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We wholeheartedly thank Inna Rothmann for this article on how two friends – an expat and a migrant- wrote a book during the pandemic.

 

The Idea

Inna

In early April 2020, I got a regular Skype call from my bestie, Irina Sirbu, who lives in the UK, miles away from me. We are both Moldavian and we’ve known each other for such a long time that our friendship managed to survive the distance through regular chats and calls.

That April call was different though: with empty streets and people locked indoors as a background, with the veil of sadness and depression upon both of us. To paraphrase one of our characters (spoiler alert): Different time zones, different countries – same craziness.

Anyway, I was complaining to Irina about my personal doom and gloom when she made a reasonable remark that it wasn’t me or her, the whole world was like that.

There should be others out there, who feel the same way, hopeless and fearful, especially people stranded away from home. Locked in their houses in a foreign land. Just like us, only now with the pandemic dictating the rules“. For every problem, there is a solution and from our online misery the idea for the book Surviving Covid-19 in a Foreign Land: Stories of Expats and Migrants was born.

The Challenges

With a lot of enthusiasm, we started getting in touch with our expat friends from all over the world, certain that hundreds of people will want to become part of the book during the pandemic. Imagine our surprise when only ten people agreed to take part in the project! People were depressed and didn’t feel like talking about it with anyone.

Irina

I started asking around in different expat groups all over Facebook, but then I got kicked out from one of them for “spying on the members” after had I asked for permission to post an interview invite. I stopped posting in groups whatsoever. I guess the whole situation made people paranoid and suspicious of everything. So yeah, a lot of sacrifices were made!

After a month or two, we finally started our interviews with a researcher’s mind, having started with a list of questions for each of our participants. At the same time, we let the people create their own stories within the structure we provided. Our book was not meant to be a fiction or an academic study, it was something more of a semi-professional research project. The interviews’ style and format were inspired by the narrative psychology methodology that Irina as a researcher in a major UK university is specializing in.

The Process

In the end, we got a creative piece of work that is honest and transparent in rendering the stories of real people.

book during a pandemicIn the process we found something fascinating, that despite being stuck in different locations, all our participants had something in common – it was resilience they built through living in different cultures and going through relocations. Their expat and migrant baggage actually helped them go through the pandemic. This resonated so much with what we, the authors, personally experienced. I was born in Moldova, went to university in Russia, lived in Germany and UAE, and I married a South African, so my expat background became part of who I am and defined my take on the corona crisis.

Organizing our time was another challenging task, as we had to integrate the book writing into our already busy schedules with jobs, extracurricular activities, hobbies, family time, and everything else. Irina and I wrote mostly during evenings and weekends, at some point, it became so intense and time-consuming that both our partners were really concerned about our newfound passion!

The Purpose of a book during the pandemic

Who is the book for? People staying in a foreign land, of course. However, most of the messages are for everyone who lived through 2020:

*Life always goes on no matter what happens.
*We are all interconnected.
*Time to pause, reflect, and move on. The whole world is on a break.

Of course, these are not the only ideas coming from the book. We believe, the book offers fresh and unique perspectives on how to deal with these unprecedented times. Why do we feel scared? How can we use our fears and disorientation to transform them into a new vision of ourselves and the world around us? Our participants are so different, from a migrant mother in Italy to a Swiss actor questioning his career in Los Angeles. We don’t provide the answers, we lay questions and let our expats and migrants reflect on them.

You can find the book Surviving Covid-19 in a Foreign Land: Stories of Expats and Migrants Around the World now on Amazon Kindle Store. We will appreciate your support and we aspire to continue talking about people’s experiences. We don’t know yet what our next book will be like, but we are sure about is that the book will happen.

 

Inna Rothmann
South Africa
December 2020
Photos ©InnaRrothmann
except the head one, ©Expatclic

 

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