Expats in Lockdown is a special series – a collection of interviews with expats around the world and how we’re all dealing with the coronavirus outbreak as best as we can. None of us have an instruction manual for times like these, especially while living abroad. My mission with this series is therefore simple – to show you how similar our experiences can be despite living in different countries.
Janine is an England-born, Jamaican-Canadian expat based in Valencia, Spain for the past 13 years with her Welsh husband. She also runs an expat blog My Expatations – and she’s one of the few who dares to speak the truth about expat life in Spain.
For Janine, the very strict lockdown implemented in Spain came after having been previously stuck at home with a chest infection for 6 weeks. So for her, it was business as usual when the lockdown was announced.
Janine and I discussed the need to change business models and starting one’s own remote business during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as how to psychologically deal with new demands on keeping everything hygienic. But not without a healthy dose of laughter to go along with it.
Katherine: How did you end up living in Valencia, Spain?
Janine: I was living in Canada, close to Toronto, in a house with my best friend. Because I was approaching the age of 35 I started asking myself if I was supposed to be living with my best friend at that age (laughs).
She was very happy with everything, but I realized that at some point I had to be on my own. 35 was an age that meant something to me. So even though she was sad, we sold the house and I moved to Spain by myself.
It was easy for me to move to Spain because I was born in England and I have dual citizenship. By that point I already knew I didn’t want to live in England. I had lived in London for a year and I thought it was just too hectic for me. I figured a different language, and better weather might be good.
I visited Spain a few times just to see where I wanted to live. Barcelona – no. Madrid – no. I still wanted to live in a city so I went to Valencia and really liked it. So that’s how I ended up in Valencia.
However, after a year of living here I didn’t like it (laughs) and was planning on moving back home. But I had spent quite a lot of money here having a good time with a lot of new friends and I didn’t want to move back with a zero bank balance. So I got a job as a teacher in a local English school. The guy that interviewed me was the owner, and now he’s my husband – but I’m always the boss (laughs)
It’s funny, I never thought I was going to get married and I never cared about it either. Then, within a few months all of that changed (laughs).
He is Welsh, so we’re both foreigners living in Spain. Except he’s lived here for 24 years and owns a language school with his business partner. He already had a life here.
In contrast, it took me a long time to enjoy living here. It’s been a bit of a struggle trying to find my place here. I think I fell into a bit of a depression to be honest.
But I came out of it by starting up my own copy/content writing business which utilizes the skills I already have. I was a PR/Communications Specialist for several years in Canada, so I’m finally getting back to who I am now.
I always thought that I must be some sort of freak because I didn’t like it here. Meanwhile, everyone else is going on about sunshine and flowers.
Living abroad is not just an adventure in its most generic sense. There are also crises along that adventure.
Katherine: How has the lockdown in Spain impacted your life?
Janine: Right now I’m helping my husband keep the language school afloat. Language schools here are usually face-to-face. So we’ve had to go from zero to 1000 learning everything about how to run a language school online.
That’s what my husband has been doing lately with his IT guy — who’s been working around the clock. We’re also trying to train all the teachers. We’re planning on launching the online classes on Monday [note: two days after our chat on 28th March].
We were nervous whether students would be willing to transition to online. But we’ve got a positive response from the students. So let’s see how all of that goes.
In general, everyone keeps asking me how the lockdown is for me since I’m in Spain. But my situation is quite different from many other people.
Before this lockdown happened, I had a really bad chest infection (not the virus!). I had basically been at home for six weeks and I hadn’t gone out.
As soon as I got better, I only had one day where I could go outside and that’s when they announced the lockdown (laughs). So I’ve been at home for nine weeks by now. The lockdown is more of the same for me. I’m definitely experiencing it differently from other people.
On top of that, my husband has transitioned very easily to working from home. He even has a gym set up. Since we don’t have children, we have more time to spend together and we’re able to see this time as a gift.
I don’t really understand my friends and family that aren’t comfortable being at home. I’m a very social person but I also have this introverted side to me that enjoys being home and having no one bothering me — husband excluded.
Katherine: How do you spend your days then despite already being used to life at home?
Janine: I get up at 8am every day because that’s when they start jackhammering at a nearby building that’s being renovated (laughs). Then I go through the usual morning routine of a cup of tea, breakfast and a shower.
Usually, my husband goes to my office (I let him use it since he’s so stressed) to try and figure out the tech for the language school. I help him when I can but I’m no tech wizard either.
I’ve also started a copy/content writing business, so I’m working at the dining room table for a new client who’s working remotely from the Canary Islands.
Both my husband and I try to stop everything by 6pm, have a glass of wine together and watch a Marvel movie. We are addicted to superheros! (laughs).
We’re not allowed to go out together. Here in Spain only one person per household is allowed to go out and it always has to be the same person.
Since I was already in quarantine before and he can carry more groceries and wine bottles than I can (laughs), we decided it would be him who gets to breathe fresh air.
But every time we decide he has to go out for something, the night before I have anxiety about it. He’s got a mask and gloves on when he goes out but I still worry.
As soon as he comes back we do this whole regiment of sanitizing everything. He puts all his clothes into a plastic bag; ready for the wash. He then goes to the bathroom to wash his hands with soap and water and then gets into the shower.
For a while I tried to clean everything he brought from the grocery store, but it became so overwhelming. There’s only so much you can do to safeguard yourself. So I just try to wash what I can and remove packaging from everything else and put it in Tupperware or ziplock bags.
Katherine: How are your loved ones in Canada?
Janine: Canada stopped most things pretty early — which is good. For the most part, people are self-isolating.
My best friend was at a wedding in Jamaica when the government decided to call back Canadian travellers. So she had to come back and self-quarantine for two weeks.
But my parents, well, I’ve heard that a lot of people are having fights with their parents these days. I was definitely one of them.
They were just not protecting themselves even though they are in the high risk group. They didn’t quite get it because it hadn’t hit Canada as bad as here yet. So they didn’t understand how serious this is.
I was quite pissed off that my mother, for instance, has a daughter who’s living in a high infection zone and she’s just not listening to what I have to say. There was a lot of screaming (laughs). I don’t think it was me who helped her realize the seriousness of this virus. I think it was only when the Canadian government asked people to stay home that she started following the guidelines.
I can’t really imagine what the world will be like after all this. So I just think about today.
I don’t even think too much about my parents because they’re on another continent. There’s nothing I can do. So I mainly focus on my husband and myself because that’s all I can do.
Katherine is a retired world traveller and former serial expat of 15 years. Based on her professional and personal experience as well as PhD research, she now helps expats, travellers and location independents decide whether to stay or go, whether to move back home or where to settle down.