I asked a psychologist what it’s like to be an expat during the COVID-19 pandemic


May 2, 2020

As expats we are used to a fluid and mobile lifestlye, going home for the summer traveling throughout the year, and meeting people from different places. This abrupt change to self-isolation and lockdown is hard for everyone, but I think us expats face a unique set of challenges.

I had the opportunity to talk to the lovely Kate Berger from the Expat Kids Club. Based in the Netherlands, Kate is a Child and Adolescence psychologist who specializes in working with TCKs in her practice, The Expat Kids Club. I asked her a few questions about the current period, how it affects expats, and her advice for making the most of this time.

According to Kate one of the largest obstacles that the expat community is facing at the moment is that we don’t have access to the mobility we’re used to. There’s no more hopping on a flight home, and even when lockdown does end it won’t be that easy again for a while. It can feel restricting to lose that part of our lifestyle that offers so much flexibility and the opportunity to connect with people from around the world.

For expats this may also be a time where we’re looking for comfort, familiarity, and a home. The country we’re living in at the moment may or may not feel like home, and if it doesn’t, we can’t even spend time with those people who make that country feel more comforting and secure.

Another challenge that rears its head, not just for expats but for everyone, is the uncertainty and anxiety. As humans, we like to be in control, but the unknown timeframe for this novel environment can be difficult for some to deal with.

Kate also mentions that for some families the lockdown and isolation period means that they’re at home with family in a way that they have never been before. Continuously being around the same people 24/7 for potentially months, is difficult despite how close you are with each other.

“We don’t have access to travel like we’re all used to, shelter and place, all these things can be really restricting especially when we’re used to a lifestyle that includes so much mobility and opportunity to connect with people around the world” – Kate Berger

So how can we help alleviate these struggles? Kate first emphasizes that we must be realistic. We’re truly experiencing a once in a lifetime situation, and we’re not going to be our optimal selves. She says it’s critical to acknowledge this situation and to lower the bar and manage our expectations. It’s also important to validate and acknowledge our feelings, whatever they are, and connect with others in a way that supports us all.

Kate also mentioned that we should recognize and appreciate what we do have! She mentions that gratitude is linked with positive outlook and happiness. Without knowing when this will end, gratitude practice is super important, and this is huge for those of us who can say that we’re healthy at the moment.

“We know that gratitude is linked to positive outlook and happiness” – Kate Berger

Next, I asked Kate about how important it is to stay connected online, and if it’s healthy for us to spend so much time online. Kate advised that it is extremely important to stay connected to the outside world, it gives us safety and security when we know what’s happening. However, she added, it’s important that we limit the amount of time we spend on news and media sites – not to spend all-day online.

Kate also brought up the new concept of Zoom fatigue, exhaustion from being on virtual calls all day, and emphasized that it’s import to take time to be compassionate and caring to ourselves. She finished by admitting that just like every-day life, there will be ups and downs during this period. Some moments will seem tricky and other times we’ll feel like we’ve completely got this, and that’s okay because this is all a new process.

There are many places now providing online support and if you would like to find out more about the Expat Kids Club, you can do so on their site.

I hope that this post has been informative and interesting! I really did learn a lot while hearing Kate’s responses. If you would like me to do a similar post interviewing someone else, let me know in the comments!

See you next week,

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