Moving Countries During Coronavirus

Photograph by JT

Life is mostly predictable, until it’s not.

While we knew our stay in England wasn’t going to be permanent, we weren’t sure how long we’d be here. We did, however, know we wanted more sunny, warm days in the long run, and so when we arrived in this little hamlet in the countryside of England, we did so with the perspective that it was going to be an adventure. We rented a house older than my country and set about making it our home. (Public Service Announcement: whenever you rent/buy a home, always double check that food delivery services your area. Yeah… hindsight!) The kids enrolled in the local school, and after that first year, they started making friends.

That first year was a time-out for me and hubby where we could work on our respective passions (me, finishing my trilogy and him, his video game). I completed book 1 in The Evolved Ones series and saw it published, and then rolled right into the huge undertaking of book marketing as well as outlining book 2, plus a few freelance projects to keep the income flowing. That first year went by in a whirlwind.

While winter might be gray, cold, and depressing in England, spring is beautiful. I never knew this country got such blue skies. The sunshine in spring is more reliable than in summer, in my opinion, and so my favorite season became spring. There was something special about the start of those longer days and the bluebells and daffodils poking their head through the hard earth that let me know I had survived.

At the start of 2020, and after a full year of “my cooking”, we recognized we didn’t want to be in England for another full winter, but we weren’t in a rush to leave because there was still so much to do and see. I started looking at jobs overseas, but again, not thinking I’d rush anything. We were going to spend a week or two in Scotland visiting hubby’s friends, and the summer somewhere in Europe. But then Covid-19 happened, and well, everything changed.

I learned that homeschooling is a job, and you can’t write your book “while” your kids do their school work. There are too many questions, so much to explain, correct, and guide at ages nine and seven. That first month was tough. But like anything, with practice we all got better. I managed to finish my second book, the kids returned to school in the fall—albeit under new safety measures—and I even managed to write the first draft of book 3. This year, instead of vacationing, we watched a bit more Netflix. We baked, a lot. We read books together. We wrote stories together.

Back when Covid was in its infancy and I still had hope of seeing some more of Europe, a friend of mine agreed to submit my resume to a university in the USA where I wanted to teach Creative Writing, but inline with the rest of 2020, nothing happened. I was too busy to give it much thought, and so I just got on with not being able to book a grocery delivery slot, not being able to go out to eat, and still unable to order Uber Eats. To be honest, like most of us this year, I got stuck in a holding pattern. It was like watching a game that had gone into perpetual overtime and you were desperate for the clock to run out! I needed change. I needed something to look forward to that I could actually have some control over. I needed a healthy dose of positivity, and given that summer was gone before I felt like it had arrived, I was staring down that second long, dark, wet and cold winter I really didn’t want to be around for.

But then I received an email. The university was interested. Was I available for a virtual interview?

Photograph by Stephanie Hau

You don’t know what you don’t know, no matter all the things you’ve learned along the way.

I’ve interviewed at a lot of different places and I’ve interviewed in at least four different countries. I’ve actually headed up recruitment for a global news organization for their Asia Pacific region. One thing I believe in, that I prided myself on at the time, was creating a world-class recruitment team. The candidate experience was paramount. How we represented ourselves would impact how the candidate felt about us when they joined.

None of those experiences prepared me for the recruitment process in higher learning. After the interviews, I was given a verbal offer, and then my application was sent to Human Resources where they would do the necessary background checks to ensure I was legit. The process was painfully slow with no communication from them. No one called to see if I was still interested even though an entire month went by with no contact. My manager was open and transparent; she informed me that I would have to exercise some patience; I was not in corporate anymore.

As one month turned into two, I wondered how many candidates I would’ve lost when I was the head of recruitment if my team let the same amount of time lapse without communication. I assumed the university was no longer interested, and since they hadn’t sent me an official offer letter, I arrived at the conclusion (based on my experiences from the corporate world) it was time to look for other jobs. So I restarted the job search. I got two bites during that time, but neither of them were interesting. It was doing exactly what I did 15 years ago. So, I continued looking, picking up a few extra freelance projects here and there just to keep the income flowing.

About a month later, I got the call. Not only were they still interested, unbeknownst to me, they were prepared to make an official offer. When I told my friend who also teaches at a university about my experience and my wait time, she laughed and said, “Welcome to higher learning.”

Photograph by Tolga Ulkan

Manage your expectations, because despite your experiences, each time is different.

My husband and I have moved internationally a few times. Repatriating back to the US will be my 7th, his 8th, and so we know the drill. Contact movers, secure a date. Make sure you have a work permit or a visa to move to the destination country; if not, then have movers put stuff in storage until you can secure one. Get brutal with what comes and what doesn’t; a good rule of thumb is keep no more than 60-70% of your stuff and trash/rehome/sell/gift the rest. Moving with kids? Breathe! Missing a month or two of school isn’t going to derail them from that Ivy League path you’ve mapped out. There are a lot of online tools that will keep them up-to-date on the curriculum (tip: most teachers deviate from it) and what they miss with a formal education, they more than make up for in life experience and resilience building. We’ve learned to bring them into the process. It helps our kids feel like they are part of the change as opposed to having the change thrust upon them.

This time, however, we’re moving amid Covid-19, and nothing from our experiences has helped to alleviate the stresses of moving during a global pandemic. Not all removal companies wanted to send an on-site surveyor. Thankfully, technology allowed them to take videos of the home, but even technology can’t account for what can be gathered by walking through a home and allowing an experienced surveyor to get a feel for the furniture and its size. We went with an organization who, in the end, had to send someone to physically go through each room because their video recording failed to capture the true height of our bookshelves or the boxes under the bed, etc.

