Living in another country can be an amazing but challenging experience. Living in a country during a pandemic? That’s more challenging than ever. You may be battling loneliness, homesickness, and concern over navigating a health crisis in a foreign country.
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, you’re not alone. In 2015, the Dutch statistics bureau estimated there were up to 75,000 expats in the Netherlands. While we’re lucky enough that in the Netherlands enough Dutch people speak English to remove the language barrier, that only goes halfway to easing our worries.
Here are the most commons concerns from an international and how we can handle them.
7Concern: should I go back home?
Should I leave everything and go back home now? Will I be able to go back later? Will I unknowingly carry the disease back to my family? Is staying put better?
If your country is on of the few unaffected by the virus yet, you could still go back. If they have the situation somewhat under control and still have open borders, you can also go back. But take into account that you could get infected on your way there, and you could spread the virus in your family and community. You may also face quarantine restrictions when you arrive.
Well, we don’t have one. This is a personal decision highly impacted by what your home country and situation is. But, take into account all the factors. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Will my country allow me back in?
- Can I get a flight there? Take into account layovers in other countries and flight cancellations.
- Will I be safer there than here?
- Do I feel comfortable doing a full quarantine on arrival if necessary?
- Will my mental health be better there?
- Can my mental health cope with potentially stressful travel situations?
- What are the benefits of being home?
- What are the benefits of staying in the Netherlands?
- Am I okay potentially not being able to return to the Netherlands for an extended period of time?
— Dr Erik Messamore (@ErikMessamoreMD) April 2, 2020
6Concern: basic grocery shopping
Right now, going to the supermarket is a mission impossible. I remembered how much I loved to go and check new products, find the cheapest option, or even try the samples in the deli session.
Well, with coronavirus rearing its ugly head, this is impossible to do. You may be so afraid that you will get the virus just by going out of the house, and in the end, you venture out only to discover none of the products you have on your list are available.
Easy, online delivery, right? Nope. The next available dates are two weeks away and still might not have all the products you need.
Well, this is the time to be creative! There is no wheat flour, well change it for other kinds! Or buy a prepared mixture you’ve been eying for a while. Start by looking at what other cultures have instead of bread, like tortillas or rice. The sky is the limit when you are experimenting with food.
If you’re worried about finding food in the future, don’t. Empty shelves in the supermarket were only due to panic buying at the start: they’ve already started to fix themselves. Supermarkets and the government have assured the public that there’s plenty of food stored — the problem is getting it on the shelves if people are panic buy.
5Concern: culture shock and language barrier
It takes enough energy to get to know your new neighbours when the world is “normal,” but now you have to learn about them in a period of crisis. Jeez…you were just starting to learn the language, make friends and get used to borrel and haring, and this happens.
Thanks to social distancing measures, you don’t need to worry too much about getting to know them now — but it can increase feelings of loneliness. On top of that, maybe you don’t understand enough Dutch to read the news, or even follow safety instructions in the supermarket or hospital.
There are some things you can do to make this situation a little better: or at least understand what’s happening.
Firstly, follow DutchReview for updates and news — we’re publishing all the latest updates in English.
Secondly, if you’re feeling a little lost in the supermarket, you can read safety regulation notices with the Google Chrome app on your phone. Just open the app, select the camera, and take a picture — you’ll receive a full translation that’s normally pretty accurate.
Finally, use this as an opportunity to keep working in your Dutch skills, especially with the trending topics.
4Concern: self-isolating when you live alone
Staying alone in lockdown could be one of the most difficult parts of this process. While you used to be able to get nuggets of conversation from your workplace, coffee shop, or even while parking your fiets, suddenly there’s nothing.
Take advantage of this time. When there’s no pandemic, we’re so busy with other stuff that we forgot to check-in with ourselves and learn what new things we like to do.
You may think you know yourself well because you’ve been in the same body since you were a child. Well, let me tell you something: from a cellular point of view, you are a completely different person every 10 years.
Take this time to figure it which new hobby you like, start drawing, sewing, playing an instrument, cooking, building Lego, decorating a room, playing a game online, or exercising: you never know what will stick!
Meanwhile doing some physical activity will make your brain chemicals happy. And, since you are alone there is no shame about learning a new dance or sport in your bedroom with YouTube videos. No one will judge you about learning the basics of samba, belly dance or pole dance. Who knows, maybe those moves will pay off in the future!
Plan a routine and follow it. You can plan the working time, the physical activity session and even your menu for the week. It is important to have a short term plan these days, and follow them will make you feel like an achiever!
3Concern: family and friends in your home country
This is one of my biggest fears. How is my family? What happens if I don’t see them again? When I will see them again? The situation in my home country does not look great and it is only just starting.
Find ways to connect. The best way to deal with these fears is to talk with them more often, even though there is a large time difference. It is worthwhile to have even just a short chat! Maybe this won’t heal all your worries but at least you will be taking advantage of this time to connect with them. I am sure they are also worried about you, and in difficult times communication is the best tool you can use to ease the anxiety.
2Concern: the Dutch health system
Expats have very strong opinions about the Dutch health system — in fact, we joke a lot about how paracetamol is the cure for everything in the Netherlands. I felt worried when news of coronavirus started to appear over whether it would help, or if my basic health insurance was enough to cover a hospital stay.
Luckily, the Dutch system was right this time. Because coronavirus is a viral infection, focus is on pain relief for minor cases. Paracetamol is the best option. If things get serious, hospitals have the necessary equipment. And, if you’re worried that as an expat you’ll be a second-class citizen, think again. Every Dutch doctor takes the same oath: to save lives regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, etc.
If you’re worried about insurance, just give your provider a call or check on the website. I did it and now I am more relaxed about it. Even if you don’t have insurance, hospitals will still take care of you — they’ll just try to collect the bill later.
1Concern: post-pandemic consequences
What will happen next? How will the economy end up in the Netherlands or in my home country? Should I start looking for a new job or saving more? Should I start sending money to my country or trying to save it just in case?
Stop worrying. All these concerns are useless because at the moment because no-one knows what is going to happen. All we know is things will change: the economy, society, and ourselves.
But the best thing we can do is expect the best — and prepare for the worst. Maybe now is not the time to buy a lot or make impactful financial decisions. This is a situation where you have to live day-to-day. That’s a concern in itself, but try to enjoy it: take a break from thinking or worrying about the future.
At the end of the day, the current situation is unprecedented: we’re all feeling our way through the dark. Remember to reach out to friends, family, or mental health hotlines if you need help.
Meanwhile, remember you are not alone in this crisis. If you are an international or not, there are people just like you are having the same feelings and experiences. The best way to ease those fears is to talk about them with others.
What are your concerns as an expat sitting out the pandemic in the Netherlands? Got any tips on dealing with any concerns? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image: Ethan Sykes/Unsplash