How the corona crisis has affected my life as an expat

I had been living in the Netherlands for three years, when the coronavirus finally reached Tilburg on the 27th of February. Little did I know that less than 3 weeks later, I would have to return to my home country, leaving behind the entire life I had spent so long building.

I moved to The Netherlands in 2017, expecting to stay there for a good deal longer than just the three years it would take to graduate from university. Now, three years later, I have a great life there – incredible friends from all over the world, a job I like, a very nice apartment in the centre of The Hague, and promising career prospects.

When in January of this year the corona virus first became a topic in international media, I did not believe it would get this bad. As I thought back to other epidemics during my lifetime, the numbers did not scare me.

At the end of February, when shortly after the carnival in Brabant the first corona case in the Netherlands was reported, I still did not take it seriously enough. I continued with school and work as usual. I work in hospitality, which is why I should have taken the situation more seriously — as we see now, that is one of the industries hit hardest by the crisis. I remember talking to a friend on the same day the virus reached the Netherlands about his current job in a hotel in Nice. Since Nice, France was just about to hit high season for tourism, he was already worried that he was going to get laid off, because the corona virus was not going to stop. I should have taken cautions then, but I did not.

On the 12th of March, when my home country of Estonia declared a state of emergency (with only 13 cases), I realised the true gravity of the situation. It was the same day the prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, also declared that universities must close. Now this is when I started panicking, as I knew that I was going to lose my job and would not have enough money to stay in The Hague. So during that panic, I made a decision with my best friend who is also from Estonia, that we would go to Estonia, because we might not have the chance to do so in a week.

On the 17th of March, all direct flights to Tallinn from Amsterdam were canceled, so I consider myself incredibly lucky that I made it home on the 15th. Right now, as of April, I have virtually no way of flying back to the Netherlands, due to cancelled flights and other closed borders. I remember the unease I felt on the plane, because I knew that I was going to be stuck in Estonia for a long time, and Estonia was a country I intentionally left behind. As my best friend said: “We’re going home for a long time, not a good time.”

The first week back home felt like a year. I had to get used to living with my parents again. My parents also have a cute little dog, a Pekingese, to which I have developed a terrible allergy in the past three years. So I was stuck with my parents, an uncontrollable allergy cough and runny nose, not having anything to do, and not being allowed to see any of my friends. When the first online lecture came around, I was feeling a little bit better, and kind of liked the fact that I did not have to commute longer than 10 seconds to get from my bed to my class.

Unfortunately, that was the only joy. After completing the initial 14-day quarantine in my apartment (as required of all Estonian nationals coming from abroad), I finally went outside. Now luckily, the area of my country is 55% forest and bogs, and there are a lot of places to go where you will not see any other human beings. This was the case before the crisis, but right now, cities are completely deserted, and hiking on a trail in the forest feels like traffic lights need to be hung up!

Coming home also meant that I was leaving spring behind and coming back into winter. Half of the country was still covered in snow up until, I think, the 3rd of April. The snow is nice for a day to look at, but then you just start missing spring like crazy.

On a daily basis I wonder to myself when will I be able to return to the Netherlands, if my apartment will still be there waiting for me, and whether I can get my old job back. At least there is a little joy and hope in these dark times, as my friends and I play board games online over video calls at least once a week.

I don’t want to get my hopes up too much, but on the 7th of April, it was reported that the worst has probably passed for Estonia. They say that if everyone keeps sticking to the emergency measures, it may be possible to loosen them in 2-3 weeks. Maybe then I can finally see my friends I came all this way to be with!

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