With coronavirus currently decimating the travel industry, it’s a good time to write about my life as an international teacher instead. I don’t write frequently, because I can’t travel full-time like I’d hoped I would when I first started Runawaybrit. As a teacher, I’m not able to travel from country to country as travel bloggers do; instead, I am grounded in one place for most of the year. But that’s not a bad thing. Quite the opposite, in fact, because teaching overseas allows me to live anywhere in the world, really getting to know places – such as Bratislava, the lovely city I live in now. Another benefit is that I also get many weeks to travel. It’s an exciting half-way house.
No longer a travel blogger
At the moment, I live in Slovakia – it’s a small and wonderfully underrated country, largely ignored by most travel bloggers. In fact, most of them will tell you ‘oh, you only need a few hours in Bratislava, there’s not much there’, but I disagree, there is so much to write about, but I never do because I’ve locked myself into a travel blog niche. I don’t know if there are many other international teaching blogs out there, but I love writing – even if nobody is reading. So, let’s see how writing about life as an international teacher goes.
Coronavirus, or COVID-19, demonstrated how interconnected our world is. These days, borders don’t divide us as much as they used to, and our individual responsibility towards others extends further than ever before. Being part of an international community excites, inspires and challenges me far more than rapidly moving through countries, barely even scratching the surface. After all, it’s the people who make a place and getting to know people takes time. The best way to understand a culture is to experience the bad as well as the good. Bratislava has given me plenty of both, but COVID-19 presents the biggest challenge yet.
Coping with the COVID-19 crisis
Right now, I am under strict quarantine after exposure to coronavirus, so I am alone in my apartment monitoring every cough, sneeze, and slight increase in temperature. My home country, Britain has, until recently, adopted a somewhat reckless, head-in-the-sand, survival-of-the-fittest approach to contain the virus. In contrast, Slovakia issued an immediate lockdown: airport closures, isolation, face masks – the full works, after just seven confirmed cases.
I went to school as usual last Monday morning. In the afternoon, on the government’s orders, we sent the students home indefinitely. Incredibly, by Tuesday afternoon we were a fully functioning online community.
Certainly, Slovaks respected the lockdown from the beginning: no attending stadium concerts, booking cheap flights or organising last-minute parties. For the most part, they quietly retreated into their homes without panic or drama: just a calm surrender to what is—for the time being—a necessary evil. To protect the most vulnerable, they gave up their freedom. I wonder if it reminds them of the last time their border was closed.
Overnight my beautiful, vibrant Bratislava became a ghost town.
Living overseas isn’t all rainbows— especially during critical times like these. To begin with, I have no idea how to navigate the Slovak healthcare system if I get sick. In addition, my family is in the UK, and I don’t know when I will next see them. I live alone. My boyfriend is in Sweden – he left via Austria the day Slovakia closed up. We cycled to the border to check that people were crossing by foot as we’d been told. They were, and he made it back to Sweden safely, but it’s going to be a long time before he can come back.
Undoubtedly, it’s times of crisis that show how important community is. Our students adapted quickly to online learning and offer technical help to us teachers as we learn to use technology that we didn’t even know existed a week ago. We, in turn, share this advice in training sessions with our colleagues. Teachers around the world are coming together to share resources: Facebook group, ‘Educator Temporary School Closure for Online Learning’ – set up less than a month ago – has 105,000 members, many have been working remotely since the COVID-19 outbreak in China. The resilience of teachers, and their students, is phenomenal.
It’s hard living alone at a time like this – even harder being away from home. Although, I must admit it makes social distancing easier. Thankfully, international communities are caring – we are all alone together, so to speak. When you live overseas, colleagues rapidly become friends, and friends become family. In this period of isolation, group chats and video meetings keep me sane. Our PE teachers offer virtual fitness classes, and I do my personal training online. Facebook groups are also a great source of support. When I asked where I could get a face mask (it is mandatory here now) a colleague kindly offered to deliver one. She sent it in a gift bag with sachets of face serum and a chocolate brownie.
There is a lot of love going around in the time of Coronavirus.
While these are troubling times, it is amazing to see people unite in a crisis. There really is so much more connecting than dividing us. I’ll leave you with this video of the violinist playing to empty streets on the first day of the lockdown.
How have you been affected by coronavirus? Are you able to work from home, and if so, how have you adapted to it?