Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Roots of My Status Insecurity - the Sum of All my Fears

"Perhaps the most popular way for the anti-tourist to demarcate himself from the tourist, because he can have a drink while doing it, is for him to lounge - camera less-at a cafe table and with palpable contempt scrutinize the passing sheep though half-closed lids, making all movements very slowly...Any conversational gambits favored by lonely tourists, liked "Where are you from?" can be deflected by vagueness.  Instead of answering Des Moines or Queens, you say, "I spend a lot of time abroad" or "That's really hard to say."  If hard-pressed, you simply mutter "Je ne parle pas Anglais," look at your watch and leave."

"Tourist angst like this is distinctly a class signal.  Only the upper elements of the middle classes suffer from it..." It is the middle-class that has read and heard just enough to sense that being a tourist is somehow offensive and scorned by an imagined upper class which it hopes to emulate and, if possible, be mistaken for.Fussell, P., 1982. Abroad: British literary traveling between the wars. [Kindle version] Oxford University Press, Oxford.

When I first read Fussell a few years ago I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry.  He is pitiless and often unbelievably arrogant and yet, I have the sense that he is on to something.  The above passage from his book Abroad both fascinates and repels me because one way to look at my migration journey is through the lens of class.  And that is a mighty uncomfortable exercise.

But I'm going to take a stab at it today. I need some clarity.  I feel as if I am foundering as I try to analyze my experience and how it came to that I was, for a time, I was one of the anti-tourists and even an anti-migrant.  I believe that how that came to be has its roots in where I started.  I struggle to explain it because social class is not considered a topic fit for polite company where I came from which I would describe as "anti-class."  It was downright rude to imply that anyone you met was anything other than the generic "middle-class."  It was a fantasy of social equality that didn't exist in my childhood and doesn't exist now.  

I believe that we take our class baggage with us when we go abroad.  It's not just social capital that we carry, but attitudes.  In some cases it is a sickness of self-loathing - a sense that our roots in the home country are something we have risen above, something from which we need to disconnect or disavow.  Human beings are, I think, hierarchical by nature.  The search for recognition and status are universal.  I don't think we can help ourselves.  Those who argue that it doesn't matter are either those who bring their class or "anti-class"  sentiments with them or those who have so much social and economic capital that they need worry far less about it.  Wherever you're from and wherever you landed, there are class systems into which the migrant/expatriate integrates and if that weren't bad enough, add a third and fourth which are:  the migrant hierarchy in that country and the hierarchy of whatever particular migrant group you are associated with (whether you like it or not.)

What follows is how I see that class "baggage," where I think it took me, and how I came to see it for what it was.  The overall lesson?  Time wounds all heels.

I was born near Seattle in the 1960s in what is called unincorporated King Country.  The family moved to Olympia (population about 30,000) just before I started school.  My father was a fonctionnaire (civil servant) and my mother was a college student.  Very middle-class, you might say.  And yet there were signs that we were not living in the top levels of that class.  There was the big truck and camper parked in the driveway.  There was the fact that we painted (badly) our house, ourselves in one color (white).  The house was heated by a wood stove which left the upper floors very cold in the winter.  Across the street from our house was a family where the main breadwinner was a lawyer.  To our left another house was occupied by a college professor and his wife, a nurse. 

 I remember that money was an issue and it remained one until I went off to college. Saving money was a top priority and arguments about money were common.  My father once yelled at me because he had given me my allowance and I went straight to the bookstore downtown and spent every penny.  He said I was "irresponsible."    What is almost as bad as being poor? Being told constantly that the family is close to it and that your actions might tip the family into it.  Was it true?  Were we really that close?   I have no idea.  But I'm over 50 years old now and I still have a complex about money and saving and a strong sensitivity to being told that spending money is somehow a very bad thing.

It was also the start of status anxiety.  In a nutshell, we were definitely not working-class but we sure weren't upper middle either.  The pick-up, the guns, the dog, and the hunting, fishing and camping made us a bit out of place in our neighborhood.  I grew up with the uneasy feeling that we were not like our neighbors and that some of them really didn't like my parents.

