How are Canadian Expats Coping with the Pandemic?
By Nadia Yangin for The Canadian Expat
As an expat, you probably know that life abroad comes with its challenges – red tape, culture shock, homesickness, the search for ketchup chips to comfort you during such challenges. Living as an expat during a global pandemic however – that’s something that nobody can really predict or prepare for.
The Covid-19 pandemic and its numerous waves have crashed on all shores and expats around the globe are experiencing a unique situation that they have never before encountered. From lockdowns and strict travel restrictions to dependence on foreign healthcare and policies, expats may be experiencing a whole other level of shock. So how are expats actually coping during this period of time?
Canadians expats from around the world responded to our survey and shared how they are doing, from the most difficult parts and coping mechanisms to any advice they can offer to others.
Here is what they have to say.
HOW EXPATS ARE DOING OVERALL
On a scale from 1 (not well) to 5 (very well), the average response was 3, showing that
Canadian expats are coping fairly well. Individual circumstances vary of course and there is no way to generalize the Canadian expat community’s experience of a global pandemic in multiple countries.
No matter where expats are in the world, they are definitely facing some difficult challenges.
70% of those surveyed claim that being away from family and not being able to travel are the most difficult parts of the pandemic. This comes as no surprise given that many expats travel to visit family and friends and borders are usually kept open. The thought of being “stuck” in a foreign country away from family and a familiar healthcare system even if it is the country one currently calls “home”, is a scary one. Travelling and exploring new places are also often part of the expat experience beyond the realm of simply taking photos or writing blogs. For many, travelling is an opportunity to learn more about the world and its people but with travelling not being a possibility this can be a source of melancholy and feeling unfulfilled.
Other difficult parts cited by Canadian expats include staying home, loss of employment, and feeling scared or alone. There are no doubt many difficult parts to this pandemic and everyone has different ways of dealing with hardships including Canadian expats who have taken to various coping mechanisms to stay positive.
The number one suggestion given by Canadian expats: simply getting fresh air! Going outside away from the news and anxiety-inducing headlines can provide for some relief. The outdoor space has never been quite as appealing and many expats who are used to frequent travel have learned to rediscover local areas they may not have appreciated as much before. Talking a closer look at one’s surroundings can increase awareness and perhaps allow for some mindful thinking to help recenter.
Some other popular coping strategies include staying in touch with family and friends, learning new skills (hello sourdough starters and TikTok trends), and staying busy with work. Although keeping busy may seemingly have a negative connotation as if it were simply a way of sweeping bad thoughts under the carpet, refocusing one’s energy into something that has tangible results (e.g baking bread or growing food) can provide a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment during a time where we can’t control what is happening.
From acquiring new skills to getting to know oneself, the pandemic is definitely allowing expats to do some learning.
Despite this being an incredibly difficult time in the world, there are many takeaways and positive learning that expats have been getting out of it.
These are common themes that arose in the responses of our poll.
Awareness and Self-Awareness
Expats have been learning to be more aware of their surroundings and more self-aware.
Perhaps slowing down, more time home, and closures have been allowing them to take a closer look at their lives and habits. They are learning they can be resourceful, make due with what they have, or innovate in areas they never thought they could. One expat claims to cook more, cut out processed foods, and lose weight!
The Things Taken for Granted
Many Canadian expats mention that they are learning more about what they take for granted. This comes as no surprise as we all lead busy lives in our modern society and the little things often get lost in the rush. This extra time from closures and lockdowns has been allowing expats to rediscover the little things, the importance of family and maintaining relationships even through distances, and the value of being able to travel home.
Expect the Unexpected
This pandemic was unexpected, as are many things in life. Canadian expats have some acquaintance dealing with the unexpected as life abroad is full of obstacles and new unanticipated experiences. They are however resilient and no matter what comes their way, they can get through it.
Life as an expat can sometimes come with deadlines or future plans. While planning for the future is important and even essential, the pandemic has been giving Canadian expats a new
perspective on the timelines they give things – maybe there is more to be done now to better prepare for future change.
Zoom and Toilet Paper
Even Canadian expats from around the world can attest that the Zoom and toilet paper craze swept through several countries at the beginning of the pandemic. The pandemic has forced many people to learn how to use video conferencing apps like Zoom for work or even for group “get-togethers” like birthday parties or baby showers. It has also allowed people to acquire a new appreciation for toilet paper, or at least not to wait until the last roll to get some more.
These lessons learned and their value have sparked some Canadian expats to think about and reevaluate their living situations.
EXPAT OR REPAT?
We wanted to know if the pandemic is having an effect on Canadian expats’ decisions to live abroad.
The decision to live away from one’s home country is not always an easy one and it is
something that can be reevaluated regularly throughout one’s experience as an expat. Some people have been abroad for many years and have a new reality that they call home, others are still transitioning, and some have just arrived. No matter the situation, a world-wide pandemic can definitely be a pot-stirrer.
Overall, 61.5% of the Canadians abroad who responded to the poll indicate that the pandemic hasn’t had an effect on their decision to live abroad. 23.1% said that the pandemic has had an effect on their decision to live abroad and 15.4% are unsure. Some respondents stated that they have been abroad for several years so it is not a decision that is easily changed. The numbers are interesting to see as the pandemic has caused some expats to question their lives abroad when they perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise, as well as some expats to solidify their choices.
The uncertainty of the pandemic can cause doubt and negative thoughts among those abroad, but the Canadian expats polled have some excellent advice to offer.
ADVICE FOR THE FUTURE
Canadian expats are quite diverse and live in a variety of places but their resilience and heartwarming advice is unmistakably Canadian.
Multiple expats advise that reaching out, whether it be to friends and family near or far, or to fellow Canadian expats, can help. Telling jokes and stories, reminiscing, or simply spending time together even in a virtual way can help expats feel connected and less alone. The pandemic is hard on everyone and despite virtual interactions not being an equivalent substitute for in-person time, we are fortunate to be living in a time where we are able to have the possibility of calls and video calls.
Many expats are isolated or unable to socialize as usual, but focusing outwards rather than on one’s loneliness can be a comfort on its own. Getting outside for fresh air, supporting local businesses or someone in need, and thinking about the blessings one has are all advice that Canadian expats offer.
There is some comfort in knowing that we are not in this alone and offering what we can do for others can really provide a sense of relief and purpose.
Given the results of the poll, Canadian expats love Canadian comfort foods. No matter where you are, no matter what amazingly delicious foods can be found in the country you call your new home, there is great comfort in the taste of a good poutine or some glistening maple syrup on top of hot pancakes. Food will not cure isolation or anxiety but the taste of home can definitely warm the Canadian expat’s heart and provide some comforting familiarity.
Expats were caught off-guard with the pandemic, but this unforeseen event is offering a nudge to make sure that planning and research are more a part of the expat experience. Making sure you are on top of things when it comes to healthcare, status in another country, and potential obstacles can help you be better prepared for uncertainty in the future.
Things Will Get Better
Ultimately, the Canadian expats polled all have positive messages. They advise to reach out, stay safe, and get vaccinated. They are grateful, they believe in staying strong and that things will get better.