3-Month Adventure Working from Europe

Travel Oct 27, 2020

Chapter 1 - The trigger

I'm returning from an incredible unplanned 3-month journey working from Europe in the midst of a global pandemic, and decided to process the whole thing how I know best - by writing and sharing.

2020 has been a hell of a ride for everyone.

Chats about the distant virus that of-course-will-never-arrive-here and no-I-dont-think-its-a-big-deal-do-you? are silly memories from another lifetime.

For me, it's been a series of highs and lows, and before I get in the core of the adventure, I felt like rewinding for a hot second. What led me here?

Up until February, I was fully embracing my New Yorker's life, happily claiming I pictured myself staying here for the next 10 years. But as we all know by now, things change fast in 2020.

I do want to preset this by acknowledging the amount of privilege I've had, and still do. All throughout the year, I've been healthy, safe, with a steady high-paid job and the financial freedom to embark on the journey that I'm about to tell.

Not everyone has had the same level of comfort and flexibility, and one thing I've learned this year is how important it is to keep our privileges in check, even as we're letting ourselves feel, and tell our story.

March: denial. There's no way they will close down New York. It's New York, after all.

We're closing the office? I guess it'll just be a couple of weeks.

Oh wait... what the heck is happening?

Ok, I'm just hoping I don't have to cancel my scuba diving trip in April.

April: keeping busy.

Finish my NLP Udemy class. Start another one about how to influence people. Do more art. Master the art of homemade cold brew. I was genuinely enjoying this time, as I had set up a steady routine for myself.

Shit is hitting the fan, especially in NYC, but I'm not reading the news so my parents are way more scared than I am about the apocalyptic situation they're hearing about in the "epicenter of the united states".

I postpone my first trip. No meet up with whalesharks this year, huh?

While I was fine at the early stages, I ended up going through all my introvert's stock of energy. By the end of April, I'm maxed out of everything I've done to pass time.

May: despair. I'm starting to understand that I'm suffering the loss of a lifestyle I was calling perfect as late as February. I won't be enjoying the buzzing New Yorker Spring. Everything is closed, and streets are ghost-like. I've never seen Time Square, or 7th avenue, this empty. Second trip to Switzerland - the yearly Work from Anywhere week from my work - is canceled too.

It's like seeing your energetic, bubbly aunt suddenly get sick. Life has drained out of the city. Europe reopens but we don't... yet. I realize this is going to last. Some of my friends hope for a Memorial Day "back-to-normal" and I'm unusually pessimistic.

I realize I don't know how to sit still, and I'm rationalizing my situation. I'm-fine-I'm-healthy-I-don't-get-to-feel-bad-or-complain. I struggle BIG TIME to acknowledge I don't have it that bad vs. letting myself process the emotions and reality of my own condition.

The political handling of the pandemic is heating up and adding to the general anxiety. Everyone's looking around for which country is handling it the best, and it's certainly not the U.S. George Floyd is brutally murdered, and I don't fully understand yet what it's going to mean for the following months.

On a dark Friday evening, I get a little gift from the universe - my dream apartment is freeing up, and I manage to secure it within 24 hours.

June: cocooning & opening my eyes on systemic racism.

Moving helps me freshen up mentally, as I'm distracted with the logistics of it all. I move next door to a light-filled apartment, and my landlord is the nicest, which brings me some comfort in humanity.

I feel like decorating and making it my home.

I also start seeing my friends again, which... WOA. It was odd and awkward to start seeing my people again - physically distanced, masked up... at first. It felt like we were learning to socialize again, like toddlers taking their first steps.

In parallel, Black Lives Matter marches take over the country. The more I learn about systemic racism in this country, the more I realize I had no clue that a whole part of the population - black Americans - were living in a completely different reality than mine. One that's a lot more violent, discriminated against, where fear of the police is legitimate and always present, no matter what socio-economic background you're from.

It's a lot, and I start to do my homework. This starts to question the desire for me to be in the US long term. I don't know what my place is here (I still don't), so I just start learning as much as possible about the history of racism here, and how to be an ally to black people and other people of color.  

I start thinking about other plans - if I left, where would I go? How can I know for sure I want to leave? I have non-definitive ideas to these questions, but most importantly, something broke with the US: I no longer feel like I need to be here.

July: I'M FINE.

Truly, I thought so. But the end of the month becomes tricky. I love my quaranteam, but we've exhausted all the topics we could talk about. We keep bringing up how stuck we feel, how tired we are of the situation, of not being able to go home, and it's not helping.

Parts of the world have opened up, and I start seeing folks traveling as though the virus had taken time off.

(It hadn't.)

Exit fear of missing out, welcome actual missing out. I am sitting in my apartment on my own - I now call it, my ivory tower - and as I get out to get coffee and get catcalled like never before in the city, I just. can't. have it. anymore.

I just can't be here anymore.

It's Monday, we have a two-day agile workshop and there's no way I can focus. I'm frenetically researching this new visa exception I've heard about, trying to get answers to: If I leave, can I come back?

Which morphs into the freeing question: If I leave and can't come back, do I care? Every cell in my body screams: NO. I don't.

I have the legal answers I need - in theory, I'm good to go.

What's the worst case scenario? I can't come back to the US, I need to empty my apartment from a distance and I eventually lose my job & work authorization.

I take the risk.

I book a ticket for two days later. Direction: France.

It'll turn out to be the best decision I've made all year.

Chapter 2.


Laila Zouaki

Adopted by New York, I made a few life stops in California, Australia, France and Morocco. I'm curious about product, scuba diving, yoga, psychology, art, writing, and food.