My Belated Homecoming.

Some thoughts on finally visiting the UK after four years in China.

Niall Leah
8 min readJan 20


Maciej Olszewski (Shutterstock)

I moved to China about a year before COVID started.

When I said my goodbyes, I expected to be back for a holiday in a year. My signature goodbye had been, “See you next Christmas!” Back then, even that felt like a lifetime away.

Who knew COVID would arrive and completely change the world the way it did?

I never expected China to close its borders to the world. If you left in that time, even with a visa, there was no getting back in.

Expats like me had to choose between abandoning their lives here and returning or staying put and waiting for a change. I chose the latter and kept kicking the can down the road. I didn’t expect it would take three years for China to reopen.

Around this time last year, I wrote a contribution for a new year’s resolution piece. I vowed to connect with my family and not just focus on work.

If anybody from back then read that story and is still here reading this one, then I’m happy to report that I kept up with that pledge. I make much more time to commit to weekly catchups over voice chat.

Despite that, it still felt like it would be a long time before an in-person visit would be possible.

Despite being intermittently homesick, the more time passed, the less I thought about it. When you live away from home for a long time, what is initially strange becomes routine. Wherever we are, humans get on with things taking each day as it comes.

It’s remarkable how you can turn days into years just by “getting on with things.” Time really flies.

All at once, everything here changed.

I was blindsided by the news. Not only would China be reopening its borders but also, due to a surge in COVID cases, my school would be closed for two months. Flight prices suddenly plummeted from insane heights to affordable ones.

The obstacles preventing me from visiting the UK dissolved in a matter of days.

I decided quickly this was an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.



Niall Leah

An ex-pat from the UK living in Chengdu, China. I satisfy my endless curiosity about the incredible journey of humanity by reading, traveling, and writing.