Written by Amanda Kahn Fried and Josh Fried
We moved our family from San Francisco to Milan in January, 2020 for a seven month sabattical. As the Coronavirus exploded around us, we were faced with a choice… should we stay in Milan, or head back to the US.
We can’t remember a more difficult and stressful decision than whether to leave our Italian sabbatical early. Below are 7 reasons we considered staying, and 8 reasons to come back.
We hope this will be helpful to expats around the world who are facing the same struggle.
Stay in Italy
- Ahead of the curve. Italy was affected before the U.S., but the Italian government was already responding with strong and decisive measures. The COVID-19 crisis will definitely hit the U.S. and we may be extending our exposure to the virus by coming home.
- Universal healthcare. Healthcare (in the Italian north, where we lived) is generally excellent and available to everyone.
- Feeling settled. We love our life in Italy — which took about 4 weeks to establish — and want to be optimistic that the quarantine will end and our lives can return to normalcy.
- School structure. Our 2 girls are already adjusted to life at home under Milan’s quarantine. Their school has a fantastic remote-learning setup (Zoom tele-conferencing and virtual access to teachers), and disrupting them again could be a terrifying experience.
- Avoiding infection. So far we’re healthy, and traveling across the world (through several airports) could be a risky move, especially when we assume many precautions are not in place. We discussed how to minimize our exposure / contamination risk with highly qualified MD / PhD friends.
- Protecting others. We are already in an infected “hot zone,” so flying back to the U.S. may be a bad idea for the rest of the world.
- Structural problems at home. The U.S. is in denial — the President and administration is a nightmare. Our U.S. healthcare system is uneven, decentralized, and favors those who have money or access.
Return to the U.S.
- Language barrier. Our grasp of Italian is not at the level needed to understand hyperbole, or nuance, or even basic instructions from officials. Managing the constant onslaught of news and the changing rules is extra difficult in another language.
- Citizenship issues. If we get sick, will our care be compromised because we aren’t Italian? Josh and Sasha are Italian citizens, but don’t even have Italian ID or healthcare cards.
- Information vacuum. Is the situation in Italy going to get better? Is the government being truthful? We had friends and well-placed sources telling us that Italian infection and mortality numbers were higher than publicly reported.
- Caring for family members. If our family in the U.S. gets sick, will we be able to get to them? Trump’s COVID-19 travel ban was unclear at best. Relocating to the U.S. means we can talk more easily with our parents — and be closer should they need our help.
- Worsening conditions. What if conditions in Italy deteriorate — infrastructure collapses, law and order breaks down — and we simply can’t return home?
- Unknown timeline. There’s a chance this could be a months-long hellscape, in which case we need to be closer to our friends and family in the U.S.
- More comfortable quarantine. If we return to Josh’s parent’s house in the LA suburbs, we’d have a backyard, natural separation from other people, and — after 2 weeks — could hunker down with the grandparents.
- Access to healthcare. Josh’s mom is a dean at the UCLA School of Medicine. We know we can get good care if we need it.
There may not be a “right choice” in this scenario. Ultimately, we decided to return to the States, quarantine for 2 weeks, and share our experience with others in the hope that we can be a force for good here. Now that we’re home, sleep has come easier … now we wait, encourage behaviors to change, and hope for the best.