My parents divorced when I was 12 and my mother moved to Seattle.  I went back and forth on the Greyhound bus for years.  Seattle was a different world.  It was the closest big city and it was full of things to see and do.  My mother and stepfather's house was filled with visitors who were well-educated, well-read, well travelled.  Some had talents that approached genius:  music, art, editing, cooking.  Some were self-educated, others had gone to universities, even Ivy League ones.  There was a huge bookshelf in the living/dining room and me and my siblings were encouraged to read anything we liked.  There was no television.

Two very different worlds.  In one, buying and reading a book was "frivolous" ("Get your nose out of a book and go outside to play.  I mean, Jesus Christ, kid...."), in the other not reading books was unthinkable.  When I went off to college in Seattle, I made my choice and I never lived in Olympia again.

In retrospect there was a lot to be thankful for and to remember with fondness.  I always had a roof over my head.  I went to good schools in Olympia.  Camping was downright fun.  The Nanny Noodles daycare (an intentional community of LGBT women) was wonderful.  The Evergreen State College was cool.  The wood stove always smelled nice and I loved the dry heat.  I still miss that dog.

I went to the University of Washington in Seattle.  At the time it wasn't a top school (it has a better ranking now).  I started as a business major because my father paid the very modest tuition for a few years and he argued that it was really the only "practical" major to have.  I hated it.  I skipped class and was on a downward slide to failure until I discovered something I liked and was good at:  Political Science. Murmurs of "impractical" and " where will you find work" and so on. I stopped speaking to my father. I got a job to pay my tuition.   I brought my grades up and started enjoying school.  And there I met an exchange student - the Frenchman who would later become my husband.  

So when I left the US in 1989 this was the sum of my capital.   Financial capital was zero.  In fact I was in debt.  Social capital?  Precious little.  I had a degree from a university that the French had never heard of.  My major was a liberal arts degree that had questionable status since some French knew that a US Political Science program was not the equal of the French programs.  I had excellent written French but I couldn't speak it.  The only connections I had were my husband's family. I was badly dressed and socially awkward.  I was scared out of my mind. Leaving the house provoked enormous anxiety.  For the first few months the only trips I made were to French conversation classes at the Alliance Francaise.  Some of my spouse's friends liked me well enough, but others made it very clear that they didn't. I looked for work and found a job as a secretary at an NGO in Paris where I had no status and very little pay.  But it was a job.

At that time insertion into the social world of the Parisian expats was a nightmare for me.  My French mother-in-law found an American club and a sponsor (yes, at the time you had to have someone vouch for you).  I was intimidated by the "ladies who lunched."  Sleek, well-dressed women with degrees from prestigious US universities living in posh Paris apartments and whose husbands were captains of industry.  They were higher up the social ladder than me before they came to France and were comfortably settled in the upper levels of French society.  Their French sounded perfect and their children appeared to be effortlessly bi-lingual.  The worst moment came when I went to some event and they were encouraging me to come to some tea in the mid-afternoon.  I replied that I couldn't because I had to work and they all stared at me.  If I had stayed longer, I might have met more American women in the same situation.  As it was, I fled that club and only returned after many years.

So even after I settled in and integrated more or less successfully (I even found a job in IT with a French company),  those insecurities just wouldn't go away.  That is when I really became the anti-tourist/anti-migrant.  I didn't want to be around other Americans and I passed that off as good taste on my part (under the guise of "the truly integrated don't need the crutch of other Americans.")  Truth is I didn't want to meet anyone who was more integrated, more travelled, had a better job, owned their own home, had bi-lingual children in an international school, and had lived in France far longer than I had.  In my own way, I created my own "bubble" where I could be the Exotic Beast - the only American at work or in my social circle.  Stepping out of it meant confronting the fact that there were about 75,000 other Americans in Paris alone and I was hardly a special snowflake.  Only in my "bubble" could I pretend to be a higher class than I really was; an "expat" and not a "migrant."

How long did it take for me to get my head out of my own behind?  A long time.  The big blow was finally admitting I was an alcoholic.    The seeds were there before I left the US but the progression of my addiction played out in France.For years my anxiety and insecurity was calmed by endless glasses of wine.  No one is responsible for this but myself but I would say that under the guise of "integration"  and "When in Rome..."  I escaped detection until the day I just couldn't do it any more.  
An alcoholic builds a house of lies and my "bubble of integration" turned out to be exactly that - a cunning bit of architecture that only existed in a delusional mind.     I was not better than the tourist - for crying out loud, my working-class grandparents were tourists and happy to have the opportunity to just kick back and enjoy the ride.  I was sure not better than my fellow migrants/expats.  In fact, we had a whole lot in common and since getting sober I have met a lot of people like me with roots in small towns or cities holding next to useless liberal arts degrees from lesser-known schools who nonetheless found a way to go abroad.  

