Many of us are confined to our hometowns or countries at present thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but some people have made the bold move of leaving the US for a spell to live abroad. Two families who are embarking on new lives on foreign shores during this challenging time share their experiences with Lonely Planet.
The Morrison Family
Matthew Morrison (45) was born in Honolulu, and works as an airline captain with Southwest Airlines. He volunteered to take six months off while the airline industry has been impacted by COVID-19, and is now traveling in Europe with his wife Brooke (40), an avid kayaker and skier, and their children Parker (13) and McKenzie (11), all of whom were born in Arizona, where the family lives.
“I have enjoyed traveling my whole life since I was a child, and throughout my career in the military and as a commercial pilot,” says Matthew. “Brooke loves adventure and experiencing new places also and we have traveled to many countries together. I am very grateful for this opportunity in such unprecedented times, although the irony with this once-in-a-lifetime trip is that most of the world is off-limits to Americans due to Covid. We spent hours researching countries with the hopes of them opening for tourism, only to be let down numerous times.”
Matthew and Brooke fully discussed the idea of traveling during this time, carefully weighing up the risk of contracting COVID-19 on the road with the benefits that come with travel. Ultimately, they decided to give their children the opportunity to experience new cultures and places and broaden their outlook on the world. After dropping their dog off to stay with family, the Morrisons traveled to Croatia to begin their big adventure in Zagreb, as the country remained open to travelers from the US.
Matthew admits to experiencing a hint of anxiety and nervousness when they travel to new countries, because as a father, he feels responsible for ensuring that his family is protected. “Fortunately, we have been prepared for everywhere we have traveled, and things have gone smoothly thus far,” he says. "Once we have arrived at every destination, our apartment hosts, the local people and our experiences have been overwhelmingly positive and welcoming. As for living in a new country during a pandemic, it's actually been quite pleasant. Croatia was COVID-aware, but people were living their lives as normally as possible.”
The Morrisons spent a month in Croatia, which they describe as one of the safest and most welcoming countries they’ve ever experienced. “We loved our time in Croatia and have all developed a deep fondness for the country,” says Matthew. “Along with being welcoming and friendly, we have learned the people are resilient and proud. We’ve also learned a lot about the history, culture and customs, and have seen first-hand how another country is living and moving forward with positivity during this pandemic.”
The children are in online school, so they can conduct their learning from anywhere with a wi-fi connection. They typically plan for a full morning of school, lunch and an hour or two more of study. Then the family lets loose and explores the town they're in, goes to the beach, explores a museum or gets an early dinner in town.
“We try to get the kids to work ahead of their timeline as much as possible,” says Matthew. “That way if there is a day when school can’t be done, like when we are traveling on the ferry, they are already ahead and don’t miss any work. The time difference makes it challenging at times, but we make it work.“
Having spent a month in Croatia, the Morrisons are currently in Rome, and are hoping to explore more of Italy and Europe in the coming months. Highlights so far include seeing Pope Francis deliver his Sunday Angelus at Vatican City. While options for travel in Europe are limited for Americans, they took advantage of a bridge to Italy from Croatia for travelers who have spent more than 14 days in the country.
They flew to Rome from Dubrovnik, although there were only five other people on the flight, and they were required to take a COVID test at the airport. “Although the COVID measures are more restrictive and enforced, everything is open and welcoming and we can’t wait to explore this beautiful country,” says Matthew. “I think we are one of the few American families here in Italy right now.”
Matthew says that he and Brooke are extremely proud of their children, who while missing their friends, have been open-minded and extraordinarily resilient around the fluidity of their travel plans. “Whether they realize it or not, “worldschooling” during the pandemic has been a success so far,” he says. “Parker can recite the history and hardships of Croatia since 1991, and can describe the monuments of the Roman Forum in detail. My sweet McKenzie can speak several phrases in Croatian, and can now order pizza and Fanta in perfect Italiano.”
Matthew is grateful that at a time when the world is suffering economic hardship, job losses, sickness and emotional stress, he has been able to turn the situation into a positive for his family. “I don’t know what is waiting for us back home, with my job uncertainty, our kids’ schooling or the economic forecast, but in the meantime, we are enjoying living our lives abroad, worldschooling our kids, and taking advantage of the positivity the world has to offer,” he says.
