The gritty, hard reality of being a kiwi expat during COVID19

What happens when your halfway around the world and can't come home

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New contributor Yvette is a kiwi expat in Scotland when she received the news you dread the most while abroad. Follow along as she dives into the heartwrenching emotions that always accompany a person’s choice to move overseas and what it’s really like as a Kiwi expat during COVID19.

At the start of this year, I was the happiest I’d ever been.

I had just married my perfect person and had my dream wedding in Scotland. I left my desk job to work as a full-time travel blogger. As a kiwi expat in Scotland, I spent my days seeking adventures in my adopted land, then writing about them afterward. I had my wonderful friends and family around me. My husband and I were excitedly planning our honeymoon back to New Zealand.

I could never have predicted that in just a few months, a global pandemic would consume us all; even in my wildest dreams, I could have never imagined how much of an effect it would have on everything around me.

Being an expat during a global pandemic traps you in a flash flood of emotions. Not only is there the worry of someone you care about getting sick, but combine that with closed borders, canceled flights, income loss, isolation, and anxiety – it’s a lot to deal with.

kiwi expat during covid19

I’m a kiwi expat living in Scotland for the past 2.5 years. While I was born and bred in the Manawatu, I have also spent some time living in Christchurch too. I now find myself living on the other side of the world from my family during a global pandemic. 

Then my worst nightmare happened: in the middle of the pandemic, my father was diagnosed with stage three cancer.

There is absolutely nothing that can prepare you for the news that one of your parents is sick. From that moment, a dark cloud hangs over everything you do. My dad is the strongest man I know. Now I’m the one who needs to be strong for him, but how can I be there for him when I’m half a world away?

kiwi expat during covid19

From being another kiwi nomad to a proper expat in the UK

New Zealand has my soul, but Scotland has my heart.

Like many Kiwis, the lure of the OE [overseas experience] proved too strong. I left my home in New Zealand four years ago; I traveled the world for 18 months before making my way to my ancestral home in Scotland.

Many Kiwis have UK ancestry, and so it makes sense that we are drawn to an unknown home. Some of us take advantage of the Youth Mobility visa, a two-year visa for anyone aged 18-30 to experience life in the UK. Then many of us head home equipped with more life experience, fun memories, and epic stories.

Being a Kiwi expat during COVID19 is hard. But if you’re like me and you’ve built a life overseas that you love, you make the tough and somewhat bittersweet decision to stay abroad. 

kiwi expat during covid19

When I was traveling in my twenties, I felt like I didn’t have to worry about much. There was always the option of going home, and settling down seemed light-years away. Traveling was the ultimate source of freedom for me. 

It wasn’t until I was nearing 30 that I began to crave stability. I wanted to continue my adventures, but I wanted a base. After years of solo travel, I was ready to meet someone to share these adventures with.

I met Craig shortly after moving to Scotland. I knew early on that he was the one for me, and he felt the same way. We got married one year to the day after we met.

I now have the best of both worlds: a partner to travel and explore the country of my ancestors with and the stability I’ve always wanted.

kiwi expat during covid19

However, as I began the process of settling down, doubts and fears bubbled to the surface. The hardest was the realization my parents aren’t getting any younger. I’m an only child, so who is going to look after them when I’m not there? What if they need me to take care of them, and I can’t? What if I have kids one day, I can’t just drag them out of school. Can I?

My husband and I both have careers we love in Scotland, and it would be financially crippling to relocate. There’s also my new family in Scotland- could I drag my husband away from them if my family needed me back in New Zealand? Would my marriage survive all of this?

There are a lot of ‘what ifs’, however, all expats know that eventually our parents grow older and the inevitable happens. I’m being torn in two directions. I want to be there for my family and friends in both New Zealand and Scotland. Being an expat sometimes feels like I’m building a castle on sand. 

kiwi expat during covid19

It wasn’t until I spent some time away from New Zealand that I realized what a beautiful country it is and how much I miss my home. There are times I miss the simple things about my culture, like fish and chips on the beach or hearing Kiwi colloquialisms such as ‘no worries, mate’ or ‘sweet as, bro.’