Just as tourism became something attainable by the middle and working-class, so, too, has migration come to be within their reach.  In my study of Anglophones in Japan most came to work in the education industry - mostly English teachers.  There was a brief period in the 1980s to 1990s in Japan when these jobs had some status and good pay.  That's pretty much gone but they still come to Japan from the US, Canada, the UK and Australia to work in the conversation schools, public and private primary and secondary schools, and sometimes even the universities.  In France they come as au pairs (domestic work) or as the spouses of  French citizens.  Think about that for a moment because it's huge.  

The roots of tourism come from the "Grand Tour" where Englishmen and women (and later some Americans) headed off to the Continent for a few years accompanied by a private tutor with all expenses paid by parents.  Once upon a time that was what going abroad meant - it was a personalized educational experience for the upper classes where they did, in fact, learn languages and culture and so much more. Some even stayed. Look around you, my fellow Anglophone migrants, and you will see very few of your fellow migrants/expatriates who could even dream of such a thing.  
Would I have liked to have such an experience?  To have gone to France with a guide and immersed myself for a couple of years in French culture and language?  To not worry about getting a job until I was ready?  To forgo the anxieties about money?  To send my children to bi-lingual international schools?  Hell, yes!  Was it within my reach?  Hell, no.

I and others could only go in the first place because there was a spouse waiting on the other side or a job.  We were not the products of prestigious schools with degrees that would have propelled us into the upper classes of our home country societies.  We did not have parents with the financial resources or connections to help us migrate and insert us into the host society at a high level.  We had to finance our travels ourselves and that meant work which might be poorly paid, have few benefits and confer low status.  I think it is entirely justifiable to have a sense of pride at what we have accomplished.   Luck had something to do with it, but so did effort and persistence.

This is not the picture our home country citizens have of "expatriates" but I think it's a truer one than the stereotype of the "rich expat drinking by the pool."  And that is why I rage when I hear the latter.  It is inaccurate in most cases and can even be a lie as evil as any delusion that came out of an alcoholic mind.

Today I am still conflicted about all this.  I still have residual resentment toward people I perceive as having had an easier time.  I wish a lot of my experience abroad had been different. Going with some money would have improved things, not to mention a lot more therapy.   I feel a deep sense of shame at how badly I behaved. The temptation to join in on the bashing of tourists and the less-integrated migrants is still there - that old game of building myself up while tearing others down.  As Fussell points out, it is popular sport and fun. However, it's a little like taking a drink; feels great going down, but the morning after is something else.

Over the years I have also made progress in acceptance of my home country experience.  For all that I have said here about it, there was a lot to like and be grateful for. There is nothing like the taste of fresh salmon or a trip over the pass to Eastern Washington.  My great-grandparents were lovely people and I miss them.  My working-class grandparents were fun people - conservative but genuinely curious about the world and they made the most of their years after retirement.  I miss them, too.

I have a wood stove in my house in France.  I don't think anyone in my family in France understands what it means to me:  the smell and the heat bring back good memories from my childhood.  It makes me feel safe.  Sometimes I still miss Seattle with its public market, and wood houses.  Some days I would give anything to be back in my mother's kitchen with her making pancakes and me sitting on the couch with a coffee and a paper copy of the New York Times.   

What a relief it was when I finally admitted that my life abroad was not necessarily better than the one I left behind; it was just different.  And I am losing that fear of failure and that constant comparing of myself to others that caused so much anxiety for so many years.  However, when I go back to the West Coast and we speed down the freeway toward the farm in the Willamette Valley I watch the Olympia exits go by and I think about stopping and showing my children where I spent part of my childhood - where the roots of my fears about people and class and status began. 

It never happens.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Another Take on "Being Taken for a Tourist"

For those of you who have wondered about the naturalization process in Japan, look no further than the site Becoming Legally Japanese. In particular, cast an eye upon the Questions section of the blog for answers to questions you may have (and answers that may surprise you).  I highly recommend it.

