The expat COVID-19 parallel universe
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
As expats we're pretty used to switching constantly between different cultures, social conventions, time zones and social circles. Having said that, nothing could have prepared me for living with COVID-19 twice. Once with my family, friends and work here in Buenos Aires, and again with my family and friends in the UK. It seems I'm not alone. Many expat patients and friends have told me that they are experiencing high levels of preoccupation and/or conflict between themselves and the people they care most about owing to differences of opinion regarding COVID-19, government protocols and individual's adherence to lock-down regulations.
Opinion seems to be polarizing regarding which is the right approach to take and us expats have the advantage (if you can call it that) of having a wealth of information about different countries' protocols at our fingertips with which to back up our arguments. However, for me, what's important for us expats is how we can deal with this unprecedented situation being played out differently across two or more worlds which we are equally invested in.
So what can we do?
Firstly, whilst it's true that knowledge is power, it's also true that you can have too much of a good thing. I have to admit I am also finding it difficult to moderate my online news intake. However, I am convinced that reading about every detail of the UK government's response to COVID-19 multiple times a day is not doing me any good. I recommend reading or watching news from a good quality source once or twice a day. If you find this difficult it might help to set fixed news reading times to make sure it doesn't creep up on you.
Secondly, try to be empathetic with people who think differently. It's easy to forget how much perspective expat life gives us with regards to global events. If you're stocking up on N95 masks here in BA while in your country of origin your family and friends are acting as if nothing is happening, try to put yourself in their shoes. If you had never experienced expat life you might not question government protocol in your home country either. Hopefully this will allow you to express your concerns in a constructive, calm way which is more likely to win them over to your way of thinking.
Thirdly, try to stay connected with home. It's important to remember that, whilst difficult, at the heart of these conflicts is usually concern, love and the frustration that comes with the fact that there is little any of us can do to make the situation any better. Conflict, in my opinion, is actually very healthy in these situations. With the pressure we're under I think one of the worst things we can do is try to suppress our feelings with the people we are closest to. So keep fighting if you need to but try not to let it sever your connections. We need them more than ever at the moment.
Which brings me to my next point. Us expats can never have enough connections with other expats! We're a small community, sometimes we have our differences but we share a unique experience and way of understanding the world. Particularly if you're new to Argentina or stuck here because of the travel restrictions then you need a support network here on the ground. The expat groups on Facebook are not only an excellent source of information but they're also a great way to meet others in the same situation. A moment of empathy between strangers can be surprisingly powerful.
Finally, don't be too hard on yourself. This is difficult. Many patients have told me that they feel guilty for not coping with the situation better. Whilst there is almost certainly always someone who is worse off than you, living with COVID-19 between two or more different countries is a uniquely difficult experience and a certain level of anxiety, worry, sadness or whatever other emotion you're feeling is to be expected.