Living Abroad in the Midst of COVID-19

Yes, this is what it seems like. It is yet another article/blog post/oped on COVID-19. I live in London and my employer sent everyone to work from home last week. In addition, my partner and I have decided to self-isolate as others are not adhering to social distancing measures. Therefore, here I am, in my small but lovely flat figuring out what everyone so fondly refers to as the “new normal”.

I’m an American and Portuguese citizen. My family resides in Virginia, and I have extended family across in New York, Georgia and Florida. I also have family in Portugal. What they all have in common, other than being my family, is that they are not here with me. Now, this is all pretty normal because I live abroad. And yet, as any expat knows, this fact feels heavier in times of crisis. We also can’t help but imagine how it would be better if we were “home”. For example, when a loved one falls sick you can’t help but want to fly back and be by their side. But oftentimes, we are unable to due to finances, commitments, or sheer time. There have been several funerals and weddings, birthdays and births, that I haven’t been able to attend. And yes, it’s sad. But this is the price I paid.

And now here we are. The coronavirus is spreading across the globe, impacting my family and my partner’s family (and everyone’s family). The number of COVID-19 cases is shooting upwards at an alarming rate. So again I feel a need to be with my family during this time of crisis. But this time, it feels a bit different. I’m quarantined and I’m worried that some of my loved ones may not have the strength to defeat this infection if it were to land on them. It saddens me that even if I could hop on a plane, the best thing to do is stay away. It truly does feel like war, like bombs dropping on every town. This is the first time in my life that the advice from home is not come home.

I’m not alone. I’m extremely lucky to have my partner, who is incredible beyond words. But it feels strange that my family is not just a plane ride away. I’ve been cut off from almost all my loved ones and it’s an unsettling feeling.

Victor and I went to a small park yesterday, just to get some fresh air, and I was trying to describe to him how I feel. I said it feels like we’re preparing for war. As in something is arriving tomorrow, and that’s why we’re all outside because we’re preparing for the outside world to be taken away from us. It’s like knowing the Parthenon is going to be bombed so we’re all rushing to see it before it disappears.

A weird analogy, I know. But these are strange times. Obviously, it’s not war. I can’t even fathom what it’s like to live through something that is manmade. If this doesn’t make you antiwar, I’m not sure what will. The loneliness that cloaks you is unlike any other type of loneliness. It’s not that I want to go home… it’s that I want the option to go home. And I guess that’s why I feel like the world, the universe, whatever you want to call it, has betrayed us in some way.

But then, conversely I think, maybe this is what we get for taking globalisation for granted. Our ability to travel and leave our loved ones… and come back again anytime. This is surely something I will not take for granted ever again. COVID-19 has, if anything, showed us our flaws openly. As an American living in London, I will do better. As someone that grew all over the globe, I will do better. As a person living on this Earth, I will do better. We must all do better. 

I hope you’re safe and making smart choices. Let’s get through this together. 

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