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A Comprehensive Guide on Staying Sane During COVID as an Expat

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Let me guess - your plan was to work abroad long enough to save money and open a business back home. Or buy a house. Or help out your folks.  Or maybe your plan was to move abroad so that you can travel easier to all those Instagrammable beaches. Or maybe… you have relocated abroad because you wanted something different.

Regardless of what your plans were prior to 2020, it is probably safe to say that all our lives have been COMPLETELY messed up because of COVID-19. And whilst your friends back home may still rely on each other’s proximity to cope and manage their anxiety, stress or concerns, you might find yourself more or less alone in a foreign country - and understandably enough, you might find it hard to deal with everything by yourself.

If you are reading this and thinking “Gosh that’s me!”, then please know that you are not alone. Head here to connect with other expats all in the same position as you.

a foreign couple living abroad in myanmar during coronavirus, wearing masks, walking through the local market
My partner and I at a local market in Myanmar during COVID-19

There are many other people in a similar boat - and whilst we might all be “stuck” in different countries, which have approached the COVID issue differently, please know that we are in this whole thing together, and eventually we will all make it through.

I am no life coach, and I am in no position to tell you what to do - but let me tell you that there are a few things that you may be able to do to help yourself out in these dire times.

So as I tell you more about the 3 Re’s (Re-evaluating, Re-discovering and Re-connecting), consider how you could apply these to your own situation and potentially improve your outlook on life.

1. Re-evaluating

This is the first, and indeed the most vital thing that you should do if you find yourself living abroad during COVID.

Step 2 and 3 are of no importance if you won’t CLEARLY re-evaluate all your life choices up to now. You might think : “Seriously, Claudia? Why do I have to think about it now?

But the truth is, if you don’t know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, how will you manage to feel happy with your choices?

Undoubtedly, the situation has changed for everyone. Perhaps you have lost your job. Perhaps your job is not actually giving you satisfaction anymore. Or perhaps you are needed at home.

Regardless, things are not the same as they were when you decided to move abroad. So don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to move to a different city, or a different country, or go back home for a while. Listen to your heart and go with it - even if this means upsetting your boss, your landlord, your partner etc.

If you are still happy with your choices, and you have decided that the best thing for you is to stay where you are, only then you can think about step 2 and 3.  

If you are in a position where you are stuck somewhere and waiting for a flight, please remember that this will not last forever - before you know it, you will be on that flight and you will reach your destination safely.

A female expat living abroad in Myanmar, wearing her face mask on a boat trip.
Playing tourist in Myanmar- with my face mask!

2. Re-discovering

Remember all those things that we used to love doing, before life got in the way? Me neither.

That might be because we have been so busy chasing those dreams, hustling and working hard for a better future, that we have completely forgotten about the things we used to love doing back in the day, when life was… simpler.

Do you love a certain sport? Or perhaps you love listening to or composing music. Or maybe you are an aspiring writer. Or perhaps you are passionate about animals’ rights. The list is endless.

And despite our general apprehension towards the word COVID, we should recognise that this bizarre year has given us the most precious gift of all, the gift of time.

So regardless of where you are in the world, ask yourself “How can I use this time to do the things that I used to love? The things that truly give me joy?”.

Because with a little research, you will probably find a good music shop in your city, which you didn’t know existed. Or you might discover that actually there is a sports team in your city which you could join and continue pursuing that sports career that you always wanted. Or you might discover an organisation, charity etc which you have always been passionate about, but never had time to invest in their causes.

It's also a great time to get comfortable working online and take some courses that could help you become location independent when travel does open back up again. These 6 steps will help you make the transition to remote work.

Another option for remote work is to teach English online.

2020 will only be a wasted year if you let it be so - perhaps this is not the time to start your own business yet, but nothing stops you from investing in yourself and in your hobbies.

Alternatively, use the spare time that you have to rediscover your new city of residence. Why did you move here in the first place, and what attracted you here? Perhaps it’s the parks, or the culture, or the friendly people. Whatever it is, spend some time exploring your new city and country - you might discover new and exciting places which you would not have found otherwise.

Learn the local language if you have not already done so, and try to speak it to the locals - the effort is worth it, and will be well appreciated.

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3. Re-connecting

As an expat, keeping connected was extremely important, even before COVID. Now, this has become more important than ever.

Because we may be strong, independent boss ladies, but we are also humans and we need each other, we need human contact. Don’t feel embarrassed about contacting that old friend which you have not spoken to in years - he/she is also probably missing you, and chatting to you might make both your days 100% better. Call your family often, for COVID probably affected them in ways which you might not understand.  

A foreign couple living in Myamar, exploring local temples without any tourists, wearing a face mask and no shoes
Taking this time to visit temples, without other tourists

If you have any friends in your city, reconnect with them, as much as social distancing regulations allow you. Remember that they might also be new in a foreign city and might struggle to adapt to the culture all by themselves. As restaurants and bars start to open, make a point of going out more often and meeting people.

Just don’t forget your face mask and hand sanitizer.  

Lastly, don’t forget to re-connect with your mind and body. Some days you will wake up and tick everything off your TO DO list. Other days, you will wake up and you might feel down, or tired, or lazy. That is fine. Allow your body to function at its own pace. Do not worry about that work assignment or about that zoom meeting - you will get everything done eventually.

I don’t know for how long COVID will continue to be around. But I know that while it’s still here, we should try to find ways to survive (read thrive) in these difficult times.

So, if you feel upset and disappointed with your current life as an expat, ask yourself this one question: What can I do to Re-evaluate, Re-discover and Re-connect?

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