This changes everything...doesn't it?
I've often said that the expat experience is unique, and even as we connect with our global neighbours during the pandemic and share their suffering, I believe that what we're facing is very different. Why? For years many of us have repeated, almost like a mantra, "If anything bad happens, I'll get on a plane and I'll be back home within twenty-four hours.". Having now been an expat for nine years, having my mantra taken away from me by the current circumstances has been a rude awakening. I can't get home in twenty-four hours, if I could, I couldn't come back and actually, where is home anyway? I have close family in the UK but my life, partner, child and work are all here in Buenos Aires.
Over the last couple of weeks many of my expat patients have been reflecting upon the same dilemma. Some, who before we enjoying the carefree life of teaching English on a tourist visa are now looking at their healthcare options with new eyes. For others, even those very well established in Argentine culture with excellent healthcare, the balance has been tipped, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages - they're going home. Others have come to value even more what they have achieved as expats but are also reconnecting with their family in their country of origin in a totally different and new way.
If your choice is to go home the embassies are doing an incredible job risking their own health to repatriate their citizens and they're waiting to take your call or receive your email. However, for many of us it's not that easy. Our lives are here and there at the same time and it's very likely that even after everything returns to normal we'll be facing a very different sort of ex-pat life.
Having said that I've started to wonder whether I was fooling myself a little in the past. It's true, I could get back to the UK within 24 hours but I always tried not to think about how often I could do that or how long I could be there for if something did happen. Constraints like money, work and family here would have meant that I had to face facts sooner rather than later.
So what can we do? The wonderful (and awful) thing about the lock-down is that it has given us the opportunity to reflect. Don't rush into anything. Many of the advantages of the life we've chosen will still be there after the restrictions are lifted. Take your time to think about the reality of your ex-pat life before and try to be honest with yourself about the comforting stories we tell ourselves. You might find, as I did, that actually not very much has changed at all.
Stay safe, stay home.