living abroad amid the Covid-19 pandemic

On Sunday, March 8, I took off on a five-day road trip from San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, my home base, to Pucón, Chile with a family of four friends from Traverse City, Michigan, who are in their third month of a three-month sabbatical in Argentina. Now, a week later, I look back on photos and videos from our day crossing over to Chile—and also me launching a crowdfunding campaign for a short documentary I’m directing and producing—and feel as though that was a lifetime ago. It’s amazing how time altogether sped up and slowed down this week. The world is certainly different than it was a week ago.

My friends and I were all aware of Covid-19 and, more or less, how and where it was spreading, but the reality of what this strain of coronavirus is and how quickly and easily it has and can spread hadn’t hit home yet. Wednesday evening, our last night in Chile before crossing back to Argentina, that all changed.

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there’s always a reason to stay.

Last year, on an early-November night, my mom and I drove down a dark and near-empty U.S. 31 from Traverse City to Frankfort. A few days prior, my grandpa had undergone surgery on his aortic valve. That evening, after a day at the hospital — the surgery was successful and my grandpa was recovering well — my mom, grandma, uncle, aunt and I went out to dinner in Traverse City.

Wanting to spend time with me before I moved south to Argentina in two days, my mom came home for the night instead of staying in Traverse City. With an uninterrupted chunk of time together and country music as our soundtrack, my mom and I talked about a number of things, including my upcoming move to South America.

“I’m really going to miss you, Em,” she said.

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swim your race in your own lane.

When I was in college, my swim coach often told me and my teammates to swim our own race. “You need to swim your race in your own lane,” he’d say. “You need to swim with blinders on.”

Back then, I didn’t understand the significance of those words beyond competitive swimming. I didn’t think of them as being applicable to life in general. But the metaphor is there — and I’m so grateful for it.

In swimming, it’s important to stick to your own race plan and pace. Looking from one lane to the next is an inefficient way to swim and an easy way to lose sight of your race and fall apart. There’s a time and place, usually toward the end of the race, for letting those around you motivate you and your race. There’s also a time and place, typically the majority of the race, for swimming with blinders on. For swimming your race in your lane. Yes, others can push you, but really, your pace and your push should come from within; they should come from you. It’s a strategic balance between swimming your own race and racing those in the lanes surrounding you.

To do that, you’ve got to be clear on your goals and how you’re going to pace your race — and train to be able to swim the race you want and need to swim — to achieve those goals.

This lesson and its relevance to life in general is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

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travel, and life, does not go according to plan.

Today is a Nuquí day. A reminder that travel, and life, does not always go according to plan.

I woke up at 5:20 a.m. today to catch a 7:00 a.m. bus to Osorno, Chile. (I need to cross the border to renew my passport.) I brushed my teeth, washed my face, got dressed, packed my backpack and then walked to the neighborhood bus stop to catch the local bus to the terminal in town. It was 5:50 a.m. Mornings are slow, still and silent in Argentina, especially 12 kilometers out from Bariloche.

At the bus stop, I stood in the little shelter as rain drizzled outside. I waited 40 minutes for any bus heading into town to appear. I counted four or five buses heading in the opposite direction, but there was nothing coming my way. For 40 minutes. Nada.

At 6:30, a bus came into view. It wouldn’t take me directly to the terminal, but it was the first bus to show up in the direction I needed to go and I figured it would get me close.

Wrong.

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keep moving forward.

Life is not always easy. It’s messy. It is a balance of ups and downs and everything in between.

Sure, it seems obvious, but I sometimes think it’s worth stating the obvious.

Throughout this journey, this journey of living abroad and this journey of living life, I think it’s just as important — maybe more important — to share the pieces that are tougher than tough. Because while I’ve had my fair share of exciting and inspiring adventures since moving to Argentina and traveling in South America, the moments I’ve shared on social media are not my everyday life. They’re pieces of my life; they’re a fraction of my life. They’re moments I chose to share, and they’re part of a much greater story.

I choose to share moments and thoughts with those around me — whether that’s in live conversations, in emails, on social media or somewhere else entirely. We all do. They’re often my better moments.

But don’t be fooled. Those moments are not my entire life.

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