In a recent post they directly address the question of Why Japanese assume that people who appear non-Asian can't speak Japanese and give a very plausible answer ("it's bad for business.")  One that makes sense to me and is probably true in many places - not just Japan.  And there is advice for how to avoid situations where the Japanese are most likely to speak English to a foreign Japanese-speaker.

It's a very thoughtful post and I recommend it as highly as I recommend the blog.  But I do have some thoughts and questions of my own which I offer here.  It's a great topic and one I wish we migrants/expatriates would talk about more.

English:  The post was written from the perspective of English-speakers and English is clearly touted by all (including the Japanese government) as being "the" foreign-language to learn.  Speakers of other languages (like my spouse) are forced to use it more than they would like.  Think of English as a "lowest common denominator" language - the one most likely for both Japanese and foreigners to speak.   And this is good for some business - no doubt about it.  I do note, however, that in Osaka inside and outside of tourist areas there are signs that say "No English Menu"  or "English menu available" which seems to indicate where tourists are and are not welcome.  But wait!  There are also plenty of signs that say "Chinese spoken."

Are the proprietors of the "No English" establishments committing economic suicide in support of some higher principle?  That is a serious question because there does seem to be this enormous push by the Japanese government and people to learn English.  I could well understand a resistance to that. I suspect that business decisions do drive a lot of this and English, contrary to the ideology of English as globalization, really isn't necessary for many businesses to thrive (or avoid going broke). In Osaka there are certainly many tourists but most of them are Chinese.  And just from walking around the city for a few years, the impression I have is that they are the ones with the money.  So perhaps it's about what kind of tourist a business wants to draw in. And here it looks like Chinese is an equal or better bet to draw customers.

Class:  And here I go into a subject that many Americans are mighty uneasy about.  I suggest that "tourist" is sometimes used as a code for middle or lower-class Americans. These are the people without the time (almost no vacation) or money (they have jobs or families  at home they can't leave) to do more than spend a few days or weeks in a foreign country.  That is not to say that American migrants or expatriates are rich - they may indeed very often come from the same socioeconomic class as the tourists.  But  the American migrants found a way to go abroad and stay.  And having earned that social capital (often though much hard work and hardship) and raised one's status, how horrible and embarrassing to meet... yourself.   What you might have been if you hadn't applied for that visa.  There is a sick feeling that associating with them might drag you back, much as if you were the first person in your family to graduate from college and get a white-collar job.  Suddenly your old friends from your old town showed up one day to meet the family and drag you off to a bar to talk about people and places you had hoped you would never see again (or only see when visiting family back in the home country).

I don't know if the above is true of anyone but myself.  (But I suspect that it is.)  And I should know because I have felt all of those things at different times in France and I have sat with my fellow integrated migrants and talked about how to avoid those "short-timers."  If the author of the blog post had come to France I would have treated him badly and not wanted to associate with him/her since I would have assumed that he was just another of those "tourists" (and yes I would have been using that word as code for class).  I would have also treated badly those migrants that I deemed "not integrated enough" or those not lucky enough to live in Paris or those Americans who still wore tennis shoes and a whole host of other things.  It is safe to say that I was a perfect class-conscious snob.

How I came to this realization is a story for another day.  Suffice to say that the idea of separating friends by their level of integration and language ability reminds me a lot of separating friends into "those who have MAs" and "those who don't."  And while I do understand that these strategies would be helpful when it comes to learning a language and not being treated like a tourist, I have to ask if something is also missed when we do this.  If the author of the post, for example, came to Paris and I dismissed him/her as an ignorant, non-French speaker tourist, then I would lose the benefit of meeting someone who has a whole host of experiences that I am ignorant about.  He/she in turn might find out a few things about what it's like to live in France which would broaden his/her experience of what it means to live in Japan.  In short, we both might learn something from the experience, but if we aren't open to even acknowledging each other than we both miss out.  That is how I have come to see it.

Integration:  Finally, I would agree that the total immersion approach is probably the most effective way for learning a language quickly.  However, where that happens is important and goes beyond restaurants, karaoke bars, family, and friends.  I am talking about the world of work. Most of us have to do that. That is one area where the stakes are highest, but one where I would say you get the most gains. Your sposue and friends may forgive your accent and grammatical errors, the poorly written email or lack of accent marks, but your boss and colleagues are less amused.

