Coronavirus: The crisis through the eyes of expats around the world

Published 2020-03-18 12:59
Since the beginning of this year, the Coronavirus epidemic has flung itself to every corner of the earth, affecting roughly 150 countries. Countries like Spain and Italy are completely shutting down. The United States is severely restricting air traffic from Europe. People in almost every country are becoming increasingly concerned for their loved ones, especially their elders. Stocks are plummeting and workers in almost every sector are on the brink of losing money. Below are the testimonials of expats in countries most affected by the outbreak.


Hermione, expat in Milan

Hermione has been living in Milan for about two years. She works as sales developer for a luxury cruise company in Italy and feels “a little caged by the restrictions”. “I am a very active person and I love the city life and it is a little difficult right now. I also work in tourism, one of the first industries to be affected.”

She lives alone in Milan, but her family is back home in France or settled in other countries. “My family is mainly in France although I do have a brother in Brussels and a sister in Barcelona. I am constantly in touch with my loved ones abroad- much more than usual. We text daily. At the beginning, it was mainly updates on the situation but with the announcement of the lockdown in France on Saturday, I am being asked advice because we’ve been quarantined since the 9th of March.” Although Hermione admits it is pretty hard not to be with her loved ones during this “nightmare”, they do try to keep their spirits up and are already planning a big get together when all of this is behind us!

Estelle, expat in Rome

Estelle has been living in Rome for six years now. She works as an SEO off-site specialist in a digital marketing agency and is very closely following the evolution of the epidemic in Italy as well as in her home country of France.  “This pandemic is particular because like a lot of people, I have never lived such a thing and it is very hard to put words on how I feel. It is frightening and unsettling, although there have not been as many cases here in Rome as there have been in the north. But I am aware that the lockdown is necessary and I follow the instructions very closely.”

Since the beginning of the lockdown, Estelle has been working from home. “I’m lucky to be able to do so as many others are risking their positions and their salaries during these times.” How does one keep busy during these times? “Apart from working from home, I keep in touch with as many people as possible, my boyfriend who does not live in the same city, my family back in France and my friends by message, calls, Skype etc… I am also very lucky to have a very cool housemate and we try to take care of each other, we talk and eat together. It is hard not to be able to go out when I want to and walk around as much as I usually do but I try to remain calm, positive and wait for the end of the end of these difficult times. As we always say in Italy “Andra tutto bene” (Everything will be fine!).


Masae, an expat in Haute-Savoie

Masae has been living settled France since last September with her French husband and her two children. The human resource consultant turned stay-at-home mom was previously an expat in London. 

The Japanese expat is particularly worried about the situation back home in Japan. “I am worried and it is difficult being far from my loved ones back in Japan in these difficult times. I do think that the Japanese people do have the discipline to respect measures and get by, however”. She is constantly in touch with her family and friends living in France by calls, texts and video chats and is grateful no one she knows has been infected.

How is she getting by in France, however? Although worried, Masae is relieved that wearing masks is slowly becoming a habit in France. “Back home, the use of masks is common whenever we get sick to avoid contaminating others. And otherwise, the lockdown has now started, we need a laisser-passer to go grocery shopping or to the pharmacy.” She remains hopeful, however, that everything should be over soon now that the necessary measures have been taken to avoid further spread of the disease.

Ericka, a British expat living in Castelnau-le-Lez

Ericka is an English teacher who has lived in France for more than 20 years. Although neither herself, nor anyone she knows have been infected so far, Ericka worries about her mother who is 78 and back living in England. She also has a sister, a niece, cousins, friends and godsons back home. “I am particularly concerned about those who will or are already having their income affected like my sister who is a host family for foreign students travelling to our home village to learn English. Everyone who had booked has now cancelled. It is worrying!” 

Back in France, she remains hopeful and is relieved that her family and friends back home are looking after each other. In France, she keeps busy with her family and her in-laws.

United Kingdom

Caroline, an expat in London

Caroline has been living in London for the past four years. The young freelancer works from home and for now, has been going out as usual. 

“The UK is much more ''relaxed'' than other European countries at the moment, at least outwardly. The subway and the pubs seem to be busy as usual. Except for the lack of toilet paper in the shops, and people with face masks popping up here and there, I haven't noticed much panic. That said, I did go to the theatre (End Game at the Old Vic) on Tuesday, and the woman sitting next to me jumped when I coughed once. People are slightly nervous, but life continues. I did just go to the supermarket this morning, and it was intense. I saw a few people buying 10 bottles of milk at once, cans etc. Because the shop was busy, people were a bit on edge.”

How does Caroline feel about the situation back home? “I trust the French authorities to make the right decisions. Like in the UK, I do fear that the virus is going to put a lot of pressure on the healthcare system. I hope this crisis won't last too long, and that health staff will be rewarded afterward.” She is regularly in touch with her sister who lives in France. “We’re keeping in touch via Whatsapp. It's not ideal to be away from family, but at least we're not contaminating each other.” She is worried, however, about the aftermath of this crisis. “Three of my friends back in France are in technical unemployment, and they don't for how long.”

