better life. In my case, sunshine and a healthier lifestyle were my driving forces.
People emigrate every single day – predominantly for economic reasons – in what up until recently was a more open and connected world. Travel was cheap, opportunities were plentiful and for many (although certainly not the majority), the world was our oyster. My God, how things change in just a couple of short weeks…
In The Current Coronavirus Crisis, I’ve Never Felt So Far Away
My family and friends are spread around Europe now, with most being in the worst affected areas, including Ireland, Belgium and the UK. I’m generally a very optimistic person and think things will work out for the best – no matter how dire the situation -but right now I’m beyond sick with worry.
Like most people, I have elderly grandparents, relatives with medical complications and people in coronavirus hotspots literally locked into their homes. As the days go by, I start to ask myself the questions that are easy to think, but harder to put into words…
- What if somebody I know falls gravely ill or dies?
- Will I be able to get home if I urgently need to for a certain reason?
- How are people that I know doing for money after losing jobs, or their businesses?
- How are people I know who struggle with mental health holding up in isolation?
- When will I be able to see family members that I haven’t even met yet?
They are Doomsday scenarios on a personal level, but scenarios that people who have chosen a life abroad are facing on an hourly basis right now. On the flip side, they are also the concerns of people who have loved ones abroad right now. No matter how bad things are, you’d always rather be in it together with friends and family.
In life, there is comfort in the closeness of loved ones and friends. Right now, despite Facetime or Whatsapp those loved ones no longer feel a 12 hour flight away, but as if they’re on another planet.
‘Expat Guilt’ Is Real & Millions of People Around The World Are Experiencing It Right Now
The biggest question expats and people who have chosen a life abroad now face is: should I have ever left in the first place? The answer is still undoubtedly yes. We all knew the risks of not being at “home” if something went wrong. What none of us could have predicted was the unraveling of societal norms via a global pandemic.
Do expats feel guilty about not being at home right now? I can’t answer for everybody, but I know I do.
To look through rose-tinted glasses (which I believe we should try to do, to look on the bright side) the vast majority of us will be fine, as will our loved ones. That won’t remove the separation anxiety or angst though. Even loved ones split by dozens of miles are worrying about each other, so 1000s of miles shouldn’t over exacerbate it.
The Level of Solidarity & Community Spirit Is One Positive Aspect
What does bring me immense comfort is the beautiful human solidarity being shown in many cases. As an expat I can only see these via online channels from “back home”, but humans are resilient people; the level of care and love being shown is massive in the majority of situations that I see. I’m Irish, so this might not resonate with everybody but this video of a community funeral in Co. Kerry brought a tear to my eye, and also a profound happiness in mankind.
Yesterday we buried a lovely woman. Due to #Covid19 there was no wake & our community couldn’t enter the church.
But the entire parish came out & lined the 2km road to graveyard to say goodbye to Betty Ryan.
— Seán Mac an tSíthigh (@Buailtin) March 20, 2020
What we do now is stick together. Phone home. Make efforts to support anybody you know or love, or even the stranger in the street. The pain is being felt by all in ways I still can’t quite fathom, but strength comes in unity. In being connected no matter how huge the distance is physically or emotionally.
A Whatsapp message from my mum brought it home to me tonight and prompted me to write this post. She lives in Belgium, which is badly hit with coronavirus and lockdowns, and I know she misses me terribly. She has a bad chest and works in retail and has just turned 60 (a beautiful young 60 I might add)….
“People Here Are Hanging White Cloths On Their Terraces”
As an expat going to sleep tonight I wish I was there hanging out the white sheets and applauding the health workers right beside her. But, I’m not. I feel huge guilt but I also know everything will work out fine. There will be plenty of laughter and hugs in the future. But I think that sinking feeling of not being there is the one every expat feels right now.
I didn’t set out to write a negative piece. Or to add to hysteria, but rather to explain what it feels like to not be at home right now. We’ll beat this and we will beat it together. Being in coronavirus hotspots isn’t easy right now but neither is being away from home. When all this is over, I’m sure we’ll see that temporarily staying apart is bringing all of us closer together.