 From what I have seen most Anglophone foreigners work in the "cultural services industry" where their foreignness and language skills are what got them the visa and the jobs in the first place.  I believe that it is very hard to speak English for 8-10 hours a day and master the local language at the same time.  I'm sure that some do manage it but I would argue that they are the minority.  Those I have met who really have mastered Japanese had the time to study before they started working and so they were able to go to Japanese universities or apply for jobs in Japanese companies.  So I speculate that there is a catch-22 situation here where, for example, teaching English (or in English) means that it takes longer to learn the language.  But without local language skills (which include literacy) it is extremely difficult to get a better job in a Japanese company (or a French one for that matter.)   I note that in addition to the sterotype of the visible-minority foreigner lacking Japanese language skills, there is also one that sees them as all teaching English for a living.  And that one, I'm afraid, probably is true. But if there were better economic and occupational integration than I strongly suspect that better cultural integration will follow. (And that goes for migrants/expats in other countries as well.)  The problem is solving the catch-22 problem and I have no good answers for that one.

My .02 and please go ahead and contradict/argue/agree.  I'm offering this up for discussion, not as a lecture where I think I'm right and that's all there is to it.  In fact. rereading this I can see where I could easily argue with myself. So fire away, my friends!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Voting in the 11th District

Residents, native and foreign, in countries around the world may be surprised to learn that they are living in a legislative district of the French parliament.  Of course, these political boundaries are really only relevant to French citizens. (Or are they?) The rest of us (citizens and migrants of other countries alike) need pay no attention to them - unless they are as curious as I am about what they mean and how they work.

There are a total of 11 French overseas voting districts around the world.  Here is what the world looks like during a French election:

From http://www.politiquemania.com/forum/2012-legislatives-f31/les-circonscriptions-des-francais-etablis-hors-france-t469.html
In each district the French abroad elect a representative (député) for the National Assembly (577 total seats for all districts at home or abroad) for a 5 year term.  The French abroad did have had senators for some time but it was only in 2012 that the first representatives of the French abroad were elected and installed in the lower house of the French parliament.

The 1st district is the US and Canada and they are represented at this time by Frédéric Lefebvre The 11th district includes Eastern Europe, Asia,  and Oceania - from the Kara, Barents and Laptev seas all the way south to the Indian Ocean and the Tasman Sea.  The current representative for this district is Thierry Mariani.  Follow the links to find out what they have done and what they are working on.  Full disclosure:  I have voters in my family in both districts.

There is no rule that candidates must live in or have connections to the overseas district they will represent.  And neither Mariani and  Lefebvre appear to have lived abroad, though Mariani has a Russian (naturalized French) wife and both candidates have travelled widely.  

Is that an issue?  Well, Mariani is running for a second term but it just so happens that there are two candidate challenging him for this seat who are a long-term residents of Asia:  Francis Nizet and Anne Genetet.  Both are making overseas experience a campaign issue.

Francis Nizet has been a French abroad for nearly 30 years. He has lived and worked in Africa, Southeast Asia and now lives in Beijing, China with his family.  An engineer by training and profession, he now a professor of science at a Chinese university.  His running-mate (the person who would replace him if he were incapacitated) iFrançoise Nédélec a lawyer by training who moved to China in 1994, first to Shanghai and then to Beijing where she is now the director of the Latin Languages program at the International School of Beijing

Anne Genetet has lived in Singapore for over 10 years.  A doctor by training and profession in France, she was "deskilled" in Singapore because she could not get her professional credentials recognized.  (Yes, folks, that is part of the "real world of many expat/migrants.)  So she became a consultant and journalist.  

Both of these candidates are playing up their experience living abroad saying essentially, "We know the concerns of our fellow French expatriates because we are you."   "Je connais vos preoccupations, je saurai faire avancer ces dossiers avec tenacite." (I know your concerns and I will know how to tenaciously make progress on those issues.") said Francis Nizet. In an interview Genetet talked about the positive reactions of her compatriots abroad to her candidacy saying, "What I've heard from the people I've met is that they are so happy to have a candidate who knows what it's like to be a French national living abroad."

