Reflections from the field

YMAP team member and PhD candidate Giulia Marchetti is examining how transnational mobility can impact on identity and youth-to-adulthood transition among young Italians. Here she offers some interesting reflections on how COVID-19 has impacted on her work.  

Tell us a bit about your research project’s aims and where you research is up to at the moment.

 

My research is about young Italians (18-34 years old) living in Australia and those who have returned to Italy after having spent at least one year in Australia. The transient nature of contemporary migration makes return a realistic option. The aim of my study is to assess if and in which way transnational mobility can impact on youth-to-adulthood transitions, such as independent living, economic independence, coupling, cohabitation with partner, becoming a parent, all steps towards adulthood which in Italy tend to be delayed by economic and cultural factors. Obviously, those who return to Italy bring with them a social and cultural capital that does not consist only of new skills and a richer social network but also a new perception of their role within their family and in Italian society at large.

In 2019 I spent over a year in Australia and conducted 25 in-depth interviews that retraced the lives of participants from childhood to the present day with a special focus on their mobility inside and outside Italy during their different life stages. I asked questions about their reasons for moving to Australia, their present life and future aspirations. It is interesting to see how the migratory project, often meant to be temporary, becomes long-term, step-by-step with the passing of time. I collected stories from a wide range of movers: backpackers, ‘gappers’, life-style migrants, international students and the more classic economic migrants who combine job opportunities with desire of exploration. After I went back to Italy, I started to interview returnees living in northern, central and southern Italy. The last two were Zoom interviews instead of face-to-face, due to the COVID19 pandemic.

I would say that my research is very “visual sociology”. I filmed as many of my interviews as possible, and asked participants to provide personal photos that reflected their experiences. And I also do an analysis of tattoos that my participants had done in Australia or upon return in Italy.

We want to make a YMAP documentary film and to do this I am collaborating with the Rome-based filmmaker Francesco Di Trapani. So that’s the next big step!

How has the COVID19 pandemic impacted your life as a researcher and your personal life more generally?

As soon as Italy was hit by the pandemic and the national lockdown started (5 March 2020), I felt scared because it was a new, dramatic situation I didn’t know how to cope with. Day by day the Italian and world death toll was higher. My 5-year-old son could not sleep at night and now and then he would ask me if the world was going to end. But I was also angry because I felt that my ongoing research was suddenly old, dated, belonging to another era. My research is about mobility and COVID19 is a cancellation, hopefully temporary, of so many aspects of our lives, first and foremost, human mobility. I could not carry out my fieldwork for about two months and I kept myself busy with reading, transcribing and playing with my son. Together with Laura Leonardi (University of Florence), I researched on what was happening in my town, Prato, a Tuscan textile city which is home to one of the most concentrated Chinese communities in Europe. Many expected Prato to become the Italian virus epicenter. Instead the unpredicted and voluntary adhesion of the Chinese community to the rules of self-isolation when the alarm was not high is probably going to reframe social relations between the Chinese and the Italian communities in Prato. There was no way I would contact, in those difficult days, my prospective participants for Zoom interviews when they were certainly worried about their safety and the safety of their loved ones. I carried out the first post-COVID interview only when the Italian measures of containment started to reflect a decrease of the number of affected and dead and people began to feel more hopeful. I asked them questions about the ways in which COVID19 was impacting their lives and their future mobility. I had never carried out Zoom interviews before but luckily there is fantastic material around about it.

One woman I interviewed was visiting her parents when the lockdown started. She described to me her temporary status of an independent woman back again to the role of a daughter in her parents’ house. Another one was about to re-enter Australia to be close to her boyfriend and they had to find new ways, technologically mediated, to feel closer despite the great distance. I also contacted returnees I had already interviewed to find out how they were doing. One of them was just starting to readapt to Italy when both self-isolation and the impossibility of carrying on with ordinary activities heightened her feelings of nostalgia for Australia. It was like her present life was erased and her nearest memories of a carefree, pre-COVID life brought her back to Australia. I understand this feeling. This COVID19 crisis made me postpone my own plan to be back in Perth soon.

How has COVID19 impacted on the lives of young Italians in Australia and their mobility?

Every day I observe social media related to Italian youth mobility, especially what is posted and commented on the many Facebook groups of Italians in Australia. I am also in contact with my Italian friends who live in Perth. Similar to what I noticed for the Chinese in Prato (Italy), at young Italians who really recently migrated to Australia were in some cases discriminated against as the pandemic made news. For example, I was struck by a young woman’s FB post who had just arrived to live in a family as an ‘au pair’, but the family refused to house her because of the pandemic. She was looking for a job, and she posted a picture of her pretty face as to say, ‘Look at me, I’m harmless’. Italians on working holiday visas have to complete 88 days of farm work to renew their visas for a second year. Many have been unable to find work in the farms with the consequent problem of not being able to renew their visa. Since many of the newcomers work in hospitality, with the closure of the Italian restaurants they found themselves unemployed, with economic problems and the impossibility of returning to Italy. I feel that in that period they would have chosen cohabitation with their parents over independence. The Italian community, well aware of what was happening in Italy, adopted measures of self-isolation before the Australians. In a certain sense, COVID19 can stop mobility but cannot stop transnationalism. The future impact of COVID19 on mobility adds new challenges to my research work.

 

This study has received Deakin University ethics approval (reference number: 2017-315). 

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