Charlotte Lau is a self-described “digital nomad.”
The 31-year-old American citizen has lived and worked in other countries since graduating with a bachelor’s in international relations roughly a decade ago. Born and raised in New York City, Lau was always fascinated by other cultures. As an undergraduate student, Lau spent every summer abroad; she had her sights on doing that full time for as long as she can remember. So, upon graduating, she got a job with an international-research organization, which took her to countries including Colombia and India and Sri Lanka, each stint usually lasting for about six months.
Lau eventually ended up in South Africa, and that’s where she fell in love — with both the country and a man. The couple met at a house party eight years ago; he’d made her a mojito. The rest was history. Lau changed jobs several times and even went to the United Kingdom to get her graduate degree. But the pair stuck together, and recently decided to take a year and a half off to travel. “Having the flexibility to do what we wanted and pursue our hobbies was really important to us,” says Lau. The two ended up in Mexico City, deciding to make it one of their home bases on top of Cape Town.
Then the coronavirus pandemic unfolded. On March 11, the State Department issued a global level 3 travel advisory, urging Americans abroad to “reconsider travel,” citing the severity of the pandemic. March 13, President Trump declared the outbreak a national emergency. Then, on March 19, it raised the threat to a global level 4 advisory — “do not travel.” State warned Americans abroad to return “unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.” As the virus spread, “thousands of Americans began clamoring to return,” reports Forbes. The United States government has provided repatriation flights to Americans in countries where conventional commercial air travel is no longer an option. As of early April, it has helped more than 50,000 Americans return home.
The prospect of flocking back to America, however, never crossed Lau’s mind. She’s “not particularly close” with her family. If anything, Lau finds herself wondering when she’ll be able to return to South Africa — the place she most considers home these days, as it’s also home to “the heaviest concentration of people I love.”
“I still feel quite American,” Lau continues. “But having spent as much time as I have in South Africa, and having my South African partner, I am proud of South Africa and feel it’s one of my countries.”
Various young, American women living abroad said they opted not to return to the U.S. because of love — for a person, a people, a cause, a life untethered to the strictures and bustle of America.