COVID-19 Views: New York to Isolation, and Everything In-Between

By Simone Turner

I felt like I’d waited my entire life to come to New York and find work. It was during a visit in 2014 that made me instantly fall in love. I never cried leaving Melbourne and moving to London; I never cried leaving London or have felt an urge to go back; but the moment I left New York, I burst into tears. I knew it had stolen my heart and I knew I would be back.

Since my first visit to this magical city, I kept putting my dream on hold, thinking it might be too hard and worrying about other circumstances. Yet on a rooftop party on New Years’ Eve 2018, I made a promise that I would do it. “Yep, I’m moving to New York in 2020!,” I told my friends.

The journey begins

From that moment, everything I did revolved around coming to New York, finding work and setting up a new life over there. Whether it involved selling items or just mentally being stronger to make it – I was preparing myself every single day.

I booked my flight to arrive in New York on 13 February, 2020 and hit the ground running – catching up with friends, attending interviews, fundraising and networking events, applying for jobs, sorting a bank account, and making new friends.

Admittedly, the first few weeks felt blissful, the next few felt a little harder and then I’d got over the middle hump, where New York was becoming ‘home.’ I was also speaking to more recruiters, while working on my interview and resume skills – so life felt pretty good!

The ‘other’ unexpected hump

When the news broke that a third person had contracted COVID-19 in New York City, I was still optimistic. In Australia, we’d had a similar number of cases and I just didn’t see the virus really changing the world the way it has today. I got a little teary even just writing those words right now.

I was staying in an Airbnb in Jersey City when I heard the news and a Hungarian man was staying in the same apartment. A few days after hearing that news, I went to a cafe in Exchange Place to apply for jobs, where the same Hungarian man spotted me and said, “I’m just saying goodbye as they are closing the EU borders. I have to go now.”

I remember sitting there shocked, and also thinking, well there goes my plan to go to Europe. As a Polish passport holder, the plan, if I didn’t get my dream job in New York, was to live in Europe for a month and return to the U.S. at a later date and try again.

From that day on, I noticed the cafe began packing up all their napkins, toppings, and anything that the general public could touch. More and more people started wearing masks and plastic gloves, but generally everyone continued living their life.

I too remained optimistic (despite all the news my friends were sending me back home) as I felt I had many other avenues to make this work. I thought, when I get my job offer, I can still attend US Consulates or Embassies in Barbados or even Sydney.

Yet what I didn’t see, was that the closing of the EU borders was just the start of what was to come. A few days later it was announced that the UK had closed their borders, and yet I remained optimistic that I could fall back on Barbados and Australia.

But slowly, restaurants and malls around me began shutting down, with some allowing only takeout and take away. New Jersey was the first place to start having nightly curfews. After a hard day and needing a wine, I will never forget being at the liquor store and the owner saying, “It’s almost eight o’clock, you better get home.” It felt odd walking back to my Airbnb at 8:05 pm knowing I was a little past the curfew and hoping I didn’t get arrested!

Shutting down and free falling

Suddenly, like dominos, New York began shutting down. The biggest hockey, rugby, lacrosse, and basketball games had all been canceled. Night clubs began closing, the theater district started canceling shows and every single social media post felt like another delivery of something else being called off.

I remember chatting to my friend who worked on the stock market and hearing that the ‘market was free falling.’ New York is a place with the most magical energy I’ve ever felt in this world, and I could feel the city hurting–even if I didn’t know everyone individually. 

To keep me sane during these moments, I would go for daily runs along Jersey City with the view of the New York skyline. Just simply seeing other people (from a social distance of course!) with a coffee in one hand and a partner, pram or dog leash in the other brought me comfort.

But a few days later I awoke to the news that the U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Australia and Barbados had closed; that Australia was closing their borders; Virgin had canceled international flights; and many airlines were standing staff down.

When dreams shatter

I’ll never forget waking up to a text message that the Australian Government had urged all residents to return home to avoid getting stuck overseas.

I knew at that point with no hope of having an E3 visa approved, going home was my only option. I couldn’t get stuck in the U.S. if my ESTA visa lapsed, and I certainly couldn’t leave and come back to the U.S. right now.

I got up and made a coffee, when tears began to uncontrollably fall. I instantly began feeling guilty for being so emotional. That was until a wise friend messaged me and said something along the lines of, “let the tears fall and where they land, new seeds will grow. You have every right to be upset right now.”

You see, I had no idea at the time that what I was actually feeling was ‘grief.’

It was a loss, just like going through a break-up or anything else, it felt the same. I remember seeing a gorgeous image that the Australian Women in New York group had shared on their social media pages about ‘life in three acts.’ It was the one thing that brought me comfort that day. To know it was okay to be in act two and give myself permission to cry.

That night I went down to watch the sunset in New York for one last time before I had to leave. I sat there on the park bench crying until well after dark. I grabbed some wine on the way home and booked my flights. I have never booked flights and been so broken-hearted at the same time.

Leaving New York

When the time came to finally leave New York, I thought I’d cried every tear I ever could. Yet out of nowhere, I was suddenly sobbing in an airport and thinking maybe there was another option that I’d missed. In the middle of meltdown #5, I messaged Josh from America Josh telling him that I thought I’d jumped the gun too soon and made a huge mistake! My gosh I am thankful for these people. After chatting with him, I realized I hadn’t and I’d made the best decision at the time.

I soon found myself on a plane from Los Angeles to Melbourne, and I must say, at the point I was feeling pretty strong. Loaded on a heap of coffee and I guess, naive to what lay ahead when coming back home.

This essay was written by Simone Turner and is republished with permission.

Simone Turner

Simone became a volunteer with AWNY in February 2020. She is a presenter, marketer and copywriter from Melbourne who can’t wait to come back to New York. Find her on Instagram @simoneaturner or TikTok @simoneadeleturner for content creating tips (and laughs!).

Image credit: Unsplash / Eunice Stahl

How are you coping with COVID-19?

Share your story with us by leaving a comment below or emailing us at awny@aaanyc.org.

Author: Australian Women in New York

Australian Women in New York (AWNY) sources stories and guides that will help make you win the Big Apple. We also love to profile fabulous Aussie and Kiwi women.

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