At 20 years old, I sat in our Bristol home across the table from my mom and told her I was going to move to Australia. She responded confused, “What the hell is in Australia?”
That was three years ago. Since then, I have taken leaps for many opportunities well beyond my comfort zone. I sell my belongings, pack one suitcase, buy a one way ticket and repeat. Indonesia, Ireland, London, Croatia, Brazil, Dublin … the list goes on. I’ve experienced homelessness, gotten lost in a literal jungle, overcome racism and discrimination, conquered language barriers, and most recently, became stranded in a pandemic.
Six months ago, I was managing an office destination for an international company in New York City on the 8th floor of a beautiful building on Wall Street. While this was a great accomplishment, it felt like I chose a salary over a purpose. So a few months later I dug out my suitcase and dusted off my passport. Masking my spontaneous decision as a “work trip” (and successfully proving that I could manage my New York office remotely), I bought a ticket back to Dublin to visit a friend, and hoped to visit Barcelona on the two-week trip as well.
From the moment I arrived, I had the overwhelming feeling that I was exactly where I needed to be. I had returned to a life of trad music, going for pints at the local pub, and just “having the craic.” I wasn’t ready to give that up. I couldn’t fathom the idea of leaving again…
And, well, the universe heard me.
Ten days later I cancelled my flight to Barcelona. COVID-19 had arrived in Spain. Until this point there had only been whispers about the virus, but now things were escalating quickly. The severity of what was happening was impossible to deny. The pubs were shutting down and St. Patricks day was cancelled. (In Ireland!)
I was packing my bags to fly back to New York when the 30-day European travel ban was announced. Though the travel ban didn’t affect US citizens, I knew medical conditions of mine put me at high risk. After much thought and seeking professional advice, I made the decision to wait out the ban in Ireland for my physical well being.
Much like the rest of the world, social distancing became mandatory, and a lockdown was put in place. The speed at which these measures were implemented in Ireland, compared to the speed in the US, demonstrated that while the States were being reactive, Ireland had chosen to be proactive.
This became even more apparent when the numbers were put side by side (as I write this, there are 14,758 confirmed cases in all of Ireland compared to 131,263 confirmed cases in NYC alone). From overseas, I watched New York become apocalyptic. They weren’t building hospitals in Central Park, they were building morgues… I knew I made the right call.
Like many I also lost my job because of the pandemic, and being laid off while abroad comes with its own challenges. The unemployment system hasn’t exactly caught up with today’s reality of remote work. Though I am a New York state employee and have been paying New York taxes, I am ineligible to access UI benefits because I am currently outside of the country. This has left me digging into the pennies I managed to put together before the crisis hit.
I am not the only one in my family affected by this. My sister had just touched down in Paris, working holiday visa in hand, ready to begin her life’s dream of living in France. Two days later, France put lockdown restrictions in place, and she is now unable to look for work. These restrictions have cost her two months of a one year visa that she cannot renew, and has the potential to last even longer. Unfortunately I can’t be there physically for my sister, so I do what I can to help financially.
My mother is also in a similar situation, she too is a remote worker and was laid off outside of the US (in Uruguay, South America). Uruguay is considered a third-world country, and although significantly safer than the US during a pandemic, it’s not a place you want to be stuck without income or unemployment benefits. She has the sole responsibility of being the financial support for my extended family, who also reside in Uruguay. Between my mother and myself, we’re doing what we can to keep things afloat.
Being isolated is difficult, and being spread across opposite ends of the Earth from your family during a global pandemic is emotionally taxing. Financial stress, unemployment and no access to benefits has me digging for strength that I didn’t know I had.
I do, however, consider myself lucky. I am stuck in a country and city that I know well, with friends who have taken me in and given me their spare room. It’s also much safer than my views of what New York City is enduring.
The Irish government has cautiously extended visas for anyone with a visa meant to expire before May 30, and though I only have two weeks worth of clothes in the suitcase I currently live out of, I hope that is extended for longer.
When this is over, I fully intend to continue my adventure for as long as I can. I have found a gift in these seemingly impossible days; time, which is not something that life grants us very often. I now have time to be educated about Irish history, and understand the culture more than I was able to when I spent my time working here. I have time to sit with my housemates and listen to trad music with a glass of wine. It’s not the pub environment that I remember Ireland to be, but if I close my eyes, it’s the same feeling.
While this crisis brings the world to a halt, we have the opportunity to determine how we spend our time and what is most important. I will continue to plan my adventure.