And that raises an interesting question, doesn't it?  If you voted from abroad and had direct representation would you rather have a representative who has also lived abroad (perhaps in your region)?  Or would you prefer to elect someone well connected to the political world in the home country?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Americans and Study Abroad

When I was a college student in the 1980s (the first time) I had no ambitions to do a study abroad program.  I'd already made the leap from a smaller town with a population of about 34,000 to the nearest big city with a population of  about 500,000 which one could call my first migration.  That and trips to British Columbia, Canada to see my aunt were as much mobility as I wanted back then.  In doing my research into Anglophones migrants in Japan, I found that this was pretty common among the people I interviewed.  Almost all of them came from rural areas and regional towns or cities and many of them did exactly what I did:  move from a smaller place to a larger one and then abroad either as part of their university studies or just after finishing up a degree program. Who knew back in 1989 when I was graduated from the University of Washington that I would then move to a city in a faraway country with a population of over 2 million.

How things change from one generation to the next.  Both Frenchlings went abroad for university.  They left France for Canada - a journey that their French ancestors made in the 17th century.  From Montreal the elder Frenchling went to the US and is working on her Masters degree in Seattle while the younger just finished her studies in Osaka and while be returning to Montreal in the fall to finish her undergraduate degree.  Aside from the patterns of mobility there is another that I find interesting and it has to do with gender.  On both the French and American sides of our family, the women tend to have more formal education (academic degrees) than the men with only a few exceptions.

All this pondering about the past led me to ask a deceptively simple but very hard to answer question:  what motivates students to study abroad?  That question is so broad that I decided to limit my research into what motivates American students to study abroad?  In the program for the younger Frenchling's end of studies ceremony there were over 350 American students at her Japanese university with the next largest groups being Canadians and Australians with 22 students each. (The younger Frenchling by the way was counted as one of the Canadian students which tells me that some of those "American" students may also be originally from countries other than the US.)

According to the OECD 2016 report Education at a Glance only 6% of students in OECD countries at the college/university level study abroad.  On average in 2014 an OECD country hosted 3 international students for every student they sent abroad (p. 332).  One could speculate that students from OECD countries feel that they don't have to go abroad to meet international diversity because the diversity comes to them.  That was, indeed, a goal of the younger Frenchling's Japanese university where the Japanese students were encouraged to interact with the foreign students as much as possible.

 My daughter reports that some of the most interesting discussions she had with Japanese students had to do with bi-culturalism and dual nationality.  How could she be French and American?  Their conclusion was that she was some odd variety of haafu - a term that usually refers to a multi-racial individual but in this case was broadened to include culture/nationality.  The conclusion is less important than the discussion in which both sides learned something.  My daughter had to consider that what she took for granted was odd to others, and the others had to think about a world where it really was OK to be bi-cultural or bi-national.

According to NAFSA the US has a very small number of student studying abroad  - about 300,000 in 2015 which is about 1.5 per cent of all US university students.  Furthermore, US racial and ethnic minorities are seriously under-represented in study abroad programs.  I looked at those numbers and I was shocked.  My little center-right heart be damned, this is something begging for affirmative action.

Where do American students go when they do study abroad?  Europe, mostly:  And then Latin America and Asia. American students still dream London or Paris dreams.  That is a migration flow that goes back to the 18th century and you can read more about that in David McCullough's fine book The Greater Journey.

Is anyone in the US worried about these low numbers of American students studying abroad?  Well, there are certainly editorials in newspapers and magazines about it.  I dislike most of them because some journalists seem happy to imply that this is some great national failure which furthers the stereotype of Americans as insular, provincial, and uneducated.  I am more persuaded by the US State Department that does pay attention to this and actually has a list of financial resources for study abroad on their website.  There are scholarships and the like available.  I am sure there are others that I don't know about.

All the money in the world, however, won't help if American students aren't motivated.  Why did I never consider it back when I was a bright-eyed college student?  Looking back I think was a combination of finances and the fact that I didn't know anyone at my high school or university who had studied abroad. I did know young women who went abroad as au pairs. So work abroad was possible but study seemed to belong to people on another planet.  It just didn't seem possible for people like me (and, yes, that statement deserves closer attention but I will save it for another essay.)

Motivation for study abroad (or anything for that matter) is a complicated beast and it is painfully difficult to determine with any accuracy but researchers have looked at it. There was a 2006 paper by C. Sanchez et al that compared the motivations for and perceived barriers to studying abroad among US, French, and Chinese students.   They found that the top 3 motivations for Americans students for going abroad were:  new experiences and bettering themselves professionally and socially. (p. 35)  This was the desire for adventure mixed with a sense that going abroad would be good for careers and social position.