South Korea

Matthias, an expat living in Daegu

Matthias, who lives and works in Daegu, has only just started going back to the office from a two week work from home period. The young expat remembers the very first case of COVID-19 detected in his area. "I remember the day the first patient was diagnosed in Daegu, I had only just come back from vacation. On social media, many American English teachers had started to panic but when I got back to work, I realised life was just going on as usual."

A few days later, however, things got worse. "It was only then that the first preventive measures were put in place. Wearing a mask became mandatory, everyone's temperature was monitored at the entrance and exit of the building, different lunch times for different departments to reduce the amount of people present in the canteen. My teacher friends have all seen their classes canceled, and sports, social or religious gatherings have been banned. And these measures are still in place today."

However, Matthias has not had the experience people from back home have been sharing on social media. "No closing of stores, empty streets or shortage of pasta, rice or toilet paper, so I never really felt in times of crisis, the only difference being the fact that everyone wears a mask now."

Because four employees from his company were diagnosed with coronavirus, Matthias had to work from home for two weeks but is back to the office now.


Summayah, an expat living in Wenzhou

Summayyah has been settled in Wenzhou for 12 years now with her Pakistani husband. She has personally been involved in the crisis. Indeed, as doctors, Summayah and her husband have volunteered endless hours trying to diagnose people at borders and treat patients in hospitals. "It was a tough two months with the city I am in being the second most affected city during the outbreak. We were in complete lockdown. People could go out to buy grocery every other day but everyone's temperature with temperature checks, and when all these were lifted, it really felt like we accomplished something extraordinary."

Today, the situation is getting back to normal in Wenzhou. "All cities in Hubei province, except for Wuhan, have had no new cases over the last week and I cannot explain how relieved I feel."

While the situation in her host country, Summayah follows closely the happening in her home country of Mauritius. "I've been following the situation closely in Mauritius. I'm grateful they have no cases. I am, of course, worried as my whole family lives there." Summayah is, therefore, constantly in touch with her loved ones back home. "I stay in touch with everyone at home via social media platforms. It is really hard to be far away, especially since here we are slowly going back to normal and the threat there is more real than ever. It’s scary that there is nothing I can actually do from here except giving them the right information and the right tools to fight this. What’s scarier for me is with all borders closing, each country putting their own travel restrictions and no plane flying between Mauritius and China. God knows how long before I can actually go home again."

United States

Petra, a Czech expat in Northern Virginia

Petra has been an expat in the U.S. for nine years. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and two children, 11 and eight years old. “Fairfax County has closed schools for four weeks, and all shops and offices are doing an excellent job with sanitising everything,” she says. As a family, they look at the bright side of things. Petra says: “We are well-prepared, happy to be together at home and outside gardening, and we finally have time to read a book and enjoy a meal as a family.” 

We ask Petra what the situation in her home country is. She replies: “In Czech Republic schools have closed for a month, but not preschools, offices, and malls. As of Friday, March 13 they closed borders for non-Czech Republic citizens, and everyone at the border is screened for fever. Restaurants stay closed in the evenings but are open for lunch. Hospitals seem to be alert and have enough tests, but small hospitals in rural areas do not follow the protocol. So, they had some people with Coronavirus and did not separate them soon enough. What makes me sad is that young people think it is not necessary to take extreme measures, but they don't realise they might be spreading the virus to vulnerable groups.”

Benita, a Kenyan expat in Boston

Benita is a university student in Boston, Massachusetts. She is following the Coronavirus news through news media and the university’s updates. Massachusetts has declared a state of emergency meaning that schools are closed, employees are working from home, classes are conducted online, group events have been cancelled, and many are stocking up on supplies as a sign of panic. “Attitudes, in my circles at least, are of positivity and referring to social distancing and isolation in efforts to curb the spread,” she says. 

We ask Benita how she has been affected by the Coronavirus. “Senior students are leaving with some going back home with no hope for commencement ceremonies. We've had to say our goodbyes to friends whom we do not know when we will see again. Some have gone back to China and Singapore where they feel they will be better off as their governments have got the situation under better control.”

Benita expects to be staying indoors, “which is not far from my preference on weekends and days off. I also expect to be able to go out for groceries as needed until further restrictions are put in place by the State Governor,” she says. Also, “we have been asked by the university to reconsider domestic travel strongly, and we must log all our travel to keep the university informed. Classes are online, but campus remains open with must-have operations only. Dorms are open except for those with shared bathrooms. They've encouraged student government to engage fully and have been receptive to our questions sending us daily updates and opening up a dedicated email address just for coronavirus-related issues.”

About the situation in Kenya, Benita explains: “Things are largely under control, and the government is already decreeing out large group events. I appreciate their prompt efforts, given how dire the situation could become with our limited health resources. I am not worried about my family as of today and being that I've lived abroad for a while, it's not hard for me. I'm staying away from home so that I do not bring the disease to them as I am in higher-risk geography presently.”

Vicky, a Greek expat in Virginia

Vicky has been in the U.S. since 2005. She currently lives in Virginia with her husband and three-year-old daughter. She worries about her parents back home and her husband’s parents in the U.S. who are above 70. “As a family, we have agreed to change our daily habits for the common good. Only my husband goes out of the house for shopping and work,” she says. About her home country, Vicky says: “Greece has taken extreme measures to prevent tragic events like the ones that unfolded in Italy.”