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Expat relationships have been dramatically disrupted because of the COVID pandemic. It has become highly challenging not only to maintain close relationships with our loved ones living far away but also to manage some of our relationships at home. How can we overcome these challenges? 

In this new episode of Abroad With Care, Andrea interviews Jill Carroll, a registered psychotherapist from Central Minds Hong Kong. Jill shares her advice to better nurture our expat relationships. 

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With the pandemic, it has become increasingly difficult for expats to manage long-distance relationships, but also at-home relationships. In what ways has the pandemic affected our relationships with the people we love? 

There have been a variety of responses to the impact of Covid pandemic. Some people feel helpless and isolated as they have been unable to travel to see loved ones. Some have described a feeling of grief, loss of relationships, familiarity, and routine.

Interestingly, whilst some have felt physically disconnected, they have become more connected through different forms of communication, whilst it does not replace being with them in person they have built stronger connections. One person shared they had not spoken to their family so much since the pandemic started.

People have shared that they realize they had taken their family for granted, suddenly not being able to jump on a flight, and that choice being taken away has led them to re-prioritize how they stay in contact.

As different countries have responded differently, I know of a family in the UK that did not want to say a family member was unwell, as they did not want to cause worry to the person living abroad. When the person found out they felt even more isolated from the family. Finding ways to have difficult conversations in compassionate ways, with good intention can help the person abroad still feel connected to the family unit.

The pandemic has also shifted the way we manage our relationships with people at home. Could you explain why? 

Again, there have been a variety of responses to the impact of Covid pandemic at home.

Let’s take the first example: partners that used to travel for business. Now, they are working at home, not even able to go to the office. Whilst some people have expressed gratitude at the time they now have together and can be at home with their family, others have found this a real challenge and adjustment to their lives feeling frustrated by their partner’s presence and working from home.

Another area that has come up is that people have not been taking ‘annual leave, as there is nowhere to go. However, companies still want the annual leave to be taken. People are already spending time with family so they don’t know what to do when they take time off. Learning how to resource themselves without traveling is important. We can’t pour from an empty cup.

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What advice and tips can you share to help overcome these challenges?

Some people have seen this pandemic as a learning process on how to slow down and explore new opportunities. In Hong Kong, we haven’t experienced a severe lockdown. You can get connected to different groups, activities and continue to foster a sense of connection in these physically distant times. In Hong Kong and in Singapore, you can increase your own social network locally. You can also make the most of this time to re-evaluate priorities, who do you want to call and make contact with. 

We have to stay aware that, sometimes, we need to have our own space to resource ourselves too. It does not mean rejection. 

There are also ways to stay close to your family in a different country. You can keep in touch by brief Whatsapp messages or long emails or calls. Some people are having a meal or a cup of tea together over the Zoom call, whereas some families have created quiz times or play together via apps when the time difference allows it. A good tip is to set up a routine: schedule calls at home whereby people are respectful of each other’s time and physical space. 

The last tip is around social media. I would recommend limiting social media as you can end up
vicariously experience what is happening in your family's country and this can be different from yours. I know some people felt guilty at going out or posting photos on Instagram, when they shared this with their family in a different country they were asked to continue sharing photos, it gave people hope.

Last but not least, be mindful in your day, when making a cup of tea, think about making the tea, rather than the 10 emails you need to respond to. Some apps are great for that, such as Calm, Headspace, Ten percent happier. 

At APRIL International Care, we are specialist in designing and delivering flexible international health insurance for individuals, families and companies in Asia. For more information, explore our MyHEALTH plans for expats in Asia. 

You can contact our different offices around Asia and request a quote, our experts will be happy to assist you!

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