I moved to London in September 2019. The first six months were ordinary; the next six were anything but. When the UK’s lockdown measures took effect in March, I realized that staying in London meant I would not see my family in Canada for some time. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the uncertainty surrounding travel makes homesickness worse. Whether an ocean away, or just across state lines, home feels further away than ever.
Before the pandemic, I had barely grappled with homesickness. Home in Nova Scotia was always just a flight away, something my mom promised when we parted at the Halifax airport. When I arrived at my student accommodation in London, it felt strange to be an ocean away from my parents, but I knew I’d see them at Christmas.
When I did miss home, or felt overwhelmed in my new surroundings, I kept busy, filling my days with university assignments and pints after class. From walks around Regent’s Park to ABBA-themed club nights to musicals in the West End, I was living the student-abroad-in-London cliché and loving it. When the UK’s lockdown began on March 23, everything came to a grinding halt. No more distractions.
My homesickness built slowly. When many of my classmates and flatmates went home to spend lockdown with their families, I respected their decision, but I knew that I wanted to stay. I would regret leaving London prematurely, even under such strange circumstances. But as the months went on, my feelings changed. I felt a tug towards home, a need for familiarity, a longing to feel like a kid again; just to sit on my parents’ couch with a cup of tea.
Lockdown in London
As more time passed in my tiny dorm room, I felt lost. I was busy with academic assignments, but I could barely focus. It seemed like the world was falling apart and there I was: sitting in a dorm room, across the ocean from my family, finishing a master’s degree on Zoom. Why?
The more I worried about school and rising Covid-19 cases, the more I missed home. As the weeks passed, I found myself searching for flights to Halifax on Skyscanner. I questioned my ability to stay positive amid such strange times.I always wanted to be a world traveler. A perpetual expat. I was proud of myself for moving to London with a single suitcase and starting a new life here. I knew that missing home did not make me weak, but thinking about returning to my old life felt like giving up.
Travel as a Privilege
My parents live in Nova Scotia. In Canada, the Atlantic provinces have formed a bubble: visitors from the rest of the country and abroad must self-isolate for two weeks upon arrival. While Canada’s total Covid-19 cases are continuing to rise, the Atlantic bubble has fared extremely well. It would be irresponsible to return to Canada from the UK, where a second wave is already being felt.
Living abroad and being unable to easily return home forced me to confront my privilege in a new way. While I was struggling with homesickness during lockdown, something much bigger was happening: the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in June, following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Protests broke out across the world, and thousands gathered in Hyde Park and Parliament Square to protest police brutality and institutional racism here in London. This offered even more perspective. My inherent privilege in traveling and living abroad is linked to my privileged upbringing as a white, middle-class kid in Canada. It is important to take a closer look at how I ended up here and reflect on how I can become a better ally.
Over the past few months, I have spent a lot of time feeling lost in London. But recognizing the privilege of travel has been an important shift in perspective. I had dreamed of spending my summer taking cheap Ryanair flights to European cities and beach destinations; instead, I remained in London, and for the most part, in my dorm room. But while stuck inside, I was on Zoom for lectures with professors and classmates based around the world. I was here to learn, and I think I learned more than I ever would have if the pandemic hadn’t happened. Lockdown was a lesson in resilience as well as a chance for reflection.
Adjusting to Pandemic Life
Besides travel restrictions, our daily lives have changed drastically: we’ve adapted to mask mandates, social distancing protocols, remote working and hosting our pub quizzes on Zoom. As we hit the six month mark, it is clear that many of us are facing quarantine fatigue. Constantly thinking about Covid-19 is draining, and with no end date in sight, it can be difficult to stay positive.
Recently, the UK government banned gatherings of more than six people and implemented a 10pm curfew. These heightened restrictions, and the thought of spending the winter in lockdown, worry me. But recognizing how lucky I am to be here helps push back against homesickness. Remembering that we will get through this is important. We have the tools to do so, privileges that previous generations could never have imagined. I think a lot about my grandmother, who moved to South Africa in the early 1960s. She had to send letters back to her family in Canada, and went weeks without news from overseas. Thanks to FaceTime, my parents see my face pop up on their screens almost every day.
When the entire world is upside down, it’s natural to crave familiarity. I wish I could go home for a quick week or two, but I don’t want to risk it. Combatting homesickness during Covid-19 requires a change in perspective: rather than look at what I’m missing out on, it is important to remember what I’m gaining. At the end of the day, I’m lucky to be here — even amid a pandemic — and I’ll keep that in mind while facing whatever comes next.