living abroad during quarantine

Expat platform founder shares hardship of living abroad during quarantine

For many of us, this quarantine has kept us away from friends and family and greatly limited our social lives. It has been a huge adjustment to make, going from what was once familiar to a completely new, uncertain world. Many of us are fortunate however to still be in the familiar comforts of our home, surrounded by familiar scenery and locations. For people who are living abroad during the quarantine, this is not the case. 

When the Covid-19 pandemic began in March, thousands of travelers abroad were either scrambling to get home before borders closed, or left stranded in unfamiliar countries. Since then, many have been able to return home, but many more  still remain under quarantine, unable to travel to see family.  

Nicole Caba is an expat currently living in France. She made the move from New York to Lyon, France, six months ago, just before the Covid-19 began to sweep across the globe. The purpose of her move was so that she could launch her new tech startup, Avvinue, an expat moving platform. 

Nicole Caba, founder of the expat moving platform Avvinue, is an expat currently living in France. She made the move from New York to Lyon, France, six months ago.

Avvinue’s mission is to build an expat moving platform to help other expats on their journey abroad. Many of the struggles and anxieties facing those stuck abroad during this time are similar struggles all expats face when relocating, just multiplied times 10! 

Feelings of loneliness, isolation, and struggling to settle into a new environment are all part of the process of relocating to a new environment. However, when living abroad during quarantine these worries are exacerbated since it is uncertain when people may be able to travel again and see their relatives back home. 

Nicole, fortunately, had her husband by her side during the move and throughout their quarantine in France, and together they have been able to grow even closer and keep each other sane. The Covid-19 pandemic hit just as they were beginning to settle in to life in France, eager to get out and start enjoying the nice weather and meet more people in Lyon. 

“Since we don’t know many people here in France, we were used to being each other’s best friend and companion (more than usual),” says Nicole, “but we were never in a lockdown situation where we both had to be home 24/7 for months. It was an interesting experience to say the least.”

Establishing order in the midst of chaos 

Nicole had made this big move specifically to launch her new business, something she was so excited and passionate about. She received the recognition of La French Tech to join the Boost In Lyon incubator program to launch her innovative, tech startup. Soon after her interview with the Boost In Lyon team, she packed her bags in New York to start her journey to France. Participation in BIL#15 started in September 2019 ending in February 2020.

But as the pandemic began, she soon found herself struggling to work. 

“Some days would be good and I would be really productive working on something for the website or business plan,” she says. “And then there were bad days when I would want to be in bed all day and not do anything. It’s almost like my mind and emotions weren’t aligning, which made me feel out of control. I had no routine.” 

Nicole in her home office

This lack of routine is something familiar to most of us by now, who all have likely struggled with finding order and balance in our lives again since this pandemic began. For those living abroad during quarantine, the need for structure is even greater as they have lost all that is familiar to them. There are many strategies out there for creating balance, such as setting work schedules or practicing mindfulness. Nicole found structure by completely revamping her workspace.

“It took about 3 weeks for me to really get into the swing of things and get my mind wrapped around what was happening and how to deal with the confinement life,” says Nicole. 

When she finally began accepting this “new normal” her first order of business was to find a home for her work desk. She tried endless setups, moving the desk from one end of her home to the other. 

“Started in the guest bedroom on one side, then in the living room, then another way in the living room. It wasn’t until I completely reconfigured the guest room that I finally found my sweet spot for working,” says Nicole. “Once I figured out the best arrangement for me to feel good and get work done, I was able to set up my routine that could help me emotionally cope with the confinement and spending my entire day at home.” 

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“A time of reflection” 

Nicole’s experience living abroad during quarantine has given her the opportunity to reflect–about herself and her business. 

“It was almost like a time of meditation to truly understand why I’m here in France, how my startup plays a role in helping other return home post-Covid and really go back to the simple beauties of life.” 

The quarantine and the distance abroad also gave Nicole the opportunity to reconnect with friends and family, speaking to them more now than ever. 

living abroad during quarantine

Working from Home, Nicole Caba, Avvinue Founder, an Expat Moving Platform (Photo courtesy Nicole Caba)

“During the lockdown in France, I held video calls with my family in the US almost every day – and it was so exciting to chat with family that I normally wouldn’t speak to throughout the year, so it was a beautiful experience.” 

She and her husband have also been able to spend more time together indulging in their hobbies, such as cooking. Together they have been spending more time in the kitchen making new recipes and trying new dishes.

“It’s been so nice to enjoy those moments together, which is something we are carrying on after confinement. In fact, just the other day we made a delicious cheesecake!” 

Living abroad during quarantine can be a challenging experience as there is so much uncertainty and unfamiliarity in a new place. Not being able to leave and reunite with loved ones is especially hard. But for many like Nicole, the experience transform into something positive. Nicole is carrying this experience into her business and using it to help shape her moving platform. 

“In the end, it’s the small things in life that are important, and I want to carry that out into my startup,” says Nicole. “Sometimes we get so caught up on the bells and whistles of features and services that we forget the core reason why we exist. So that’s something I want to always have with my team in the future – a time of reflection. If we aren’t helping people, then we aren’t doing our job; and if we can dedicate time each week to think about the people whom we’ve helped, then we’ll be more passionate and more determined to provide the best expat moving platform that exists.”