Living the Covid – 19 expat life is a weird and conflicting experience and it is exhausting. I am a New Zealander, my husband is American and the kids are obviously both. Both my husband and I have been expats since we left university. We have been living in Germany for the past 18 months after a 19 year stint in the Middle East. Prior to that, we hopped around Asia for a few years.

Keeping up with all the news in all of those places is exhausting but I can’t stop. I have an emotional investment in all places, so it is impossible to look away. 

Expat life
Keeping up with all the news in all of the places is exhausting!

We landed in Southern Italy on February 22, the day Covid-19 blew up in Northern Italy. The day they realised it was a very serious situation and things were going to get worse.  When we left Germany everything seemed normal and then we had to stand in line to get our temperature taken on arrival at Bari Airport. But still, we spent a week galavanting around Southern Italy having a fabulous time over carnival.

When the taxi driver dropped us off at our apartment in Naples he told us the street would usually be crowded, but ‘because of the virus’ it wasn’t. We were still in denial. It was hard to comprehend that what was happening in Northern Italy would change the world. 

We were only back in Germany a week and the kids’ school closed. Things were shifting so quickly and it had become clear the situation was bad. I was constantly watching the news and talking to people outside of Europe and without fail they thought things wouldn’t get to the stage we were at in Germany; social distancing, school closure, special testing centres, working from home. It was hard to say ‘it will’ without sounding like a dick. After how fast we had seen things escalate in Europe, we knew it wasn’t just possible, it was highly likely. 

It is impossible not to compare what is going on in different places. Reading the news, interacting daily via phone and social media with friends in Italy, the UAE, Singapore, the U.S., Vietnam, New Zealand, China, Qatar, France . . . who is doing what, where and why?  

In our house, we know way too much about how different countries are handling Covid-19. We know the ins and outs of population density, age composition, political leanings, healthcare systems and testing protocols for more countries than most people can find on a map. We have had family discussions on how different countries are doing things. The pros and cons of country A’s strategy versus country B’s.

It’s very hard to compartmentalise it all.  We have elderly relatives in the US, friends in Qatar expecting babies, family who are health care workers in both New Zealand and the U.S. all who are ‘at risk’. We have a friend living with an elderly parent in Italy, friends who are separated with part of the family in KL and part in Dubai, friends set to move from the UK to California, family in New Zealand whose six month plan just disappeared with nothing left to replace it.

For us, school closed over 6 weeks ago, one week later Germany went into Ausgangssperre, lockdown, quarantine. We have not left our neighbourhood.  Like most people, all our time is spent at home except for supermarket trips and short walks along the river. We have spent time sitting, slow, sedentary, stopped.  But with this, our minds and emotions have been racing around the world, to all of our family and friends who are in different situations, in different places, with different governments doing different things. 

The thing about being an expat is that you end up with friends literally all over the world.  So you end up with interests all over the world, and emotions, and concerns, and worries. ALL. OVER. THE. WORLD.  And in this time when we can hardly leave our couch, our minds and our emotions, are doing more travelling than ever,  and it is exhausting.


Rachel Nelson is a New Zealand expat who has lived and worked in the US, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UAE, Qatar and Germany.