Living as an American in BC During COVID

Fish out of water.


I’ve lived in Vancouver for almost three years, and I feel newly at home in my adoptive city. I moved to Canada in 2017, not to flee from the ever-changing political landscape of the United States—as some of my relatives still believe—but because of chance and opportunity, the same motivations that cause so many to move around in the globalized and generally decentralized modern world, where families are often spread all around the planet.

Right as the pandemic was starting to be taken very seriously in North America, I was supposed to return to my place of birth, Colorado, for an assignment. Our team met to discuss travel, and I expressed my anxiety at the prospect of not being able to return to the United States at all. A week later, the Canadian and American governments shut the border. I was relieved that my workplace had cancelled travel, as I imagined scenarios of being stranded in the U.S., unable to return to Vancouver to my apartment, my friends, my work— but the anxiety remained. I finally understood the luxury of moving freely across borders, and I realize that it may still be some time until I return to the United States.

As I hunkered down to work from my apartment in East Vancouver, my mind started to turn more often toward the country where I was born. I understand that many Canadians are inundated by the American news cycle, and for the first time in my life I have received a sustained view of my birthplace from the outside. And frankly, it’s an overwhelming sensation. Trying to understand any nation is difficult, but trying to understand the United States is like trying to comprehend a massive fish with mood swings—hopeless.

But it’s helpful to take the Canadian point of view, especially the posture of British Columbians, when I feel lost and alienated from the US. It’s a perspective I’m appreciative of, one that springs from a place of community-mindedness, non-confrontation, and diversity. Sure, Canada has some serious issues, but the problems across the border seem much more ready to burst. The slurry of conspiracy, rage, and single-mindedness is not confined to south of the border, but I feel removed from it and am increasingly thankful that I am not in the United States, whose population seems to have a thousand answers to the most clear-minded questions.

Trying to understand any nation is difficult, but trying to understand the United States is like trying to comprehend a massive fish with mood swings—hopeless.

In Canada, it seems that coming to certain shared conclusions and perspectives, even if they relinquish some control, have value. Whereas Americans appear to be clinging to whatever view makes them feel better in the immediate, often shifting blame elsewhere.

Who knows what role nationality actually plays in response to crises. People tend to focus on government actions as a gauge for how a nation is acting. The way that governments act and speak play a prominent role in the responses to the pandemic. But I get the sense that if I were experiencing this mind-numbing, body-shivering scene in the roll of history in the U.S., I would feel very differently right now.

Who knows when I will be able to return to Colorado, to see my aging grandparents and the rest of my family, spread across the country. The pains and tribulations haunting many nations seem to be sparking tensions that the ever-changing distractions of the news cycles may not wash away. But I’ve been inspired by Canada’s approach to health, and the people who strive to create a sense of security for others, even when they don’t necessarily feel that same sense themselves. Murals of health-care workers line the streets of Gastown, and even though people are struggling, many I know are receiving clear-cut aid from the government.

My anxiety, and that of so many others, will likely remain, but I am glad to be able to work out these feelings here in my adoptive home. And with the announcement yesterday, detailing the gradual release from strict social distancing, a general wave of relief has washed over Vancouver. Such relief is only possible, if people are on the same page from the start.

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