UK expat in Canada shares unexpected ‘silver linings’ of lockdown living abroad

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For expats, missing home and family is a predictable side effect of the decision to uproot. However, the pangs of homesickness are often treatable with yearly visits home.

Yet, as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, millions of British expats around the world suddenly found themselves unable to hop aboard the usually frequent flights home.

One such expat was Cecily Henderson, a former London-resident who is now living in Vancouver, Canada, alongside her two children and husband.

For her, the connectivity of the world previously meant travelling home up to four times a year, meaning she hardly had time to be homesick.

She told “I was coming home four times a year, both for work and [to visit] family.”

Though based in Vancouver, Ms Henderson is one of the driving forces behind UK children’s plastic-free toy firm PomPom and was frequently making visits to the company’s base in Essex as a result.

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However, those frequent journeys home would soon be brought to an abrupt stop as the pandemic began to surge.

Ms Henderson explained: “It has made me very, very homesick for the first time in eight years.”

Despite her heartache, she admits there have been some rather unexpected “silver linings” as a result of lockdown.

“My second son, Claude, was born in January 2020, so we went into lockdown two months later,” she said.

“My husband was travelling a lot and had already been away for three weeks out of the eight since the baby was born.

“That naturally came to an end, so in many ways, lockdown was a silver lining for us – as Alex could be around for the entire first year of Claude’s life.

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“Like many families, there were many zoom conference calls where he had baby Claude tucked under the computer on his lap, while I exercised the toddler!”

She continued: “During the early days, I enjoyed the quiet – she says wryly with two small kids – I loved not having any pressure to be other than a new mother and stay quietly at home.”

Though the businesswoman says she began to miss many of her “maternity leave friends” as the weeks progressed, she also found a new “closeness” with her friends much further afield.

Ms Henderson found herself connecting with friends and family in an entirely new way.

“I have so enjoyed how the pandemic has brought me closer to my friends in many ways,” she pointed out.

“We finally have a shared experience for the first time in years.

“We are all going through the same thing, we have a shared language of lockdown and we speak much more.

“Actually, particularly with the ones who live abroad, we share our homesickness and commiserate on the failed holiday attempts to the UK!”

This, of course, would not have been possible without the array of technology at our fingertips.

“WhatsApp, WhatsApp, WhatsApp! I am one of four girls and the family chat groups are endless,” she said.

“Pictures, recipes, news articles, book recommendations and Netflix or Prime reviews zing across the Atlantic many times a day.”

The newfound communication also extended to her work life.

“Back in the UK, the shift was so dramatic that my heroic business partner, Katherine was suddenly faced with two kids at home and a business to run solo,” explained Ms Henderson.

“So, I came back to work in March, and we both crammed our work into naps and evenings.”

She continued: “During the pandemic, we have witnessed a 900 percent rise in sales, as families are looking to shop more consciously.

“It has been exciting to be at the forefront of facilitating change and a silver lining to Covid.”

Of course, though these new connections may have served as perks to the pandemic, Ms Henderson remains eager to reunite with her loved ones soon.

In fact, she says “missing family” is one of the hardest parts of living overseas with or without a pandemic.

“When we see each other we need to be together, to catch up on everything, to share all those feelings or experiences that were skimmed over on WhatsApp,” she said.

“So the only way to avoid that is to spend a decent length of time together, a couple of weeks ideally but that is hard to always achieve with multiple siblings, parents and in-laws and that is before the old mates get a look in!”

She added: “I hope in the reverse too, that our family will come out and see us.

“Canada will give Grandparents a 10-year visa to help maintain family ties – my mother-in-law looked horrified when we told her, she is very much attached to London!”

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