What It’s Like Being an Expat During Covid

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.

Yeah, right.

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.

Lockdown

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”.

New Normal

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.

Looking Forward

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.

 

 

How to Make a DIY Face Mask

We all know that Covid-19 isn’t going anywhere any time soon, and a lot of governments are recommending that people wear face masks when they go out. While non-medical grade face masks are not proven to offer protection from virus transmission, they do inhibit the spread of germs from the wearer, which still helps flatten the curve by preventing the spread of coronavirus by asymptomatic carriers. This means that you should be wearing a face mask when you go out, particularly if you will be around lots of other people (such as at the grocery store).

PPE needs to be prioritized for healthcare and other essential service workers, but it’s easy to DIY a face mask at home! I’m providing the steps that I followed to make my mask, which hopefully aren’t too confusing to follow. I know my way around sewing projects and patterns, but have never written one before. Fingers crossed that it’s easy enough to follow at home, and that my ridiculous diagrams make enough sense!

What You Will Need

-Tightly woven fabric, such as cotton (I used a cheap cotton t-shirt from ASDA)

-Needle + thread

-Scissors

-Coffee filter (optional)

Step 1.

Measure and cut the pieces you will need for your mask:
-A rectangle of fabric with a width that is [twice the distance from ear to ear allowing for facial contour + 2″] and a height that is [tall enough to easily cover from nose to chin allowing for facial contour]. This will be the facial covering.
-Two (2) 1/2″ wide strips equal in length to your fabric rectangle

Does it make more sense if I draw it out?

Step 2.

Fold the fabric rectangle in half to create two layers of facial coverage. Sew along the open edge to make a seam. Recommendations for home-made face masks emphasize two layers of fabric to cover the nose and mouth! Leave the top and bottom of the rectangle open, so you end up with a tube.

Step 3.

Measure 1″ in from each closed side of the tube, and sew from top to bottom to make narrow tubes on either side of the mask.

Step 4.

Take one of the narrow strips of fabric and feed it through the tube you’ve made on one side of the mask. Tie a knot at each end of the strip.

Repeat on the other side.

Step 5.

Tie the ends of the fabric strips together, top to top/bottom to bottom. These will fit around the back of your head (over your ears and around the nape of the neck) when you wear it. Tie the ends with bows so they are easy to readjust.

That’s it!

Adjust the tightness of the bands around your head so that the mask fits snuggly on your face. Make sure the mask covers from over your nose to under your chin. For increased air filtration, slide a coffee filter between the layers of your mask.

Stay safe everyone!

6 Ways to Maintain Long Distance Relationships

Thanks to Corona Virus, 2020 is the year of long distance relationships. Not necessarily just for lovers, but because of quarantine and self-isolation, we’re all expected to keep our distance from friends and family. Anyone who is not in a shared living space is on the “no visit” list for the time being. How much does this suck?

It’s making me think a lot about being so far away from my family and friends in Canada. Living overseas means that I don’t get to see them IRL for two years, pandemic or not. Really, it’s small consolation. It doesn’t make me feel better that other people can’t see the people they care about either, or that the people who were meant to come and visit me probaly won’t be able to. But it’s inspired me to provide people with some tips and tricks on how to maintain long-distance relationships, during quarantine or for those living far away from those they love in the long-term.

I’ve experienced many different relationships that were distance based, romantic and platonic. Regardless of who you are missing, there are way to maintain and build your relationships so that when you do see each other again, it feels like you pick up right where you left off.

Make dedicated time to talk

Talking on the phone or video chat will never be replaced by texting – it’s just not the same. While it’s great to text often, set aside some preplanned time to sit down and have a convo on the phone. Conversations flow in a much more organic way, and it can feel so special to hear the voice of the person you miss. If you plan ahead a time to call each other, treat it like you’ve made plans together to go get coffee and catch up – don’t push it off or bail last minute. It can be easy to do that, but it’s important to show the person you’ve made plans with that your time together matters, even if you’re not together.

