Let’s set the scene: it’s February 2019, and I apply for 2 year visa to live in the UK. I get my visa approved, and I’m excited as hell. I’m going to travel so much, around the UK and in Europe, I’ll have friends and family come visit me, it’ll be amazing to see so much of the world.
I arrived in the UK in August of last year and a bit more than six months later – BOOM – the entire world shuts down amid the worst global crisis in decades.
So what’s that been like?
Deciding to Stay
At the end of March, shit was getting serious and Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau called Canadians travelling abroad to return home. That just felt like a confirmation of how real the pandemic situation was. It crossed my mind, but realistically, I’m not a traveller. I’m living in England. I have a flat and a job and my boyfriend and I’m a lot more tied down here than a traveller would be. Maybe it’s surprising, but it was pretty easy to decide to stay.
Keeping Up With The News
In the first few months of the pandemic, following the news was absolutely awful. Not just because of being drowned in constant bad news, but because it was so frustrating to see the differences between how Canada and the UK handled the pandemic.
It’s pretty well agreed upon that Canada has done a very good job at cracking down on the pandemic, and while Britain got there eventually, it sucked seeing my home country shut down public spaces (particularly schools, but also restaurants and pubs) while the UK tried to put it off as long as possible. I trust Justin Trudeau to make responsible choices for his country a lot more than I trust Boris Johnson to do pretty much anything.
Even now that things have returned to a relatively normal pace, it’s still frustrating and confusing to compare statistics between the two countries. Canada has a lot fewer people than the UK, so of course numbers are going to be lower, but when my friends worry about a spike of 17 new cases in our home city, I don’t know quite what to say because the city I’m in has one third of the population but six or seven times the cases.
My workplace was included in the business shutdown with no option to work from home, so for five months I was sheltering at home. I’m a pretty introverted person, and with most of my friends an ocean away anyway, I’m pretty well suited to staying in. It was interesting hearing the perspectives both IRL and online of people who suddenly couldn’t see their friends or family due to social distancing measures. While quarantining wasn’t necessarily easy, it often felt very relaxing. I was able to catch up on reading, video games, and some movie marathons. I called my mum a lot, and my BFF and I watched movies “together” over the phone. For me, it was easier than ever to be in touch with people back home, because quarantine meant that everyone was home all day, and the 5-hour time difference didn’t really matter. My D&D group (which I had joined just a few weeks before lockdown) played weekly, and our Sunday sessions was the only thing that kept me on a schedule. I watched Tiger King, and Wild Wild Country. I started learning German. I blogged more consistently than ever.
While quarantine wasn’t ever ideal, there were certain things that felt good about it – I wasn’t stressed about work, I was in touch with my loved ones more than ever, and I allowed myself to do things I love without feeling guilty about not being “productive”.
The UK Government announced that lockdown measures would be easing in June, and on July 4th, I was back at work. It felt like the UK was pushing to open a lot more than Canada, and it made me a bit nervous. Like I said, I think Canada’s government handled the pandemic better than England, which fumbled about with reducing social distancing measures (Social Bubbles, delayed necessity/enforcement of masks in indoor public spaces, “reducing 2 meters distance to 1.5 meters distance but still try for 2m but 1.5m is okay I guess”). Though initially stubborn, people here in England have adapted to the new government advice and regulations, and are generally accepting of the New Normal being thrust upon them. This feels very in line with the stubbornness and steadfastness associated with British people – “Keep Calm and Carry On”.
I think the big difference in the return to normal between Canada and the UK is that the UK has a unique pub culture that Canada just doesn’t really have. More people are going out on the town again here in England, but back home in Canada more people are having house parties, barbeques, and weekends out at the cottage with their friends. There is no perfect way to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, but I think that the new health and safety policies implemented in pubs and restaurants here in the UK strike a good balance between safety and a return to normalcy.
I think that, were I home in Canada, I would be less likely to go out quite as much as I have here. As things have opened up here later in the summer, I have felt more comfortable going out, even travelling locally. Spending the day in town in Nottingham before we moved, taking the bus to Lincoln for a day trip, joining in a road trip to Louth, and now exploring Sheffield. While it doesn’t feel unsafe to do so, it still makes me feel a little guilty. While I have not travelled far, or breeched any guidelines, or done anything that feels inherently wrong, it still sometimes feels like too much. I think if I were home in Ottawa, I would be less likely to be out and about. Being here in the UK, it’s a mix of guilt for doing too much, and guilt for squandering my time here. It feels a bit like I just can’t win.
As I’ve been saying, a huge part of my excitement in moving to England was travelling. My boyfriend and I were planning on travelling throughout Europe next fall. But who knows how things will stand a full year from now. Maybe the old normal will be back. Maybe things will be worse. Maybe we’ll still be figuring things out as we go, and hoping for the best, like we are now. I am hopeful that we will be able to travel as initially planned, but I also want to be responsible and do the right thing. We can only wait and see where we’ll be in September 2021.
Travel aside, I’ve settled into the city I’ll be calling home for the next year, and -despite the odds of job hunting in a global pandemic- gotten a new job. When I head out the door, I check that I’ve got my face mask alongside my wallet and phone. Ultimately, no matter where we are in the world, this is something we all have to live with.