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Learnings from the Lockdown

What’s an expat to do in a global pandemic? She can’t visit her home country, can’t meet up with her friends, and can’t really go anywhere, for that matter. Life as an expat usually entails quite a lot of movement; whether for business trips, leisure travel, or flying to my home country to visit family and friends. The COVID-19 pandemic halted all of that. All of the sudden, life became stationary and isolated.

Like most people, I experienced life during the lockdown phase of this pandemic with plenty of ups and downs. On some days I felt quite free, almost like I was on vacation. Though on other days I felt like I was being imprisoned, albeit comfortably in my own home, but frustrated that I couldn’t visit my friends and entertain my young children in parks and playgrounds. As many psychology experts suggested, I began to try to control certain aspects of my life that were within my reach. I tried to stick to a routine for myself and my children, keep my home clean (but not go too crazy with cleaning since everything would inevitably become disorganized again the next day), and get exercise outdoors when the weather allowed. In the end, this routine worked for me and my family and somehow two months went by pretty quickly!

It's All about Relationships

Looking back, I see what other aspects helped the days pass by more easily and slowly fill my life with new meaning. I couldn’t control where I went and who I interacted with, but I could control my attitude and that made a world of difference. After a trying adjustment period, I began to live in the moment more and make the most of what activities I could enjoy. More than before, I began to interact with my neighbors and their children on the shared grounds of our building… striking up more lengthy conversations rather than the usual “Hallo” since we all had a little more time on our hands. Since I wasn’t speaking German as regularly as I used to before the pandemic, (I speak mostly English at home), I stumbled in with my first conversations but slowly my German came back, and I was happy to keep speaking German in my daily life. Much more importantly, I began to form better relationships with my neighbors as our children played side-by-side, as socially distanced as possible, of course.

Aside from getting to know my neighbors better, I bonded even more with my local, German friends in my town. We kept each other up-to-date on what we were hearing about daycare reopening and shared tips on entertaining our children. From time-to-time, I would talk with my friend from the street while she stayed safely on her balcony, just so we could see each other. It felt so good to connect in these  unusual ways. I’ve since realized even more how happy I am to have friendships with locals who help me integrate further into life in Germany.

Another aspect I added to my routine was watching and listening to more local news. Admittedly, I watched a great deal more news about the United States in comparison with Germany because I wanted to still feel connected to my home. Since the Covid-19 outbreak though, I have been more in tune with what is going on locally and in Germany, and I really enjoy feeling more informed and in step with my surroundings. However, I do feel a bit embarrassed that it took a pandemic to do that.

Keeping the Good from a Tough Situation

As things slowly return to normal, I will keep these positive changes I’ve made in my life. Though these were difficult times, I am grateful to have become more involved in my local community and feel a bit more integrated into German culture. I believe I will always feel like an outsider to some extent, but I do feel less alien after having spent more time with my neighbors, keeping better contact with my German friends, continuing to speak German around my home, and reading more German news. It can be wonderful to be in a vibrant, friendly expat circle, but feeling like I now belong more fully to the greater community in my adopted city and country is deeply satisfying. Once my city allows more than a few people to get together, I will be planning a neighborhood block party to celebrate! (We will, of course, be following all guidelines to ensure each other’s safety).

During the lockdown I learned to live in the moment more and try to have a good attitude about whatever happens. Such a situation will, hopefully, not happen again in our lifetime, but I hope we all realized that we can adjust and we can get through difficult times if we all do our part. Moreover, I believe expats are experts in being flexible and staying positive. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t get to live the adventurous lives that we do!

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