How my life in 2020 looked like: as a first time immigrant in a pandemic-stricken world

Everybody will agree with me that the year 2020 wreaked a different kind of havoc to our lives. That year stole something from us. It also forced most of us to mature and learn what really is important.

New Year 2020. New year. New life. New beginnings. Another year when we say “This is my year and I’m gonna claim it!” — that didn’t age well. I also thought 2020 is gonna be my year. My partner and I just moved to another country that December of 2019, we are just starting out our lives in a foreign city where almost everything is better than where we came from.

I already began looking ahead for opportunities I’ll be exploring, cities we would travel to, relatives we will be able to visit now that we’re finally in North America and going back home for a family reunion in April. All the adventures are lined up. We are ready to tick off our plans for the year one by one. Then, just like all disaster movies, it all went downhill from there.

There was this news slowly spreading across the world that seem to only make people worry more and more as weeks have passed, including me. I am so hell-bent on making the most out of my year proving that moving away from home is the best decision, and this scare of a virus should not get in the way of me feeling good about my life decisions. I actually felt so lost already that that kind of global scare makes it even worse, I was already beginning to see myself showing signs of depression — yes, I know, I’ve been through it before and I can already catch myself whenever I start going back to that dark dark place.

Upon moving countries, I got to secure myself a remote job that I had the opportunity to bring with me as I migrated. I am very lucky to still maintain a source of financial income despite not having a fulltime job when we moved. It became harder for me, though, considering the time zone difference I had to work with. I would report for work during late nights, sleep a bit, and wake up at around 4am to catch up on calls with the team. There were times I had to pull an all-nighter to fix requirements and get everything ready as we’re about to launch the company’s eCommerce site. I was really working hard to compensate for the move. I burnt myself out that I’d cry everyday but wouldn’t be able to quit the job, all because I don’t want to be the person who quits, and I don’t want to fully rely on my partner financially. I also questioned my abilities a lot during that time, it just got harder and harder to move out of my golden cuffs considering most of the job opportunities I was pursuing have rejected me — maybe because of my lack of local experience.

Then, a pandemic hit, formally announced by the World Health Organization. Never in my life did I give so much attention on WHO’s announcements. This was also around the time when we’ve already booked tickets to visit home, planned and booked where we’ll stay, and are so looking forward to seeing our families again. Flights are starting to get cancelled, countries going on lockdown, people going back home and cancelling their travels. All plans began to evaporate in front of me. I was also just about to get bold and finally quit my job to focus on my local job hunt, but how, now that people are literally losing jobs because of a pandemic? Also, the flight to go back home, it got cancelled. Who am I kidding? The move and all, it’s never bound to be that easy. Most people don’t really visit home after just a few months. I thought I was not one of those “most people”, my partner and I promised we’ll be back just a couple of months after flying out and would do that regularly, like we just went for a vacation abroad for a few months.

As we all got near to the middle of the year, more lockdowns were called. Isolation has become the new norm. I also pulled the last straw and finally quit my job, against all advices I got from my friends and co-workers. I just can’t work through it anymore. I got more concerned that my quality of work will also deteriorate as my mental health does too. I worked until the last hour I was with them, and I was happy I did it but still afraid of my reality: fully unemployed in a pandemic — in a different country, dozens of rejections with no sign of an active lead, my partner also going through his own struggles at work, homesickness growing each day. Then we got a dog.

