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Expats in Ho Chi Minh City strive to overcome challenges, support local community during COVID-19

Expats in Ho Chi Minh City strive to overcome challenges, support local community during COVID-19

Thursday, August 26, 2021, 11:13 GMT+7
Expats in Ho Chi Minh City strive to overcome challenges, support local community during COVID-19
Shireen Nathaniel (R, first) poses with her friends in a photo she provided Tuoi Tre News.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020, foreigners living and working in Vietnam have been striving in many ways to overcome life's challenges.  

Aside from finding personal balance for themselves, they have also formed small groups to go through this difficult time together.

They have even implemented many meaningful projects to support the local Vietnamese community.

Feeling blessed to be in Vietnam

"I think I’m exceptionally lucky to be in Vietnam for the whole of 2020, as our lives were largely normal despite all that was transpiring around the world," said Nilisha Bhimani, an Indian entrepreneur who now lives with her husband in District 2, Ho Chi Minh City.

"We were able to settle in peacefully, make friends and acquaintances, explore Ho Chi Minh City, and travel to other places within Vietnam."

Currently, Bhimani's work-related plans have been stalled due to the pandemic. However, while the COVID-19 crisis is deepening worldwide, the businesswoman says she still looks at the positive side of things.

She lives in an apartment building so it is not too challenging to buy essentials.

"Yes, things are not as easily available as they were before, especially bread and certain vegetables, but overall, we are able to manage," she said.

"The local Vietnamese staff within the building and supermarket are very helpful and thanks to Google Translate, the language barrier is not a big deal."

Meanwhile, Shireen Nathaniel, a teacher at an elementary school in Ho Chi Minh City, has encountered a few struggles with the language barrier.

Living in a blockaded area, Nathaniel says she has no clear idea when the blockade will be lifted because it is hard for foreigners to access up-to-date information in English, while communication with the local community is quite restricted.  

"Despite some support from the lovely Vietnamese people in my area, generally speaking, the lack of information in English about directives and visa regulations has caused a lot of confusion and worry within the expat community," she said.

Living in Vietnam for two and a half years, the British female teacher was unable to work and had many worries around finances as well as anxieties about the virus during the first social distancing period last year.

This time, Nathaniel says she is lucky enough to be able to work remotely. Nevertheless, at a time when nothing is certain, anxiety and feelings of isolation caused by the blockade at times still occur to her.

"I'm grateful to be in Vietnam where I have -- up until recently -- been able to live a relatively normal life," she shares.

For Linda Beck, she arrived in Vietnam from Finland in 2014. Initially, she only intended to stay for a few months, then gradually fell more in love with the country and the people.

Since the pandemic hit, many local businesses have faced difficulties in keeping their operations afloat, and Beck's is one of the few that have been fortunate enough to survive and thrive.

Linda Beck is seen in a photo she provided Tuoi Tre News

Linda Beck is seen in a photo she provided Tuoi Tre News.

She created an app that allows users to showcase their talents such as singing, dancing, rapping and then compete with other players over the phone.

Social distancing and quarantine have made these types of apps more popular for users to relieve stress and kill time, as well as connect with one another.

"I feel grateful because my app only requires users to have a smartphone to participate, without needing to meet face-to-face," Beck says.

"Currently, the number of people downloading the app is increasing rapidly.

"I think it's because people have more time to explore new apps, especially with the aim to entertain themselves and reduce stress.

"I hope that when this challenging period passes, we all can look back and learn to appreciate the smallest things in life.

"Nowadays, I miss waking up early every morning to get ready for work."

She is grateful for how Vietnam has made sure to fight this battle against COVID-19 to stop the spread of the virus, Beck says.

Connecting and sharing  

Beck, Bhimani, and Nathaniel are all involved in communities dedicated to foreigners living and working in Ho Chi Minh City. There, they find the necessary information and sharing that help them overcome difficult times.

Bhimani is a member of Girl Gone International (GGI) and International Ladies in Vietnam (ILV), both of which are online communities for women.

They organize online events to ensure their members do not feel mentally isolated or unstable because of the pandemic.

GGI has weekly Zoom calls for members to meet virtually and share their feelings. Meanwhile, ILV has introduced weekly online Coffee Mornings where members can get together, chat and bring more positive energy to the group.

Beck is also a member of GGI. Like Bhimani, she has also made new connections in the community and supported one another during the health crisis.

"Everyone suffers at some point in their lives, no matter who you are, what you went through or where you came from," she says.

"We cannot compare pain; we cannot compare struggle as we are all different and in that way handle things differently. We are all unique and so are our feelings.

"Without the women in the community, everything in my life would have been so much harder.

"I have received support and found a lot of friendships from people I've never even met in real life."

Nilisha Bhimani is seen in a photo she provided Tuoi Tre News

Nilisha Bhimani is seen in a photo she provided Tuoi Tre News.

In addition to GGI, there are many other communities where expats in Ho Chi Minh City can get involved such as Viral Kindness Saigon, which focuses on spreading positivity, and Help Saigon's Homeless, a community that donates, packs, and delivers food to the homeless around the southern city, according to Nathaniel.

"You can also reduce feelings of isolation by responsibly fostering or adopting a rescue cat or dog through charities like I-PAW Saigon or ARC," she says.

Recently, Nathaniel and other GGI members have organized a campaign to pack food parcels for people in rough circumstances in the city.

To overcome the stress caused by social distancing, she keeps herself busy and occupied with work and projects.

Besides, she also learns to be kind and love herself, especially on days when she feels anxious or demotivated.  

"Social distancing can be very isolating so I think just staying 'connected' is important," the woman remarks.

"Check in with your loved ones regularly.

"Be kind to yourself and others.

"Things may be tough right now, but I feel lucky to be in Vietnam.

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else!"

Living with positive energy  

"I strongly believe that there is always a lot to be grateful for, no matter what the situation.     There are so many people around the world struggling to make ends meet. My husband and I feel lucky to have been able to live our lives normally for most of this outbreak. I am also thankful for all the networks we've been able to build here in a short span; it makes us feel like we are not alone," Bhimani shares.

Taking it one day at a time, she counts her blessings along the way, learning to be grateful in challenging situations instead of focusing on the negatives. 

Beck mentions she always reminds herself about all the positive things that are still happening despite the pandemic.

Anh Tran, a founding member of the GGI Ho Chi Minh City community, shares that since the social distancing period started, the community has organized many online activities focusing on the mental health and well-being of its members.

GGI was founded in 2010, and currently has over 500,000 international women in more than 200 local communities worldwide.

"We strive to ensure women who live far away from home can get through social distancing periods without feeling isolated or completely alone during the pandemic. We also look forward to contributing to the local community in Ho Chi Minh City and its struggling residents, as we care about the well-being of the city that is our home away from home," Anh says.

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Binh Minh / Tuoi Tre News

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