Globally mobile life: Vulnerability in times of crisis


Following a most stressful week of decision-making, our family has now been reunited and I can reflect on how a globally mobile life makes us more vulnerable to crises like the current one.

I had absolutely no intention to write about COVID19 because there are SO many news items, information, resources, opinions, advice, etc. etc. out there already. Overwhelmingly so.

But I must say that the travel restrictions and closing of borders around the world has made it painfully apparent how much more vulnerable those of us living a globally mobile life are to crises.
  • When your family members are scattered over different countries.
  • When your visa status places you at a disadvantage over nationals.
  • When you don't have access to your support networks.
(And if I'm feeling stressed as a more privileged 'expat', what of all those who are much more vulnerable, like refugees or migrant workers?)

Our case

For me and my immediate family, last week was the peak of stress.

Husband was in Europe, trying to get back to Thailand or Singapore, just as France and Germany began closing its borders. Our kids, Thai nanny, and I were in Singapore, which was facing its second wave of panic-buying induced by Malaysia's border closure.

Husband and I couldn't agree on whether we should stay put in Singapore or to temporarily repatriate to Thailand.

In Singapore, life was calm and the government seemed to be in control of things. As long as we stayed put, the kids would be able to start the new school year with their classmates (vs. last year when we moved and they missed the first 2 months of school).

In Thailand, we would have a much stronger support system and the security of citizenship (except me), and Husband could continue his work (whereas in Singapore, he'd been barred from his government lab for a few weeks already as 'non-essential staff').

In the end, we decided to gather in Thailand and I am incredibly relieved to be here.

Globally mobile life: Vulnerability in times of crisis

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay 

This difficult week made me reflect that the globally mobile life tosses extra challenges at us in times of global crises.

(Again, I'm talking as a privileged expat; my difficulties only hint at what it might be like for those in a weaker position.)

☘ The basis of our lives is challenged

When international travel and your right to enter/exit/stay in a particular country(s) is threatened, the life that you've built (things like your home and daily routines like school) and your livelihood become precarious.
  • You realize that the assumed right to enter or exit or stay in your country of residence (if it's not your passport country) is not guaranteed; it can be revoked at any time. And there's nothing you can do about it.
  • With governments scrambling to help its own citizens, foreigners may be reminded over and over again that we are not as important, we are different, we are not priority.
  • The possibility of separation from your immediate family (spouse, partner, parents, children) is real. Even if your visa or residency is still valid, if those borders are closed and there are no flights, you are stuck. And again, there's nothing you can do about it.

☘ Social distancing assumes a home base

Social distancing is key to slow down the spread of the virus. But it's based on the assumption that you have a base, a place to hunker down in. So what happens when you're not sure where your home base is?
  • You have to figure out what that home base is, but that's not always easy or simple. How do you identify and define the safest place where you can stay put and social distance yourselves, without worrying about access to healthcare or expulsion? What if you and your spouse have different ideas of where that safe place is? 
  • (I loved this article by Daniela Tomer, 'Being an ATCK in times of Coronavirus,' where she talks about these questions of where do you prefer to be 'stuck' when you consider yourself a global citizen.)
  • The pressure to socially distance yourself also makes it difficult to be open about your dilemma to stay or to travel. I felt I would be inviting criticism--about being selfish or irresponsible--if I said I'm contemplating travel with my kids. It was stressful enough to try to figure out what was the best plan of action for our family. Feeling like I was doing something 'bad' only made it worse.

☘ The value of family and support networks are not to be underestimated!

Never have I felt so grateful for family networks! Or to be a part of any kind of support system! Crises like the current one makes you aware that when you are far from your support system, it makes you more vulnerable to...well, anything.
  • This was one major point that convinced me it was a good idea to move to Thailand. I knew that we could rely on the incredible support from our family in Thailand...and in fact, without that help, I could not have gotten my visa to get here.
  • Being relatively new and isolated in a country (which is even worse if you're dealing with other barriers, like language for example) can mean you have little support to buoy you up in difficult times; it's tough. Those of us who can tap into a support system are lucky.
This has been mainly a brain dump for me, but anyway.

My fellow global nomads, stay safe and take care of yourselves. It's a tough time. Be kind to yourselves. 

Those of you are worrying about globally mobile family members: Let them know you care but also understand that they are trying to make the best decisions given their circumstances. Please be gentle and please be supportive.


Top image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

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