I left my dog back home when we left and I’ve been looking forward to see her (Fuchsia) and finally bring her with me. So I’ve been holding off the thought of getting a dog. My partner and I have always wanted to get a dog together, we wanted to see how we are as “parents” and we, luckily, are both dog lovers. The thought of me getting a puppy while I left my older dog behind doesn’t sit quite well with me, so we really tried to hold it off. During the on and off lockdowns, we struggle a lot. We struggled to find peace of minf, struggled to find friends, and most all — happiness. Like thehappiness you feel when you’ve just landed on the next city you’ll have your vacation in, or when you finally see grandma/grandpa after a long time (and they give you money, because they’re just like that), or happiness you feel just knowing your family is safe and that you’ll get to be with them whenever you want to. We went on a search for things that would make us feel good, of course, in ways we can do now that there’s a lot of limitations. We would go on finding the best restaurants in nearby cities, visit tourist spots that are now almost empty, burn down our savings buying luxury items, online shopping here and there, then finally admitting none of those actually made us feel better. We were happy for a bit, but it didn’t really last that long. We needed something, like a goal or a mission, we needed something else that would take us off the cycle. We finally agreed, we’ll get a dog.

Maple at 4 months old, a female samoyed puppy. This photo was taken the day we got her.

A month in since we got Maple, I finally got a job. A really good offer and still in line with what my career in the Philippines was. I also battled with the thought of taking on a job which is out of my original line of career, for the sake of having a job. Also because most people I know who went overseas had to give up their former careers and start from scratch. I was really afraid of that possible fate. I wasn’t ready to give up that much, and I knew I’d never be happy doing that. This time, got really happy with how things turned out.

Months have passed, having a new job and new dog was exhausting but very much rewarding. My partner and I forgot how long the days were. We got so busy with work and our dog that weeks really just went by so fast. We’ve been dog park regulars and weekend nearby city adventure hunters. Anything fun we can do with our dog, we’re on it. We almost forgot there’s a pandemic, only to be reminded everytime we miss home. We were on the last quarter of 2020 when we finally decided, we’re coming home.

Bought tickets, booked a quarantine hotel, made calls to make sure we can travel with our dog and stay with her during the quarantine, and then, we waited. It was a 3-month long countdown. Everyday, the only thing I had in mind is coming home. I can’t stop thinking about it, it felt like it’s the only thing that kept me waking up and pushing forward. Oh, and the job I have, the excitement only lasted for a bit, I again, felt like burn out starts to creep on me again. I also beat myself up for feeling that way. All I know is I should feel lucky I have a job, a good high-paying job that would pay for my trip to visit home. As a confession, I never felt supported at work, which I realize makes a huge difference during the fully remote pandemic set-up now.

December came, Christmas is just a week away. Bags are packed, dog is healthy, families are excited, my nerves are at it again — anxiety has its way of crippling you and your emotions. We had to do a 4-hour drive to one of the biggest airports in the country that would allow flying with a dog that can’t be allowed in-cabin. Maple’s size and weight can’t be allowed in-cabin. So everything is just harder during this pandemic. Airlines and airports changing policies on flying with pets. Expensive quarantine hotel. Additional expense for swab testing. Fear of getting your flight cancelled on the last minute. The night before we flew, I didn’t get any sleep at all. All I can’t think of are the worst things that could happen. I hated that feeling so much. I am not a pessimist and being that is what I’ve become in 2020.

Finally, we’ve landed! It has been a year since I’ve been home. The flight was nerve-wracking to say the least. I kept on worrying about Maple, I worried about catching the virus during our journey, and I silently freak out as well that I dread flying now — I used to love the feeling of boarding planes. As it turned out, I don’t have a reason to worry about anything. Maple was super fine, she’s like the best dog to travel with. Test results also came back negative that we got permitted to go out of our hotel earlier, making it possible to surprise my parents at home. I again got to experience stomachache-inducing traffic in Metro Manila. But the best thing is, we were home again. The last week of 2020 has been my year’s highlight. The amount of time we spent with our family has been worth the stress of flying during these times.

My personal take away is, it has not been the best year to start a life someplace else — everything just got harder. It robbed us the opportunity to build a community in this new place we live in, it tested our capability to adapt, it also exposed how some of us lack the perspective to relate with other people’s suffering, it also triggered a year-long anxiety. But 2020 will always be that year we lost, that year we cried, and that year we grew.

Builder of products, written stories, goals, and imaginations. Embracing quarter-life crisis and impostor syndrome.

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