At times I feel like the black sheep, especially when I don’t understand a joke or when people light-heartedly mock my accent.

It’s not easy being Kiwi expat during COVID19.

kiwi expat during covid19

For any expat, one of the hardest things is not being able to be with your friends and family anytime you want. There have been many times when I’ve been traveling I’ve been gripped by anxiety, too afraid to reach out to new acquaintances around me. I’ve made many friends while going, but most of these friendships were fleeting as I was on the move so much. When my grandmother passed away in 2018, I’d only just moved to Scotland and didn’t know many people.

Not having my friends and family around me at that time was incredibly lonely.  

I am lucky that I have a home and family in both New Zealand and Scotland, but they couldn’t be further apart. If you drilled a hole through the center of the earth from Scotland, you’d end up in the South Pacific Ocean, just below New Zealand. 

kiwi expat during covid19

The storm after the storm

I celebrated my birthday in April during lockdown with my husband; we drank wine and video called my parents. My dad stayed on for the entire video chat, something that never happens because he hates technology and is a man of few words. I should have known something was up.

After that call, I broke down. It had been four years since I had last seen my dad. All I wanted was to have a beer with him on my birthday and sit in comfortable silence.

A few days later, I was making dinner when my mum called and told me the words I wasn’t prepared to hear: your father has cancer.

No. Not right now. Not just yet. I’m not ready for this. This is happening right now? Seriously?

When the shock of my father’s diagnosis subsided, I cried in my husband’s arms for an hour. When it returned, I wandered around in a daze trying to come to terms with the fact I couldn’t be there to support my dad during chemo and serious operation.

Not being there as a Kiwi expat during COVID19 to physically to offer words of reassurance and a hug for my family when they need it the most is one of the worst feelings in the world. 

kiwi expat during covid19

The journey back to New Zealand isn’t an easy one in the best of times. With many airlines canceling flights and having multiple stopovers in countries that have been severely affected by the virus, it’s even harder. What if I made it halfway home, only to get stuck in a random country due to a canceled flight? And would I be able to return to Scotland?

Visa and immigration offices in the United Kingdom closed the day I submitted my application to extend my visa, so technically, I don’t have a visa or proof I can reside in the UK. If I leave the country, they might not let me back in.

Plans on having our honeymoon in New Zealand at the end of the year are currently on hold. The thought that my husband might never get to meet my dad is a thought that is too painful to comprehend. It’s one of the hardest parts of being a Kiwi expat during COVID19.

kiwi expat during covid19

The reality of COVID-19 for anyone with a sick family member is all too real. Possibly one of the worst side-effects of COVID-19 is the impact it has on those in hospital. Level 4 lockdown rules in New Zealand prohibited anyone visiting their loved ones in the hospital; these rules are still in place in the UK.

When lockdown eased to Level 3, another family member, who sadly passed away this month, was only allowed one visitor for 30 minutes per day. She had seven children, countless grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren.

Imagine trying to decide which one family member got to spend her final days with her? Horrible.

I understand why these rules were in place in New Zealand and still are in place in the UK. I get that we need to contain the outbreak, and these rules are in place to protect us. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

kiwi expat during covid19

On top of that, my work is in limbo. Like Liz, I’m a full-time travel blogger. The tourism industry has taken one of the biggest hits due to Covid19, and I’ve lost over 80% of my income. My business won’t recover until tourism does, which sucks when you’ve spent years building a career you love.

Because I’m not a British citizen, I cannot apply for public funds. Being self-employed makes things even harder; I currently fail to qualify for any type of financial assistance. I’m one of the many self-employed workers that have fallen through the cracks of the UK system.

During these unprecedented times, we’ve all had to either pivot or adapt. The message to stay at home is so simple, yet in these times, we are filled with so much uncertainty.