The top barriers for US students in descending order were:  family, finances, psychological and social barriers. (p. 38)  What is fascinating to me is that it was the French students who put financial barriers first and then family.  What did the American students mean when they said family was a barrier to leaving the country?  They indicated that they had family obligations and didn't wish to to be too far away from people they would miss and who needed them.  Both the French and American students agreed with regard to finances that they would have to go into debt to be able to study abroad and that "Study abroad was a luxury." (p. 39)

Looking at a more recent paper by J. Luo, and D. Jamieson-Drake which was published in 2015 the authors also looked at motivation and intent of American students.  Their study was limited but in their introduction they summarized some of the findings of  recent research and some are surprising; others less so.  American women are much more likely to go abroad than men and, yes, minority students are under-represented:

"From 2002 to 2012, for instance, nearly two-thirds of study abroad participants were women in each of the past 10 years, while only one-third of them were men. Also, Caucasian students studying abroad outnumbered minority students by a margin of almost 4–1 during the same time period,"

Luo and Jamieson-Drake also cited research showing that students from liberal arts colleges studying humanities were much more likely to go abroad than students from research universities or those studying engineering.  As for ethnic and racial differences, studies showed that Asian-American men (not women) were much less likely than white men or women to go abroad.  And while the parent's level of education influenced and increased white students intent to go abroad, the reverse was found in African-American students.

To shed some light on these findings  Luo and Jamieson-Drake  looked at students at just one university. When they looked at the general student population over those three year they found that "[n]early 90 % of students indicated their home was over 100 miles away from college."  That indicates a first migration within national borders.  Almost all of them were not studying in their home towns or cities. "Approximately 42 % of students in the 2005 entering cohort indicated a strong intent to study abroad, and about half in both the 2006 and 2007 entering cohorts reported so." (p. 39)

Their results were pretty consistent with other research.  Women were much more likely than men to intend to study abroad.  Liberal arts students were also much more likely to intend to go abroad than science or engineering students.  But they found other factors that I found fascinating:

"Additionally, artistic ability and expectations to improve understanding of other
countries and cultures, to join a social fraternity or sorority, to be satisfied with college, and
to participate in student clubs or groups showed a positive influence on intent to study
abroad, while mathematical ability and helping to promote racial and cultural understanding
displayed a negative correlation with intent to study abroad." (p. 40)

That was intent to study abroad but what about actual participation?   Well, intent was an important factor in following through.  They found that most students who were motivated to go abroad actually went. But of those who did intend to go abroad but didn't realize their intent   "off-campus study in the United States and involvement in a music or theater group and the student government negatively affected their participation in study abroad. For students with a weak intent to study abroad upon college entry, parental income and involvement in a political club and club sports had a negative impact on their participation in study abroad." (p. 42)

Lastly I looked at another study of business students at one university by J. Pope et al. In their introduction they said there was a very high number of American students with an intent to study abroad but they cited research that showed only about 3% of Generation Y students (those students born in the 1980s and 90s) actually followed through and left the country.  What could explain this difference? The authors argue that it is "temporal distance" with intent being measured in the first year of school and study abroad usually occurring in their 3rd or even 4th year.  A lot changes over 3 or 4 years. Personally, I wonder if it could also be a result of the Great Recession of 2008/2009.  The first two studies I examined here were prior that period while the Pope et al study looked at students in the period after the world economy had tanked.  How many American freshman entered university in 2005 wanting to go abroad and found that they couldn't?  A phenomenon cited in the paper and calle“Yes! [I would love to do that] But damn! [I can't do it]” 

Pope et al agreed that more women than men study abroad.  Their hypothesis was that Generation Y women are more likely to value "personal growth" than men.  They also hypothesized that parent's level of education, prior international experience, income and age, were also important factors in wanting to study outside the country.

What did they find in their study?  They found no difference between American men and women business majors intent to study abroad, nor did they find much difference in participation  For this population they also found that the parent's education level and income were not important factors in either intent or participation.  However, when they looked more broadly at all majors they did find that more women than men intend to study abroad and follow through. They also found that prior international experience was a factor in studying abroad but that "personal growth" was not one of the main motivators of those who had lived outside the US.

What to make of all of these studies that agree and disagree with each other?  Think of it as a blind men and the elephant scenario with researchers describing the different parts to each other. The size of the samples are important as are the boundaries they put around the study.  Context matters, too:  a business school in the American Midwest has a very different population than a liberal arts college on the West or East Coast.

