Real Life

When you're told to stay home, but it's thousands of miles away: The strange reality of being an expat during a global pandemic

A serendipitous silver lining.

By Jess Pullar
I might be biased, but I think I can quite confidently claim that New Zealand is one of the greatest places in the world.
That's what I've preached to almost every person I meet when they ask where I'm from, anyway - and I reckon I have good reason.
Its vast green spaces, scenic countryside that stretches for miles and the laid back easy-does-it attitude of my fellow Kiwi comrades is just the beginning of my love affair with New Zealand.
But out of anything, it's that feeling of calmness and peace I feel as soon as the plane touches down on pure South Island soil that see's me at my genuine happiest.
In the four years that I've been away from home, I've counted myself extremely lucky to have it to go back to whenever I've needed.
It's seen me through a million ups and downs - the most glorious of times and the lowest of low points.
So when things in the world started getting a little chaotic in March this year, my natural reflex of course was to take comfort in the fact that if it really all went bad, I could always just get myself back to NZ for some good old-fashioned burrowing in my family home.
Only, for the first time ever, this wasn't possible.
Nature-filled home has always been there in times of uncertainty. (Supplied)
I know I'm one of many hundreds and thousands of expats currently living in a city - and country - that is not their own throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
We were told to go home, and stay home - but factually speaking, this wasn't an option for us.
Our livelihoods, our belongings and our big plans for the foreseeable future are in our current cities of choice - not our original homes.
And being fortunate enough to still have a job, a place to live and four years worth of belongings here, going home in the midst of this crisis, or even in the months to come isn't a viable option for me.
Of course, I completely understand the bigger picture here - if this is how we contain the spread of the virus and keep people safe, then sign me up.
That said, I know I'm not alone when I admit that I'm a little confronted by not knowing when I'll next see my home, embrace my mum, and indulge in one of my dad's famous fry ups.
They're not lying when they say there really is no place like home. (Supplied)
But in the midst of what feels like chaos, there's something else I've discovered and I'm pretty sure a lot of other expats might have too.
In a world that's more connected than ever by technology, I've never been more grateful for it.
Before the pandemic I'd make sure I called my parents at least once a week, and message them most days. But as for during the pandemic? Well, at least a daily video (sometimes two) is the new norm.
"Hi, just me your needy daughter," I began telling them every time I dialled them in those first few turbulent weeks of self-isolation.
It quickly became a routine. I finish working from home each afternoon, set off on my dedicated time slot of exercise and call my parents for a check in.
So despite feeling possibly at my most vulnerable ever, despite being thousands of kilometres away from home, despite having no idea when I'll physically get to see my family again, I've actually never felt closer to them.
Daily video calls to Mum and Dad (and the top of Dad's head) have very quickly become the norm. (Supplied)
It's an unexpected positive I, and many others are experiencing.
A good friend from the UK who is also living in Australia explained a very similar sensation.
Going from fortnightly, even monthly check-ins to weekly and daily check-ins with her family members has been one benefit to come out of this harrowing situation.
And speaking to family members and friends some of us haven't spoken to in years is suddenly a blissful, regular norm - serendipitous, some might say.
So in a world where isolation and a distinct lack of travel is now our new norm, isn't it funny that we've never felt more connected, more in touch, and more empathetic towards those we love, have loved and continue to love than we ever have in our entire lives?
That, I think, is a silver lining worth celebrating.