The Morrisons are documenting their experiences on their YouTube channel, Escaping the Bubble, and you can follow their adventures here.
Melany and Corey Rabideau
Melaney Rabideau moved to Rwanda in August with her husband Corey when she was offered her dream assistant professor position at the University of Global Health Equity. She is the lead faculty member of the college's leadership and management curriculum, and is helping to develop a new masters’ program in healthcare administration. Her students come from all over the world, and primarily represent underserved communities.
Melany (28) and Corey (30) met as teenagers and grew up in Maryland. Prior to moving abroad, they both worked in healthcare administration for large multi-hospital healthcare systems. Corey had also completed his MBA and Melany finished her doctorate in organizational leadership, and they were both heavily involved with supporting COVID-19 response efforts as part of an incident command team.
Leaving their cat Annabelle with their parents, they sold their home, cars and all their belongings, and flew out with only two suitcases each and Corey’s bicycle bag. The fact that they were relocating during the pandemic gave them pause for thought initially. “At first, we thought the timing wasn’t right to move abroad,” says Melany. “But Rwanda is a country leading by example, with their successful response to the virus and strict preventative practices.”
“For example, a COVID-19 test is needed within three days of leaving for Rwanda, but a timely result was almost impossible in the US. In contrast, when we arrived in Rwanda, we were met by a fleet of doctors completing screening exams and temperature checks. We were quickly escorted to quarantine facilities in a very nice hotel while we had another COVID test and the results were texted to us within eight hours. Hand sanitizer is readily available everywhere you go, and you are required to sign logs for contact tracing purposes. In Rwanda, you feel like the virus is taken seriously, and everyone does their part to protect each other regardless of minor inconveniences.”
Melany and Corey wanted to pivot their lives internationally while they had a chance, as a way to integrate their professional aspirations and personal passions. They had both achieved their academic goals and a level of tenure in their careers that will allow them to eventually transition back to the US with relative ease. They feel that this move has given them the opportunity to experience life outside the US with more depth.
“Over the last few years, we prioritized traveling as a way to invest in our relationship, learning from and with each other, while experiencing new things that pushed us outside our comfort zones,” says Melany. “Prior to moving abroad, our travels were limited to a maximum of two weeks because we were tethered back home to our school, work or careers. This limited time was never enough to learn much more beyond the highlight reel of a particular area or country.”
Since they arrived in Rwanda, avid cyclist and runner Corey has spent his days biking, exploring coffee spots and reading. He quickly got connected with a well-established group that organizes mountain bike rides almost every day. The Rabideaus’ plans for the next few months include taking advantage of the opportunity to work remotely. Because UGHE's physical campus is closed until January, classes are being conducted online so it gives Melany the flexibility to work from anywhere with stable wifi.
“We are spending the entire month of October in Zanzibar, keeping to ourselves on the beach,” says Melany. “We plan to spend Christmas and New Year in Ethiopia. When we first arrived in Rwanda, we spent the first month exploring all of the country’s different regions. We went gorilla trekking along the Congo border, boating with hippos on a safari near Tanzania, and we got lost in the jungle looking for chimpanzees close to Burundi. Rwanda is an amazingly beautiful country with top visitor attractions, such as gorilla trekking among volcanoes, lounging by peaceful lakes and exotic wildlife spotting on safari. However, it has so much more to offer when you have the opportunity to call it home.”
By immersing themselves in the country, Melany and Corey are able to practise and learn Kinyarwanda, one of the four official languages of Rwanda. They have been impressed with the country's collective commitment to the environment, including car-free Sundays, a strict plastic bag ban and community clean-up initiatives. “The people are extremely welcoming and helpful,” Melany says. “Getting our roots established with tasks like setting up a SIM card, buying groceries or finding an apartment was facilitated by friendly faces every step of the way.”
One of the things that has impressed Melany and Corey is Rwanda’s approach to welcoming visitors while also keeping everyone safe. They have already had seven COVID tests since arriving in Rwanda to ensure their movements are safe. “It is important we all travel responsibly during COVID by complying with testing requirements, and planning an itinerary that minimizes possible exposures like spending more time in nature,” says Melany. “And of course social distancing while also wearing a mask.”
Melany is documenting her new life on Instagram and you can follow her here.
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