The past twelve months has been a whirlwind for many. January of last year was largely business as usual. There were wildfires seeping through Australia and China had only just started seeing the spread of COVID-19 across its provinces, but the majority of the world was looking forward to the limitless possibilities of a New Year.
We asked several expats around the world to tell us about how the past year has affected their lives without holding anything back. We wanted to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. Here are their answers.
An American Expat In France:
The Good: My PhD is going well here, I was initially nervous about switching disciplines and continents. But France definitely suits my personality. I’ve started biking a lot around the region which has really pushed me athletically and adventure wise. Also I came out as bisexual, it’s great to have a sexual awakening in the middle of a pandemic.
The Bad: The friends I made in my first few months have all moved out of the area or out of my life. As an expat I was befriending a lot of other people new to the city, and they left when the pandemic hit. So I’m lacking good friends close by to just do things with.
The Ugly: It took all year to get my residency card! And I still can’t get a French bank account because of the US laws and the French circular logic for proving you live here.
An Australian Expat In The UK:
The Good: Still have a job - in fact I got 2 pay-rises in 10 months. My partner moved in, so I’m not alone in my flat. Lockdown means we can’t spend, so that combined with the pay-rises means I’m actually saving quickly towards our first house. Friendships with both people here and back home are just as good if not stronger as all of us are in the same boat.
The Bad: My visa expires this year which means that I have now spent… nearly ⅓ of my 3 year visa stuck in my own flat. It’s going to be extended, putting me on track to residency, but still feels like a waste. My grandma died, and because of travel restrictions I couldn’t be with my family or go to her funeral, which is shit. And I haven’t seen my friends since March despite living in the same city. It definitely feels like we’re stuck in limbo.
The Ugly: I can’t move jobs because… COVID. And sponsorship. The cases are so bad here in London I’m scared to leave my flat. I’m so burned out and tired from work and received no compassionate leave to mourn my grandmother’s death. It’s infuriating.
An American Expat In Ireland:
The Good: Ireland has 350€ per week Covid payment and free healthcare. My Irish partner and I got married as well.
The Bad: It will have been THREE years since I’ve been home when it was supposed to be less than that since I had plans to fly home last April. Watching America fall apart from afar still sucked, but it’s seeming hopeful now.
The Ugly: The doctors found a 3 inch tumor in my chest, so I am about to finish 4 months of chemo next month before I do radiotherapy. By the time, I see my mom, it’ll have been three years during which I survived a pandemic and lymphoma blood cancer, which is as dangerous, if not even more to have than lung cancer during Covid because it causes sticky blood and lung clots by definition (I already had one clot without having Covid).
A Brazilian Expat In The United States:
The Good: My company remained strong, I got a small raise, adapted well to work-from-home.
The Bad: I’m alongside my wife and kids 100% of the time. All of us wish we could have some time separate every now and then.
The Ugly: I don’t have any friends and there’s no way for me to make new friends. It might be an exaggeration, but every expat has experienced this feeling, more or less.
An American Expat In Norway:
The Good: There are much worse places to be than Scandinavia in a health crisis. Fortunately, I have not needed to avail myself of the healthcare here, but it’s a load off knowing an illness would not financially ruin me. Also, my area of the country has, for the most part, kept the covid numbers on the lower end. My language courses are underway. I’m in my second year of marriage and still ridiculously happy.
The Bad: Seeing my friends back home suffer so much more with everything. Dad was supposed to visit for the first time in April, obviously didn’t happen. Haven’t seen my folks in a year and a half after assuring my wonderful mother that this international move was “just a plane ride away”, which I’d already been anyway.
The Ugly: Watching my husband lose his father, not because the man died but because he succumbed to alcoholism-related behaviors so severe that all his children have concluded that they cannot maintain a relationship with him. This whole thing has cast a long shadow onto a lot of his past memories and perception of his family as a whole, too, so it’s more than just losing his dad in the present.
