The Covid-19 pandemic meant lockdowns galore over the last three and a half years.
With many of us ‘trapped’ inside – sometimes for weeks on end.
The Covid-19 pandemic meant lockdowns galore over the last three and a half years. With many of us ‘trapped’ inside – sometimes for weeks on end. For many, anxiety and depression decided to rear their ugly heads. The comfort of ‘staying home’ was lost, turning into a form of ‘wellbeing imprisonment’. Many of our social connections and everyday lives became virtual. Uber Eats, Netflix, and Facetime were thriving, while the rest of us began slowly suffering. The importance of ‘getting out’ became very clear.
Travel, especially overseas travel, was halted. The impact on airlines, pilots and stewards was detrimental. 2023 and the ‘success of vaccines’ saw many countries and state borders reopening. Many of us were eager to ‘get out’, taking any chance we could get. So, when I was offered the chance for international exchange and a student Visa in Indonesia; I packed my little Australian life into a suitcase, grabbed my passport and jumped on the NYE flight to Jakarta.
My well-being was great in Australia. My building had a gym, pool, and sauna that I took advantage of – not only to stay fit, but to maintain my mental health too. Melbourne lockdowns were no more, so social lives and environmental well-being were no longer compromised. My university even provided free counseling services meaning that it wasn’t until my eighteen-hour flight, and seven-hour layover in Singapore, that I noticed my well-being changing.
I am a long-legged, six-foot-two man, with broad shoulders. It sounds like the jackpot until you get me into an economy flight seat. My 22:00 PM, NYE flight was delayed until 23:30 PM. Instead of the NYE Countdown, I was ‘counting down’ to when I could sleep. But I had the unfortunate spot of the middle row, aisle seat. With the man in front of me fully extended backwards, the women next to me using my right shoulder as her headrest, and my left shoulder extended into half the aisleway – I was bumped by every cart and passer-by.
The New Year’s countdown we hoped for, never came. And the airline left the lights on until 02:30AM; aggressively turning them back on at 4:00AM. I managed a total of 15 uncomfortable minutes of shut eye in my 10.5-hour flight to Singapore. Arriving at 03:00AM Singapore time, my flight to Jakarta wasn’t until 10:00AM. Desperate for a coffee, food, and a charge of my gadgets, I found a Starbucks and a convenience store that sold UK travel adaptor plugs. Traveling solo and being my first time in Asia, I was too anxious to sleep on the airport floor. After seven long hours of streaming trash TV and recycle-listening to the albums downloaded on my Spotify; I boarded my plane to Jakarta.
Looking like a long-haired, blonde Aussie surfer, getting through customs can be tough. I mean one look at the Australian party-animals in Bali, and you understand why. After many questions about my studies and motives in Jakarta, and double checks of my travel documents – I finally left the CGK airport. One step out of the terminal doors, and I was bombarded by eager Bluebird drivers and Gojek drivers. With less than an hour’s sleep in 30+ hours, I wasn’t ready for the intimacy of a motorbike or taxi ride. One SkyTrain, a Rail Link and a short walk later, I arrived at my Kos. I checked in, showered, turned on the A/C then passed out from 5:00PM to 8:00AM.
It wasn’t until the next day that the ‘culture shock’ truly hit me. Determined to eat my first meal in 20+ hours, I headed for the nearest mall (20 minutes away). Without a working sim card or any knowledge of the area, I quickly looked up the walk, screenshotted it, and hit the road. Standing out like a ‘sore thumb’, every local I passed – as I walked through the lively streets filled with homes, small businesses, Indomarets and cats aplenty – had something to say. Most of which I, as an English speaker, could not understand. Reaching the mall, I stopped at the first Café for a frappe coffee and a Bahn Mi – for a fourth of the Australian price. It was at this moment, alone in the mall surrounded by a language I could not understand, that anxiety said hello again.
Two weeks later, I am a lot more settled in. Anxiety mostly at bay. I have realized the importance of maintaining wellbeing, especially when abroad. The incredible food, cats and Indonesian people help. But an active sim card, regular contact with home and counseling services, ClassPass, GrabFood, walks through the town, engagement in familiar hobbies and weekend trips are what ultimately make the difference. It takes more than just ‘being’ to stay ‘well’ abroad.