March, 2020. The British Embassy were sending emails recommending Brits to go home due to the covid-19 pandemic. I had just arrived in Krakow where I intended to stay for the foreseeable future and I had paid the month’s rent. With nowhere to stay in the UK even if I wanted to go back, it was not an option.
I was staying in temporary accommodation with another expat. He was supposed to be here for one month but travel back to the United States was restricted.
When news of the lockdown was announced, we braced ourselves for the indefinite boredom and stagnant social life that was ahead of us. With the fridge stocked with vodka, lockdown began.
During the night, we could hear the trumpet player of St. Mary’s church all the way from Kazimierz. It was only after the lockdown ended that we noticed we could hear it on a normal day, we just hadn’t been paying attention – not until we were forced due to boredom, which drove our regular trips to stand on the balcony for no particular reason.
It was strange to hear the police driving through the streets with their speakerphones saying “Uwaga!” (attention), followed by something about staying at home.
It was surreal, looking out over the city during the daytime with no trace of the usual hustle and bustle. Instead, quiet…stillness. It felt like a scene from a post-apocalyptic film, the only activity being the occasional bird flying overhead.
I went six months without visiting family which is the longest I’ve spent away. When I did finally visit, it was strange to compare how people dealt with things in the UK compared to Poland.
Here, people seemed to just get on with it. We knew the rules and that was that. In England, there was someone waiting by the door of every shop, reminding people to disinfect their hands – even though they’d been doing it every day for months.
Thankfully, I was used to the isolation that came with lockdown. I already worked from home and, before moving to Poland, spent six months in a quiet village where I knew nobody. It was easy to adjust in the beginning.
Eventually, it started to take its toll. – every day being the same with limited social activity. However, I was grateful to live with someone I got on well with who became a good friend.
The demand for mental health services across the world has soared since the pandemic began with many people experiencing anxiety disorders and depression.
Then there’s lockdown-induced fatigue – the exhaustion due to the mental strain people are experiencing in this situation. Imagine the challenge of coping with all of that as an expat, without having family or friends around.
We had a few months of relief from late May onwards. Bars and restaurants were open again and everything felt normal. The only thing that seemed out of place was having to wear masks.
November came and lockdowns began once again. It’s certainly going to be a strange Christmas for many expats this year who can’t visit their home countries. Let’s hope this will all be over soon and anyone who came to explore Poland can continue their adventure.