Find things to do together

Thanks to the Internet, it’s not too hard to find ways to spend time doing things together. Video games are a perfect example of this, and allow you to play and chat together in real time. There are so many options for multi-player games that if classic shoot-em-up style games aren’t really your thing, it’s hard not to find something to play together: Portal 2 is good for puzzles and problem solving together, Stardew Valley for a mellow “something to do while we chat” kind of vibe, or Tabletop Simulator if you want to play boardgames together. I also really like watching movies with people, just by finding something on a streaming service, counting down “3-2-1-go” and chatting through the movie together. If you’re not a big movie-talker, this probably isn’t an ideal suggestion, but a chatty movie watch is one of my favourite things to do with my best friend! The important thing is to find things to do that are shared experiences, so you’re not only telling each other about what you’ve been up to; rather, you can be up to things together.

Send pictures

smartphone camera displaying plant

Because of how easy it is to take and send pictures (thanks again, Internet!), it’s super easy to share little bits about your day with people. I like Snapchat for quickly sharing small moments and short chats with my friends. Being able to visualize what the people you love are up to sounds like a small thing, but can make a big difference in feeling connected to them. Sending photos is one of my favourite things that I do to stay in touch with my mum, like pictures of flowers blooming this spring, since spring hits England earlier than Canada. It brightened her day to see flowers blooming while Ottawa was still under a layer of snow and slush. That’s what I mean about sharing small moments; it’s so easy now to share things in your day that can make someone else happy, and visualize how your day is going. Plus, selfies are always nice to see the face of someone you haven’t seen in weeks (or longer!).

Send them something

white paper and brown envelope

I’m a big fan of letter-writing. I think it makes you feel so special to get a letter in the mail that someone took the time to write. I also really like writing letters. I think it offers an opportunity for introspection and openness that I don’t always achieve in texts or phonecalls. I’ll always be an advocate for writing letters, but there are so many other things that you can do to send something special to someone special. You can mail a package (or drop one off at their door during quarantine) of something you know they’ll like, or something you’ve made for them. You could also order them food delivery, or something from their Amazon wishlist to be delivered to their house.

Give them (and yourself) some space

This is especially important for a romantically-based long-distance relationship. While it’s important to connect with the person you miss, it’s important that you don’t overwhelm each other with constant texting. It’s easy to fall into a sort of reliance on the other person, getting caught up in the “I miss you” feeling of it, and it’s not great for your mental health. Don’t confuse passively missing someone with actively doing it. What I mean by that is that while it’s okay to notice and lament someone’s absence, don’t let it consume your behaviour (constantly texting, sitting around waiting for them to get in touch, etc). If you feel like the other person is feeling that kind of way towards you, talk to them about it. It’s important to take care of your mental health.

Don’t be afraid to reach out

person holding black smartphone

If you miss someone, let them know! Until I moved, I’ve been afraid of reaching out to people, feeling like they won’t want to talk to me or get to know me better. But a lot of my friends are introverts, and they don’t always make the first step in getting in touch with me, and it’s always worth it when I make the effort to reach out. If you feel like you’re not connecting enough with the person you miss, let them know! It’s so important to openly communicate in general, but with the element of long-distance to navigate as well, it’s extra important. If you miss someone and feel like you aren’t connecting, let them know!

I think what puts a lot of long-distance relationships into context for me is my mum. She studied in New Zealand when the only way to stay in touch with her family and friends in Canada was a letter that had to travel 14,412 km to reach her hometown, or an expensive phone call. Before I left Canada, I showed my mum how to use WhatsApp. She is so excited by how easy it is to see my face, hear my voice, and stay in touch in real time with someone who lives an entire ocean away. And when you look at it with that perspective, it really is. It’s easier than ever to share your life with someone far away, and there are so many tools available thanks to the Internet that make it easy to stay in touch that maybe we take for granted.

I hope some of these tips will prove helpful for you. Did I miss anything? If you’ve been in an LDR, what are some more tips that you could offer? Let me know!