It sucks, but it’s white noise compared to the dreaded C word.

kiwi expat during covid19

Silver linings in dark times

The plus side of being a Kiwi expat during COVID19 is that it forces you to be grateful for what you do have. During these uncertain times, I am searching for the positives. 

Kiwis are brave. We apply our ‘number 8 wire’ mentality to everything. We find the positive, figure out a solution, and get on with things. ‘No worries’ may as well be the nation’s slogan, because amidst the worries we look for the silver lining.

I’ve seen disasters pull people together before when I lived in Christchurch during the earthquakes. It put things in perspective; life is precious and not to be taken for granted. 

kiwi expat during covid19

My heart broke for my country after the Christchurch Mosque attacks, however, the unifying statement that ‘they are us’ and the kindness and humanity have shown by many Kiwis is the lesson to draw from disaster. Kia kaha (Māori phrase for “be strong”) is stitched into my heart.

The ability to video chat with my friends and family from across the globe is a gift. Just being alive and healthy is enough for me to be grateful for.

I am also so proud of how New Zealand has handled the pandemic. 

kiwi expat during covid19

New Zealand is being hailed in the UK for its decisive action taken against the virus, and many strangers I’ve met on the street tell me what an excellent job New Zealand has done when they realize I’m a kiwi. 

New Zealand was quick to implement a lockdown compared to the UK, and when UK PM Boris Johnson first announced his ‘Stay at Home’ message, we were left scratching our heads and confused as to if the country was in lockdown or not.

While the UK government denies it initially had a herd immunity strategy in place, it’s one explanation as to why they were so slow to implementing lockdown. New Zealand rejected the herd immunity strategy immediately. The UK now has one of the highest death tolls in the world for COVID-19 and has sadly had over 35,000 deaths despite the 20,000 figure Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance once said the government hoped not to exceed.

New Zealand, on the other hand, took immediate action and has mostly eradicated Covid-19 in just a few months.

As I write this as a Kiwi expat during COVID19, Scotland is in its 13th week of lockdown.

Restrictions are beginning to ease, with a new four-phase ‘route map’ recently being announced (similar to New Zealand’s Alert Levels). The Scottish Government, despite having devolved powers, has taken a different strategy in recent weeks compared to the UK Government, who began easing restrictions in England earlier, despite having a far higher number of cases. Nine weeks into lockdown, and the UK still doesn’t have mandatory quarantine for anyone entering the UK. It’s a mess.

It is so amazing to see that the New Zealand government cares about its people (Jacinda, I’m looking at you girl). You have no idea how reassuring that is to a Kiwi living abroad, and how proud I am to see New Zealand being hailed in the media here.

kiwi expat during covid19

New Zealand is a truly spectacular country to call home. If you’re a Kiwi reading this, please take a moment to be insanely grateful you live in a country that cares about its citizens.

Being an expat is in my blood. My ancestors risked their lives to jump on a boat to sail to New Zealand in search of a better life. Those who survived the journey found it; New Zealand really is paradise. Even though being an expat is hard, I love the life I’ve built for myself in Scotland. I know that despite the challenges of expat life, my home in Scotland is worth it. 

For now, my home is in Scotland. I’ll continue to admire New Zealand from afar until it is safe to travel again. I hope to see my dad soon and hug him, along with the rest of my family and friends, as soon as it’s possible. 

Thank you, New Zealand. Thank you for doing your part.

Are you a Kiwi expat during COVID19 too? Can you relate to this? Where are you hunkering down during lockdown? Share!

kiwi expat during covid19

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10 Comments on “The gritty, hard reality of being a kiwi expat during COVID19

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  1. My heart so goes out to you, Yvette! I lost my grandmother during the pandemic. She spent 30 days in the hospital, during which time no one could see her. We were only allowed in once she was actively dying. I wouldn’t wish that type of uncertainty on anyone. I know it means little, but I am sending good thoughts from Alaska that your time won’t be further delayed to get home!

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother Abigail! It’s such awful, awful timing. Sending all my love from Scotland too Xx

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