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Ilze Oosthuizen

expat stories

Expat stories!

Tell us a little about yourself, 

Where do you live now and how long have you been there?

We are living in Tokyo, Japan in a leafy suburb as close to beautiful cherry blossom spots as it is to hipster hang-out areas. We are loving it. My husband moved here a year ahead of us, so he has been here for 4, while the rest of us will have been here 3 years in July.

What do you love about where you live now?

As said – it is very easy to get to the City from here. It is in a neighbourhood with many Embassies and Official Residences, so there are not many skyscrapers around us. We have a beautiful park across the street and the neighbourhood has a lot of expat families which makes it fun for our daughter.

How is it different from your home country?

Japan, in general, is clean, organised and quiet which is a stark contrast to the loud streets of South African cities where markets can become messy and disorganised in a struggle for survival. People are extremely polite but formal while South Africans are very informal but generous and welcoming towards visitors. However – we have been expats for the past 21 years – so comparing Japan to” home” – is like comparing it to 8 different vastly different countries, wherever that had been for us. Our previous destination was Hong Kong with the streets of Hong Kong filled with the smells of food being prepared and taxi’s beeping 24 hours a day. Whereas it does not exist here in Japan.

What frustrates you about your host country?

I don’t feel any frustrations towards the host country. It has been a very pleasant journey so far and I am grateful for all the insights I have developed just from my interactions here and dealing with the Japanese and their way of living. I have a new respect for the elderly and their attitudes towards ageing. They have been incredible hosts to all nations during the Rugby World Cup last year and overall they have treated me and my family with the utmost respect and dignity. I am not yet sure how they will deal with a severe outbreak here in Japan and if their handling of that would cause frustration, but we hope not.


The CoronaVirus

How has the CoronaVirus affected you?

Coronavirus has affected us in the sense that we had to scramble and change our trips abroad a number of times as flights got cancelled and routes diverted while we were all out of the country. Eventually, we all managed to get back from our various destinations and back home as well, but not without significant impact on our travels. It did mean in the end that we as a family could not manage to be together for the planned Spring Break and had to cancel. Visitors had to cancel and weddings we planned to attend got cancelled. All of our guests in the Airbnb’s and our Guesthouse in South Africa had to cancel and we have a number of employees who are stranded at home, but that is not unique only to us. This is as it is for everybody around the globe right now.

Where are you now and where is the rest of your family?

Our son is studying in the US and his College ended classes and domestic travel got banned, so he had to stay put where he is in Portland, Oregon. We could not see him for the Spring Break as we had planned. Our daughter is doing a Gap year in full Chinese immersion – she started off in Shanghai, but with the first outbreak of the virus, the school shut down and she had to return home to Tokyo for a 2 week quarantine period before she could relocate to Singapore where the school re-opened.

This was not ideal as the exposure to Mandarin is a lot less in Singapore, but given the situation, it was the best on offer. Since then the school there has gone into lockdown and now she is doing online learning while living with a host family. Unfortunately, many host families are shutting down their offers which means that they are once again in the process of trying to settle down somewhere to make the most of this year’s learning. For my husband, all business travel came to a halt and it has been an exhausting marathon of conference calling – like every other Executive in the world at this point. But it is a new reality and safety priority.

Our youngest has been doing online schooling since the beginning of March when the school here in Japan switched to online learning. It has been a real challenge for her as she thrives on the social aspects of the school, but a devastating blow was last week when they announced that the school will not re-open for the rest of the school year. They were still hopeful for a return. We have a young lady living with us – she came to Japan from Europe in December, on a tourist visa but since the outbreak has not been able to go out or go travel more.

For now, she will stay put until such time there are no further visa extensions for the stranded foreigners.  She is a concert pianist so we have been fortunate to get to listen to her for hours in the background and get piano lessons for our daughter which is a great bargain. And it makes for good company at home and dinners and watching Netflix has become a good relief at the end of the day when all look up from their phones and computers after a long day of online interaction.

Our extended family are however in lockdown in South Africa under extreme measures. Most of them are small business owners who work for themselves and have been severely impacted by the immediate lockdown the Government imposed, We keep a very close eye on the developments of the virus as our family is spread between the US, Singapore, Japan and South Africa together with our helper’s family in the Philippines.

My Father is an elder in a Retirement Home so nobody is able to go to him for 21 days – which makes it hard on the family who used to check in daily. But we understand the constraints and the requirements. We would not want it any different. We make frequent calls and pray that their home remains virus-free.

