Moving abroad on my own was the most terrifying thing I’ve done in my life, but I got used to being away from my family. I think I always found comfort in knowing I could visit them back in Portugal as often as I pleased, even if we were more than 1,000 miles apart.
But the events of the past year changed everything. The coronavirus pandemic has made home seem further away than ever, left me overwhelmed with uncertainty, anxiety and fear, and wondering whether I should ever have left my loved ones behind.
The hardest part is the uncertainty: not knowing when this is all going to end; not knowing when I’ll be able to visit them; not having something to look forward to, a date in my calendar I can anxiously wait for or a plane ticket reminding me that it’s almost time. It’s painful to know that, even though they were able to celebrate Christmas, Easter and the new year together, there was an empty seat at the table that belonged to me.
And it’s painful too to know that I couldn’t be with them right now if something happened. I couldn’t be there for any last goodbyes. And so over the last twelve months, I have lived in constant fear and anxiety for the ones I love. Every call I get from home, I always fear the worst: Did something happen? Could this be the last time I speak to them?
That worst nightmare nearly came true when I received a call from my mum a few months ago, her tone serious but calm. My 91-year-old grandma had caught Covid a week before she was due to be vaccinated, she told me, and I tried my hardest to hold back the tears. I immediately expected the worst. But what could I do? Should I get prepared to fly home? Is it even legal for me to go?
Every call I get from home, I always fear the worst: Did something happen? Could this be the last time I speak to them?
She then told me my grandmother was perfectly healthy and wasn’t experiencing any symptoms. But even so, in that moment, I couldn’t tell if she was telling the truth. No longer a part of their daily life, I don’t witness the bad moments anymore, and that leaves me concerned about what they aren’t telling me. What if, in the dozen minutes we spoke, she only told me what she wanted me to know?
I knew migrating wouldn’t be a walk in the park, but at the time I had to consider what I needed, what would make me happy. Was it selfish of me to leave them behind? Maybe. Now I wonder, had I known this would happen, would I have stayed?
Justifying my move would of course be so much easier if I was actually achieving things here. After graduating last summer I was ready to prove that moving here was the right choice, that the UK was a sea of opportunities and I could be successful if I worked hard. Yet, I have done nothing but work hard and all I could fish from this sea was new insecurities, worries and doubts.
Brexit didn’t make things easy either. Aside from feeling alone and unsuccessful, I also feel unwanted and unappreciated in this foreign country. I wondered if my voice is relevant and if I should also be a part of the conversations. I questioned why I wasn’t being taken into consideration and why was there no support for me during this pandemic.
The truth is Portugal and the UK are both home to me.
Around Christmas time, there was a lot of concern around making sure university students got to visit home. Yet, the conversations and government support mostly benefited home students. From what I could tell, there wasn’t much information considering EU and International students and graduates.
Unlike many of my friends, I don’t have a family in the UK I can move back in with. I have no choice not to pay rent, do my own laundry and take care of my household. I’m eternally grateful for all the support I receive from my partner, but I wonder why no one is talking about people like me. Why is there no support for people like me who graduated into the worst job market in years and who are now left fending for themselves in a country that treats us like “dirty foreigners” and “job thieves”.
I know what many people are going to say: “Just move back home.” I wish it was that easy, but it’s not. The truth is Portugal and the UK are both home to me. In one country, I have childhood memories and a family I cherish; in another, I have a career and a partner that I love deeply.
How can I choose?
Francisca Quádrio is a freelance journalist
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