It took being overseas during COVID lockdowns for me to see how much family means to me


Steven Shaw (second from the right in the back row) learned how much family means to him while in England during a COVID lockdown.

Steven Shaw, Executive Editor

It’s hard to place when I grew to find so much of my identity through family. I’m the second oldest of six kids and remember being a normal, apathetic teenage recluse.  It wasn’t until I moved to England at 19 years old that I realized how much they meant to me.

I moved overseas in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, August 2020. At the time, it had looked like restrictions would be lifting and the world was returning to normalcy.

Unfortunately, the looks were deceiving.

Soon after landing and going through a two-week quarantine, the U.K. went into another lockdown. While the husband and wife who hosted me in their flat were nice, they couldn’t provide anything like the warm, full house I was used to in Texas.

The volunteer work I had come to England to do went virtual, and I spent months living with minimal social interactions, only seeing my family through a screen once a week.

At the end of November, the U.K. government announced it was lifting international restrictions for the holidays. I remember the surreal excitement I felt when my dad texted me saying if I wanted to visit home for Christmas, he’d pay for my flights.

December quickly became a daily countdown to my homecoming. I landed in Texas two days before the holiday, having for weeks kept the visit a surprise from the rest of my siblings.

My parents had arranged a giant Christmas box for me to hide in under the tree and, after wrapping me in it, called my siblings into the room. I jumped out as they started to unwrap the mystery present, and hugs and tears quickly followed.

This instant represented a big moment of vulnerability for me. For the first time, I openly, emotionally displayed what my family meant to me.

It was only after a year of homesickness abroad that I was able to appreciate how much healing my family brought and how much joy they could provide. It doesn’t take much, just the occasional dinner at Olive Garden or movie night, to remind me of who I am and where I’ve come from.

Though we’re now all in different stages of life, my siblings grew up in pairs. My older sister and I are in our early twenties, two of my younger sisters are in the midst of their high-school years and my youngest brother and sister still innocently wander through the ages of waning childhood.

It’s not our similarities that make us close, but the continual commitment to keep up with each other. The habit of reminiscing on shared memories, the intentional group-chat joke and the vital birthday dinners at restaurants.

Like I learned in England, family looks like more than just blood, but a consistent connection.