An Anonymous Expat In Taiwan:
The Good: I’ve been super lucky that we haven’t been locked down here and life is pretty normal. I’ve also been fortunate that money is coming in and I didn’t get locked out by the post Chinese New Year madness.
The Bad: I’m not jiving with the work culture here and there isn’t much opportunity beyond what I’m doing now, so my life has been on pause while I wait for things to open up.
The Ugly: Watching America turn into a steaming cesspool, seeing so many friends get stuck at home and trying to transition out of teaching in a bad economy.
A British Expat In New Zealand:
The Good: Well, who could predict that NZ would fare pretty well during a pandemic? It’s been surreal to watch it all unfold from here, especially in the UK. I found out I was pregnant at end of Feb, just before things got really bad. I also had a second little girl in November and I was on 80% pay over lockdown with no daycare fees for my older daughter, which boosted our savings and allowed us to buy a house - I was doing house viewings while I couldn’t work. I have the opposite problem to many; we don’t get on great with most family members and the borders are shut which means the worst ones can’t come to us to interfere with baby. Life is almost normal here, I just have to scan in to places and use masks on public transport.
The Bad: Our first lockdown was extremely strict and it was pretty horrible being trapped in a tiny flat with a 1.5 year old and morning sickness. I was also supposed to be working from home which was near impossible - computer was in the kitchen and toddler was determined to also get on it, lol. The knowledge that we can’t leave the country for a holiday is a claustrophobic feeling I’m sure many expats could sympathise with.
The Ugly: Throughout this my husband has been an “essential worker” as he works in a hospital, but in admin/management and could actually do his work from home. He just has a mean boss who worked at home herself and wouldn’t allow him to - even though she knew I was pregnant and we had a young toddler at home.
An American Expat In Sri Lanka
The Good: Where to begin? Sri Lanka is an amazing country and we fared well overall with the covid situation. I’ve learned to surf and continue to surf almost daily. I eat fresh tropical fruits every day and have access to locally grown produce. I learned to make some awesome local dishes and curries. I was able to train to become a Yoga teacher. I have written an solo EP and one with a Sri lankan singer. I made amazing friends from around the world and have a tight knit expat plus local community. I’ve taken some sick road trips via motorbike to the mountains, east coast, national parks and had lots of time for self reflection. I got to organize a meditation retreat and am able to share breathwork.
The Bad: For better or worse, its hard to find anything here. Small island, simple life, expensive imports and the ports were closed for much of the year. The cannabis is awful here, I miss California lol. quality of life is high, quality of things is super low. There is lots of useless plastic pollution. I’m a musician and I only have access to some of the worst quality instruments in the world … I also miss my family and would love to visit but I don’t want to to leave my paradise bubble until its easy and safe to depart and return. The dating scene is super small too so you gotta be careful.
The Ugly: A large portion of the expats are still continuing to party their faces off. Ketamine is the drug of choice as well as a handful of other easily attainable pharmaceuticals. There are issues with sexual harassment of females from local men.. Sri Lanka had the Easter bombing in 2019 so tourism numbers were already down, now its quite dire for many local businesses and families especially those who work in tourism.
An American Expat In Mexico:
The Good: I teach ESL in a city bustling with international companies. Unemployment means lots of people looking for new jobs, many of which require a certain level of English proficiency. My school’s student base has actually grown during the pandemic and I am secure in my job.
The Bad: I’ve spent the majority of my time in Mexico in quarantine. I was super excited to get out there and practice my Spanish and see all the cool little towns around where I live, but I can’t do either of those things right now. I practice Spanish with a teacher once a week online, but it’s near impossible to meet new people and make friends right now.
The Ugly: I previously worked in the entertainment industry in the US, and I’ve watched all my friends and ex-coworkers back home fall into unemployment and debt due to the industry’s nonexistence during the pandemic. While I’m happy to be safe and secure in my work here, it’s heartbreaking watching my old world crumble like that.