Yorkshire Expats Are Homesick; Are They Coming Home?
Before the pandemic, many people would take any work opportunity to move abroad to live the expat lifestyle. There was a lot to like about the idea. It was a chance to experience an entirely different culture while enjoying perks provided by companies doing everything they could to take care of their people. It opened up travel opportunities, and especially if you were moving to a European country, it was easy to come home for visits.
With COVID-19, the expat experience changed drastically. Instead of the exciting experience of a new culture, expats were experiencing the four walls of their temporary homes. Instead of travelling to interesting cities, expats were stuck in one place for longer than ever before.
But perhaps the most pertinent problem has been the inability to return home with the same ease. Even during the times when travel has been permitted, it comes with risks, and in many cases it has required people to quarantine for a couple of weeks.
This has been true for many Yorkshire expats, who are doing everything they can to bring home to them. There is only so long homesick expats can continue enjoying the diminishing returns. Can we expect masses of expats to return home in the near future?
Let’s take a look at why the expat life has been so difficult during the pandemic.
Isolation vs. Assimilation
One of the struggles many expats have in a new country is the difficulty assimilating into a new culture. The people respond differently and may seem more aggressive in their communication styles. The food is strange and restaurants may smell unappealing to newcomers. People work at a different pace, and waiting for them – or being rushed by them – can be frustrating.
In theory, you might expect the pandemic to help with this part of the expat experience. After all, you no longer have to deal with the culture, right?
Not quite. Even in isolation, the differing culture is a relevant factor. Instead of going to establishments, you have to contact them online or over the phone, which can be even more difficult. Colleagues who work differently are no easier to work with on a remote basis. The biggest difference to normal is that, in isolation, there are few chances to assimilate. The culture shock does not wear off because you never get used to it.
Expats who have not, a year later, assimilated into the experience will be feeling incredibly lonely and homesick. It may feel too late to turn the experience around, even with everything opening back up.
No matter what you feel about the NHS and your local doctors and hospitals, there is no denying that you find comfort in their familiarity. When something happens, you know exactly who to call and where to go. You know how you will be treated and what it will (or won’t) cost. You also know that your family is close by to root for you if you are not receiving the treatment you need.
Healthcare systems around the world work very differently. They may not be as accommodating as the NHS, and they may charge exorbitant prices. The staff may not be as well-trained or have a good bedside manner. Understanding your doctor may be difficult if they speak a different language.
Dealing with foreign healthcare services is always difficult for expats. With the pandemic, it has been more anxiety-provoking than ever before. Even the best healthcare systems have struggled to cope. Healthcare systems in some developing countries have all but crumbled.
It is hard enough on mental health to get through a pandemic. Not knowing if the healthcare system will be able to help you makes it even harder.
At any time, one of the challenges of being an expat is the distance from family and friends in times of need. If something happens to a loved one, you have to travel just to be there for them. Even those who don’t get homesick easily struggle with this.
During the pandemic, we have all seen way too clearly just how tough it is to be separated from loved ones. Millions of people have had to say goodbye to their loved ones from a distance so as not to contract the virus.
Being in a different country has made it impossible for many people to get the chance to see loved ones again even when contact has been allowed. And while people may be distant from the loved ones they are losing, they are at least close to their family and support systems.
Losing a loved one when living abroad and not being able to even mourn with family has been a huge weight on the shoulders of expats.
Will Expats Come Home?
Homesickness is nothing new for expats. However, the intensity of the problem during the pandemic has led to a particularly powerful feeling of helplessness. You can see this among Yorkshire expats in particular.
One Yorkshire expat went so far as to buy a local pub, deconstruct it, and rebuild it in Germany! It looks exactly as it did here in Yorkshire and gives at least one man the home experience he so desperately misses.
Other Yorkshire expats have also uniformly described just how much they miss home, even after spending years abroad. With the pandemic weighing heavy, they are missing the people, food, and climate. They are missing the familiar safety of the place they know best in the world.
Can we expect them to come home any time soon or will they try to somehow reignite their passion for living abroad?
The latter is going to be difficult, as the pandemic clearly isn’t ending with anything more than a semicolon. Some countries are still fumbling the handling of it and getting vaccinated there may not be easy enough to ensure safe travel back and forth. Trying to go back to a normal life in those circumstances will likely prove futile.
We may well expect an influx of ex-expats in the near future. Alon Rajic from MoneyTransferComparison.com believes this is already the case. He explained that “based on our data, since March 2020, we have seen increased movement in transfers of EUR, USD and AUD into GBP, in comparison to the volumes we have seen pre-pandemic. There are a lot more property sales in Europe being repatriated back to the UK, and very few UK property sales by foreign investors.”
In other words, people are closing up their foreign bank accounts and bringing their cash back to the UK, as well as selling their foreign property. It is difficult to determine exactly how many of these people have come back due to homesickness. After all, when the pandemic was raging, many people chose to come back temporarily to see it out with their families and may take their money right back abroad once things have become more normal.
There are also other reasons expats may have returned permanently. British companies that were thriving internationally have closed foreign branches or even closed up operations entirely, bringing all of their expats back by necessity.
Over the next few months, we will get a better idea of whether more expats will return home due to homesickness that just will not go away.
The Future For Expats
Even for those expats who still love living abroad, the future is not so certain. Many businesses are still struggling to regain their footing. Furthermore, with the increased confidence in remote working, many companies are choosing to save money on sending expats to live abroad, instead having them do the work from the UK while making occasional trips.
There are also many would-be expats who had to postpone their journey at the start of the pandemic and are still waiting for things to settle before working abroad. Some companies have decided to cancel these endeavours altogether, unwilling to risk starting new business abroad considering the uncertainty around the world.
There will certainly be new expats excited to start their journeys, as well as those who have no intention of ever coming home. But these are fewer in number than they once were. Until 2020, it looked like the expat life might become the new normal for future generations. Right now, that future seems unlikely.