The coolest pup around.

It’s okay to really want something, and then when you get it, realize you don’t want it anymore.

I have wanted a dog for years. We were supposed to get one when we were in Singapore, but the cost was astronomical. Then we were supposed to get one when we moved to Spain, but we ended moving to England instead. Saachi finally joined our family in August 2019, and the girls and I couldn’t have been happier. It was a lot of hard work at first with him being only able to hold his bladder for such a short time, but I was happy with our decision, and even my husband started to bond with our four-legged family member.

But then the move came. Normally, when you travel, you can book cargo space for your animal and pay a fee between the UK and the USA, and as long as you have all the necessary documentations, off you go! No big deal. No need for a pet relocation agent or a broker. Covid changed all of that.

Airlines stopped processing pet travel and required all passengers to use a pet relocation agent. Pet relocation agents ARE NOT CHEAP. In fact, they are five times the price. With new lockdown restrictions, new strains popping up, boarders closing, airlines canceling flights and changing their policies, we couldn’t get Saachi out of the country. We even had to approach a dear friend and ask if she and her family would have him. I didn’t sleep that night as I waited for her response. The guilt of putting him through the stress of acclimating to a new home and of having to bond with new owners, not to mention the tears I knew my girls would cry at having to say goodbye to him.

The next day, my friend said yes, but only if she could trial him and convince her husband. Later on that day, I got a call from the pet relocation folks. They couldn’t get him to our destination city, but they could get him into the USA… eight hours away from where we are hoping to move to.

Truth be told, I was relieved when my friend said she’d have our dog. I envisioned a less stress, more carefree life on the other side without having to walk the dog or figure out who was going to watch him if we went away. Life just felt easier, more free without him. But when we shared with our girls about how hard it was getting him out of England, and I saw their tears and heard their pleas to not leave him behind, I realized I was going to suck it up and continue to search for a way to bring the flea-ridden varmint with us. (He doesn’t have fleas.) As it stands, he may be able to fly into a city closer to our destination city, which is four hours away instead of eight. Keep your fingers crossed. I find out if the airlines have changed their policies again tomorrow.

Photograph by Paula Guerreiro

There’s never enough time for proper goodbyes.

We have only lived in England for two years, but the relationships that my girls and I made, well, some of them will last a lifetime. I was so touched by the presents and the cards that their friends made for them. It was more than I had expected.

My youngest has been ready to go from the moment we told her we were considering moving. (She misses warm weather and sundresses.) But my eldest, she is like me, we seek out authentic connections. We look for true friends to build relationships and memories with. Saying goodbye to them was/is hard for her (and for me). We have both shed a few tears over the people we will no longer see on a daily basis.

We had planned a few dog walks after Christmas where we can say our final goodbyes, but the new strain of covid-19 has necessitated we cancel those. It’s been awkward (and difficult) having to cancel good-byes. I’m sure all of the world is feeling similarly. At the start of 2020, it was Chinese New Years celebrations that had to be canceled. Many of us celebrated birthdays in lockdown. We were supposed to have a Christmas gathering to say goodbye to my in-laws on Boxing Day. That was canceled as well. (That was the main reason for us staying in England for as long as we did! Originally, we were considering leaving to be in the USA for Thanksgiving. Oh well. Hindsight.)

Photograph by Mohamed Nohassi

Be sad. Be disappointed. Mourn your personal losses and setbacks. But remember it could be worse, so choose joy, especially when it’s hard.

This year, Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas. The tree was up and decorated, the presents under, and the stockings filled by Santa, but… it just felt like work this year, a task on my list of to-do’s of fabricated fun. At first, I was sad thinking about all the changes that we’ve been through and all those still yet to come. But then I thought of my friend who is spending his first Christmas without his father who died just weeks ago from Covid. I thought about the family who took their son out for a bike ride and was struck and killed by a lorry coming around a blind corner. I bet their Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas for a whole different set of reasons. I thought about the woman in my online writer’s group who was released from hospital but is still not back to 100%. Then there’s my best friend and her family who owned a chain of successful restaurants that had to close because of Covid… their retirement, their life’s work… gone.

Things could be a lot worse. Oh sure, when I’m going through something, I don’t want to hear “count your blessings”, but this year, I think that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get out of England in time to start my new job, but at least my family is healthy. They’re alive. And I can go hug them whenever I want. (And that includes the dog.)

Life is what it is. We try to assign meaning to tragedies to help it make sense, and sometimes that’s necessary to see us through, but what this move has taught me is to focus on what I can control, and practice letting go of what I cannot.

Be safe, and Happy Holidays.

3 thoughts on “Moving Countries During Coronavirus

  1. Such an amazing journey! Beautiful life’s lessons that only makes each of you stronger. Can’t wait until all of you are safely on USA soil.😊🌹

  2. Natasha, I truly enjoyed reading this post, and the others. I send this blog post to friends because it articulates so well the ‘repatriation’ process with insights on your family’s experiences, and you write so eloquently. Hope you are all settling in well and getting used to life on this side of the Atlantic. I had no idea this was your 7/8th time back to the U.S. I’m sure Asha’s taller than me now. Drive safely (right side, right side…). Miss you heaps! Hugs from soggy Seattle.

    1. Thanks, my dear. It’s been interesting, that much is certain. We just signed on a rental property for a year before we look at buying. Then there’s the car to purchase and the school enrollment process, which requires a vaccine form that has to be completed by a doctor. It’s one thing after the next. But head down and execute. What else can you do right?!

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