Homesick and Watching the World Reopen: How Expats Are Coping With Closed Borders

On top of that, Edensor lost her job during the pandemic and also missed her grandfather’s funeral in Australia because of the rapidly changing travel policies. “I’ve got a young family. I can’t risk getting stuck in Australia for weeks on end,” she says. “It would have been a lovely way to say goodbye to my grandfather and celebrate his brilliant life. COVID robs you of that opportunity to be together.”

That heartbreak makes her worry about her parents in England, where outbreaks have been more severe. Usually, she says, her mother is very upbeat. But during the pandemic, Edensor can see her struggling. Her dad also grappled with being newly retired, while her older brother has recently separated from his wife. “You suddenly just feel quite far away,” she says.

Missing summer trips from Cambodia to the U.S. 

As international school teachers, Jason Hershberger and his wife Christina, along with their 8-year-old son Miles, spend their lives on the go. They’ve lived in Spain, Bolivia, China, and Thailand, before moving to Cambodia two years ago—and spend their summers traveling in the U.S. to see family and friends.

In 2020, they didn’t make the trip because of the COVID outbreaks in the U.S. And while they’re now vaccinated, they couldn’t visit this past summer due to an extended, expensive quarantine required on return to Cambodia.

“My son recently told me, ‘Dad, I’m forgetting what the United States is like,’” Hershberger says. Miles has never lived in the U.S., but has fond memories of spending time with his grandparents, fishing, and going to summer camps.

“It has been scary to watch the situation in the U.S. from abroad,” says the 48-year-old Ohio native, who is currently in lockdown in Phnom Penh. “My wife’s mother had COVID twice and was in the hospital for over a month in early 2020.”

Hershberger also worries about his grandmother, who is 99. “I haven’t seen her in two years, and she has started exhibiting signs of dementia. That woman is one of the strongest, kindest, sweetest, fiercest—I don’t know any positive adjectives that you couldn’t use to describe her. If she passes away, I’ll go home. She was as much a mom to me as my [actual] mom.”

At the same time, Hershberger tries not to dwell on the negative. “I have been able to live abroad for 20 years successfully because I can let go of things that are out of my control,” he says. “I’m fairly good at compartmentalizing because I know I can’t do anything about it right now.”

Of course, he’s envious of those with more mobility at the moment. “It’s frustrating to see other people around the world traveling when we can’t leave Cambodia,” he says. “We can’t go home for Christmas this year, so we’re just praying that Cambodia will lift the quarantine next summer. Even if it doesn’t, I think we will have to go. We can’t go that long without seeing our parents.”

Homesickness takes a toll in Hong Kong

A freelance food and travel journalist, Vicki Williams has lived in Hong Kong on and off for the past 20 years.

She always looks forward to visiting her family in Millingandi on the southern coast of New South Wales for about 10 weeks every summer when it’s winter in Hong Kong. “It is normally a time of family and friends gatherings, laughter, vegetables harvested straight from the family garden, backyard barbecues, going to the beach, and generally recharging my batteries,” she says.

However, the last time she went home in March 2020 was far from relaxing. “It was the Black Summer of bushfires,” she says. “While we were the more lucky ones, mum and I still had to leave the family home on three occasions—once under police instruction because of the proximity of raging bush fires [which caused] red and black skies and [required] masks to protect us from the acrid air and smoke.”