In this edition of our series, Sydney Beaman shares how she and her husband—both experienced expats—have used that experience to meet the challenges of the pandemic. An intrepid traveler, Sydney posts to her blog, The Beamans Abroad, regularly.
Phases: Adapting to a New Life
by Sydney Beaman
Right now, the world is, as we are all very aware, full of uncertainty and unknowns. And no matter who or where you are in the world, your life has most likely been impacted to some degree or another. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but these past few months have surfaced a few new personal discoveries and reflections and have also brought on a sense of mourning.
My husband and I have had the opportunity to live abroad a few times in the last five years. Traveling is a love of ours and living abroad has only made it stronger. Now, being (voluntarily) plucked from everything that we know has also had various effects on us. Upon arriving at a new home whether close to our family or abroad (in either case for us it’s usually temporary), we find ourselves going through phases that we have also experienced during this pandemic.
Phase One: Challenge
Pshaw, this is totally manageable. We love change! After the excitement of our new environment starts to slightly wear off, we take a moment to sit and realize that we’re definitely not in Washington anymore. The business of our new life starts. The next task at hand is for us to find our nearest Costco . . . ha! I wish! Unfortunately, that’s a joke for us in Europe, but seriously, our priorities are as follows:
- Find the nearest place to obtain all the basic needs.
- Get our bearings and learn the layout of our new surroundings.
- Start the adjustment process.
When COVID-19 cases started rising here in Berlin, we realized that this is new territory to navigate. Been there, done that. Challenge accepted! Monday through Friday became the new Hamsterkäufe days, a German term for hoarding groceries, which results in empty shelves in the shops and is typically done on Saturdays, since the stores are closed on Sundays. But we conquered our grocery shopping and found all the disinfection supplies, nonetheless. We started getting our new bearings, working from our home office every day and learning online at the kitchen table. This is change and we like change. Time to start adjusting . . .
Phase Two: Adjustment
After the first few months of living abroad or away from home, the new city starts to feel a little less foreign. Our weekend trip planning can begin; we’ve settled into our new apartment; we know where to get our errands done; and we continue to adjust to our new city with the understanding that we will be here for an undetermined amount of time. This is now our life.
Now, I’m not sure how well this translates to this pandemic situation, but either way we’ve had to adjust. In an attempt to travel and transport myself to the unknown, I have become quite a bookworm. I have never been more grateful for the bounty of books and all the genius authors that we have available at our fingertips.
Recently, I read A Woman in Berlin (the diary of a young woman living in Berlin during the Red Army occupation in 1945). She wrote:
I have to sit it out and wait . . . Now and then I wish it was all over. These are strange times—history experienced firsthand, the stuff of tales yet untold and songs unsung.
I think that sums it up pretty well. Her life during that horrific time is unimaginable, but she adapted. We don’t know how long this pandemic will take to be sorted out, but just like adjusting to our lives abroad, this is now our life, and we’ll be living through this for an undetermined amount of time.
Phase Three: Reality
As our adjustment abroad continues to evolve (mostly emotionally), reality hits kind of hard. We’re not on a ninety-day tourist visa; we don’t know anyone or the language (nothing is more humbling than having to learn what the grocery basics—like sugar, flour, milk, and spices—are called in a foreign language); we don’t know how to do all the bureaucratic business and definitely can’t call up our parents to ask them how to do all these things. At this point, we’re not necessarily regretting any decisions, but we’re undoubtedly feeling like fish out of water, like we’ve been thrown from the ocean into the middle of the desert. We have to make a new life with the opportunities that our new environment presents and find our purpose.
My husband and I have been trying to stay home as much as possible for about two months. I don’t think we really had any expectations of when our lives could resume as usual, so it’s been a week-by-week situation. We’ve had to cancel a trip we had planned for March, as the world is still trying to get a grasp on how to safely resume. Traveling holds such a large part of our hearts, so these past few months have been sort of a period of mourning as well. We’re mourning for the days when EasyJet flights were a weekly occurrence and there were no second thoughts about taking public transportation. This is the unfortunate reality of all of our lives now, but we are all in unfamiliar territory, and together we’re all fish out of water!