Lifestyle & Culture

Andriana Boyrikova in the Netherlands: An expat’s discovery of silver linings in a pandemic

 I want to give you a heads up: This isn’t yet another COVID-19-related story sharing productivity tips how to juggle doing 10 online courses, becoming the next Jamie Oliver, taking up handcrafts, coming up with an award-winning method for organizing your bookshelves, and maintaining a healthy relationship with your spouse while working together from home. Neither is it a story sharing dilettante’s opinions on the socio-economic impact of a pandemic that swept the globe and changed life as we know it.

It’s the story of a Bulgarian expat living in the Netherlands who due to the consequences of the pandemic started to appreciate the people and things she has in her life. 

The past eight months that raised havoc in millions of people’s lives all over the world took me on a discovery journey that opened my eyes to  long-forgotten truths. Although some aspects of my life got negatively  impacted, I found a few silver linings that made me start to appreciate people and things I used to take for granted for too long. 

Far away, but closer than ever 

I missed my nephew’s first birthday; I couldn’t celebrate my 30th birthday together with my family; I haven’t hugged my parents in more than a year. The trip home I had planned in March didn’t materialize as the pandemic was gradually turning the Netherlands – and the whole world – upside down.

Later, my parents couldn’t visit me in the Netherlands (which was going to be their first visit since I had moved in here and they were pretty excited about it) as the pandemic had reached a peak. And now, in light of the new restrictions in the Netherlands, I won’t be able to spend Christmas  together with them. 

Of course, choosing to pack your life in a suitcase and go live abroad comes with its fair share of inconveniences such as not being able to see your family when a pandemic strikes, so you mentally prepare yourself for that kind of stuff. But I wasn’t prepared.

The pandemic made me realize I had always taken my parents for granted: they were available and excited to welcome me home at all times, while I was always too busy to pay them a visit. Yet the fact that something beyond my control can suddenly make it impossible for me to see them for an indefinite period of time made me want to become a better daughter.

Now I call them at least twice a week and send them a good morning to ask them how they are every day. In a sense, I feel closer to them now than I ever was when I lived in Bulgaria.

Enjoying the view after an interval run (Photos by Andriana Boyrikova)

Outside four walls 

I can imagine that for lots of people working from home is a dream come true. I’ll lie if I say I don’t like the perks that come with that (replacing commute time with reading, savoring a warm meal for lunch). Next to that, there are the huge environmental benefits and, of course, the more time we spend with our spouses/children/housemates.

But it’s stretching it to say it’s all perfect. Having to stay put at home for months – even with your beloved ones – can cause anxiety, and even worse, depression. I have friends who live on their own and are feeling more and more tense every single day. I have friends who are working from home together with their spouses (and kids most of the time) and admit that not every day is a fairy tale. 

Personally, I’m dealing with my own demons in my head. Luckily, somewhere mid-September, I rediscovered a hobby – running – which I now see as my savior to stay sane. I go running either early in the morning or late in the evening in areas with barely any people to follow the social distancing rules. While running, I can reconnect with nature and be at peace with myself. And I’m grateful I can still do that. 

Part of our home gym in the basement

Healthy body and mind

Back in March, at the onset of the pandemic in the Netherlands, we all had to wave goodbye to workouts at sports clubs. As sport is something that keeps me happy but also healthy and fit – the best medicine against the virus – the prospect of not being able to exercise for an indefinite period of time rattled me. Even though I kept training in our home gym, I was starting to feel dull and restless: I missed the contact with other people. 

And then, after spending a good deal of time researching what I could do instead, I found the best solution: an outdoor bootcamp club where I could re-energize myself in the fresh air with a bunch of sports lovers. 

Sad to say, the latest government’s measures put the outdoor trainings on hold. This brought all of us down: the trainers who were strictly following all measures; the professional athletes who can’t play sport anymore and were joining the bootcamps as one way to blow off steam; and the amateurs, like me, who loved the feeling of getting stronger and healthier in the fresh air. Thankfully, the trainings will move online, so I’m grateful we’ll still be able to exercise together and keep in touch with each other, despite everything. 

With my writing buddies online

Hello, can you hear me?

In light of COVID-19, I had to cancel my weekly writers’ meetings in the public library in Groningen. I organized them to hold myself accountable to my fiction writing goals but also to meet like-minded people. Yet the pandemic pulled the plug on our vigorous discussions on how to cope with a writer’s block, how to become better at writing dialogues, and how to switch off the internal critic when writing.

As the days stretched in front of me, I knew something was wrong: I couldn’t just abandon my writing buddies. So a week later, I created an online event which still takes place every Thursday at 5 p.m. Dutch time. 

I’m grateful that now there are at least five permanent members who join every time and, despite the distance, we still hold each other accountable to our writing, lift each other up, discuss issues we have to cope with, and, most importantly, laugh together: this makes me feel part of a community that hasn’t yet been shattered by the virus.

Every cloud has a silver lining 

I typed this story one and a half months ago – before the partial lockdown in the Netherlands – in a café (that was my first time working in a café since 16 March). I can still remember the tingly sense of excitement I felt then: being surrounded by people (of course, 1.5 meters away from each other), listening to their invigorating laughter, smiling at the waitress, looking out the windows at the beautiful autumn colors: simple pleasures I perceived in a different way when I knew there was a chance they could be taken away from me. 

Now I’m rereading this story at the dining table at home (which I use as my home office desk) and I still feel grateful for the people and things I have in my life. I hope I can safeguard this feeling in the months to come and even try to pass it on others: appreciate the moment and be thankful for what and who you have in your life now

About the author:

Andriana Boyrikova was born and raised in Pazardzhik, Bulgaria. Later, her adventure-seeking spirit brought her to Groningen, Netherlands, where she completed a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Groningen.

Following her graduation, Andriana decided to pursue her passion for telling stories and now she is working as a freelance content marketer, contributor, and writer in Groningen. Andriana is interested in high-tech innovations, sustainability, and women’s empowerment.

Read more by Andriana here.

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