Expat Essentials

Jackie Harding: Trapped by coronavirus? Escape to a world of virtual entertainment

(Editor’s note: Dispatches isn’t posting travel pieces during the pandemic, because there are few places now for expats in Europe to go other than Sweden. So we turned to travel writer/photographer Jackie Harding for some virtual entertainment suggestions.)

What a weird world we’re living in. Twenty percent of the global population is living under lockdown rules and are anxious, frustrated and jaded. For expats, whose nearest and dearest are usually located elsewhere around the world, it is especially stressful as we worry from afar about our elderly parents and families.

I am “home-based” usually, so spending a lot of my day at home is nothing new. But not being able to meet a friend for a walk or a coffee has made my world shrink even more. I have had moments of anxiety as I worry about my adult kids and my 88-year-old mother-in-law, or when I have to venture to the supermarket armed with my hand gel and homemade sanitizing spray. I never imagined a visit to Albert Heijn could send frissons of anxiety through my body.

To help feel more proactive in a situation that we really are not in control of, I have found positive things to fill my day. The upside of most of my friends around the world being in lockdown is that everyone is free to call. No navigating around time differences and work hours; everyone is ready to chat. The challenge is finding something to chat about that is not coronavirus and all its implications!

My children and I pick a different topic each time, which has proved challenging but at times rewarding … what is your favorite movie and why, when this is over which country will be top of your list to visit and so on.

The bonus of this happening to the world in this technological age is the easy access we have to virtual entertainment and the ease that we can share this with others.

Here are some of the virtual experiences I really enjoy:

• I have virtually visited the Rijksmuseum a few times and listened to their specialists describe and explain an art piece, which is a joy for someone who loves art and never gets to hear these people normally.

• The audio book company Audible has kindly made hundreds of books free, primarily for families with young children, but are you ever too old to listen to Winnie the Pooh or The Swiss Family Robinson or to re-listen to some of the classics such as Jane Eyre or The Call of The Wild?

• Or try some new podcasts.

• There are virtual quiz nights online to test your skills with friends via video chat, such as this one on Saturday, 11 April in the afternoon, organized by the Eindhoven-based events company Number 42.

Artists and virtual festivals are available to live-stream if you need some music to lighten the mood.

• My travel urge is very frustrated at the moment, so I am satisfying my cravings by travelling virtually: It might even give me ideas for my post-coronavirus life.

• Many continue going to the virtual gym, creating fun exercises or taking yoga class online. I guess at some point I am going to have to work off some of the mood-enhancing chocolate therapy I am doing right now.

You can also create your own entertainment that doesn’t have to involve cleaning the house, emptying the attic or watching endless reruns of “Friends.” Maybe you could start a book club or a movie club with your international family and friends.

My son is an elementary school teacher in Austria, and the extended family has decided to use his online art class as inspiration to try something new. We all attempt the latest art project suggestion he sends out to his students and then share our results on our WhatsApp group, causing some hilarity. We might even hold a Coronart show after this is over!

This situation we find ourselves in is unnerving, unreal and worrisome. I for one cannot sit in my home feeling negative and scared, at least not for the entire day. So, try out some of these ideas and if you have any, why not share with us? I might be busy visiting the Taj Mahal or wandering around the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao or even attempting a still life, but I’m always open to suggestions.

Stay well.

About the author:

Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a longtime expat, she’s lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past nine years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Writing for Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here including “The New Normal,” her essay on how coronavirus has changed our lives.

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