Are you in self-isolation, lockdown or are you social distancing and what rules do you need to follow?

Since we all returned from International Travels, we have been in Self Isolation for the past 2 weeks. It will end on the 10th of April. However – it seems Tokyo might be heading for a self-imposed lockdown as well – which would further extend our stay indoors. The government does not have the authority to introduce a lockdown – in which every local municipality in the case of State of Emergency (which by the way we now have until May 6th – it was declared last night) – means that the Government can’t institute a hard lockdown, but each Constituency then provides their own guidelines within the Government’s boundaries.

This is how I understand it. It has not happened yet – so each family is still doing its own thing. However – they have asked people to stay home and as the Japanese are a very obedient nation, they have for the most part respected that request as a regulation.

in the case of State of Emergency (which by the way we now have until May 6th – it was declared last night) – means that the Government can’t institute a hard lockdown, but each Constituency then provides their own guidelines within the Government’s boundaries.

What do you find the hardest about your situation right now?

Personally I have not left the house since we arrived back home and neither has my daughter. However – not all families have the same rules right now regarding social distancing, so it has taken a strain on kids to be locked in while others are allowed to roam free and hang out together. We are all healthy and have enough supplies, so I don’t have any personal hardships.
I love having the extra company at home, which I normally don’t as they all leave home early mornings on the regular routines. I have been asking my whole life for a time where the whole world could stand still so I could catch up a little bit. I feel bad saying that since I would have never wanted it to be under these heartbreaking and troubling circumstances for others – but I think personally I have more than enough to catch up on for 6 months of lockdown.
I find it hardest to distinguish between fake news and useful information. ALso difficult for me is to find the sweet spot between being appropriately concerned vs getting panicky and paranoid. Also to be sensitive about finding this time a great relief to me versus the awareness that this has brought extreme despair towards those in dire straits who are directly affected by either health threats or financial impact of the virus. South Africans tend to make fun and make light of their lockdown situations – as a coping mechanism, but some people might find it offensive feeling they are not understanding the impact he has had on people.
We have a helper in the house who has undergone a Kidney transplant so she is taking Immuno-suppressants and has a compromised immune system. Her son was in a life-threatening accident and we would have liked her to be with him in this time of recovery. However, it is not safe for her to travel or to be there, so it has definitely put a lot of strain on family situations around the globe.

Isolation tips

Do you have any tips for anyone in lockdown or self-isolation?

I think one can easily get sucked into mindless scrolling of social media. That has been the biggest pitfall of this isolation at home. We had to find a new normal. Routine is important, so I decided to design a new daily plan for myself within my “new normal”. This would hopefully help to not eat out of boredom, getting distracted to the point of dysfunction or to start feeling hopeless.

I started a new vigorous course 2 weeks ago that will demand me putting in study hours for the next 6 months, so I suggest you sign up for short courses to keep your mind busy and have you focus on self-improvement while you have some extra time on hands. Don’t try to do too many things at once – the family will soon run out of steam and get tired of each other if you try to overly organize everybody’s routines and introduce a million activities in the house. Just allow each person their space and isolation and screentime on their own during the day and then maybe have a joint activity such as watching a documentary together or have some conversation space.

I saw on Facebook too many people are exhausting themselves in a new way by trying to come up with a whole agenda for staying home. It will wear off – so my advice is to not to try and overdo it. Just calm down and find your new normal and make adjustments accordingly but don’t feel any pressure to compare what Mom-projects you should have come up with vs your neighbour.

What are you doing differently now compared to a few months ago?

As I mentioned earlier – our helper in the house has a compromised immune system, so we are extremely aware of the impact any carrier of the virus could have on her health, so we are definitely taking no chances there. We wipe down all the groceries or packages that enter the house, and we have not invited or allowed anybody in. All other measurements to combat the virus, such as handwashing etc has been standard practice, so we are not doing too many things differently. We are however staying in touch with family more and have a new appreciation for freedom of movement.

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1 thought on “Ilze Oosthuizen”

  1. Love the story. I’ve known Ilze for many years. And for 25 years of my life, was also an expat so I understand the situation she is in. It is hard being separated from family during a crisis (we too have been thru a few…Gulf War, 911, to name a couple) but as expats you get very used to being able to cope without extended family support. Hunkering down in your home, wherever you’re home may be at the time, can be the best bonding a family can have. I truly hope that all this will come to an end soon….and when it’s all over I think there will be a new normal for everyone!

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