But here are a few thoughts and questions I took away from this brief foray into the subject:

1.  There is no one answer to the question of what motivates American students to go abroad.  Positive intent and participation are multi-causal.  So throwing money at the issue is not going to solve it.  In particular, how do you persuade a student who has family obligations that it's OK to ignore them? Would you even want to?

2. The picture these studies paint of the "average" American students abroad is one of a young woman from a liberal arts school getting a liberal arts or business degree.  That is something to think about.  I am not convinced that this is a matter of women valuing personal growth more than men. Just as racial and ethnic minorities are under-represented in study abroad programs, so too it seems are men (though to a lesser extent).  Why is that?

3.  Why so few engineering and science majors?  That one is a puzzle that merits a closer look. And the connection to sororities and fraternities that the first study found?  An odd one and I would like to know more.

4.  A "desire for new experiences, adventure, and personal growth" is too damn broad.  And I'm guilty of this myself since I asked it in my own survey.  What does a desire for personal growth really mean?  In what way does the individual wish to grow?  Could it be that personal growth mean having a better social status or being able to pursue a career one likes?  Or could it be that personal growth is a response to a moral imperative and shorthand for "People who don't go abroad are lacking somehow and I don't want to be one of the provincial. So I guess I'd better get out there and get my international experience." All this needs more clarification, in my opinion.

5.  And what about the desire of many universities to lure students from abroad?  For whose benefit?  The international students or the regular students?  For the regular students it is a way of having them exposed to international diversity without leaving home.  Is that sufficient for "international experience?"  You tell me.

6.  Why does Europe continue to be the number one destination for American students?  Some of that may be because it is familiar and because some very influential American writers, artists went and wrote about it in books that are still part of high school and college curriculums.

7.  Are there important differences between Americans who study abroad and those who leave to work abroad?  Yes, studying in a foreign country can lead to staying and building a new life but not always.

And that is as much thinking as I want to do after 3 cups of coffee on a Sunday morning.  As always, your thoughts would be much appreciated.

Bon weekend!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Day at Kansai Gaidai University

This morning the younger Frenchling and I got up early and took the train to her university here in Japan for an end of studies ceremony and reception for the international students.

I was very impressed by the university and her professors and the Kandai Gaidai University campus had the most beautiful landscapes.

For the ceremony the students were invited to wear a kimono to the ceremony. (Please, please appropriate our culture absolutely positively with our permission and under our supervision.)  With some urging on our part, the younger Frenchling agreed to this and that is how we found ourselves in a classroom at the school at 7:45 in the morning.

There was no putting on of the kimono by anyone - this was not a DIY project.  Instead each young woman chose a kimono, had her hair styled and was dressed by a very charming and meticulous older Japanese woman.  It took about 20 minutes to dress each girl.  There were undergarments and ties under the kimono to make it just just right.  And then there was the folding so they would lay just so.  Clips were added to the collar to make it stand out from the neck.  The obi was then wound firmly around the waist and tied into a bi-colored pattern at the back.  Next came the socks and the sandals.  The final touch was a purse.  Everything was, of course, beautifully color coordinated and, needless to say, there were no (and no chance of) wardrobe malfunctions.

What a wonderful day it was.  The younger Frenchling looked lovely, the ceremony went off without a hitch with her very proud mother watching and loving every moment of it.

Here are a few photos before I get a much-needed coffee.  Enjoy your weekend.












Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Impulse to Conquer

"Yet this writer does not judge MacCannell as intending to encompass all forms of tourism in all ages and societies, but as providing a model for the leading sector of modem Western tourism. that of the middle classes “scouring the world in search of new experience.” This model of the educated classes seeking authenticity “out there” has a historical continuity with the exponents of the leading exploratory urges of the post-Renaissance Western world, who in order to more fully understand the world, bring parts of the experience home to understand it and make it safe-in other words, the impulse to “conquer” the Other, whether it be space, the wilderness. foreignness, the past, and so on. to order, categorize, and consume it, and often to show it off in museums (cf. Graburn 1977a 1982)."

Graburn, N. H. (1983). The anthropology of tourism. Annals of tourism research10(1), 9-33.

Of all the motivations for integration in a host society, the "impulse to conquer" is one that I would like to reject immediately.  It smacks of imperialism. It brings to mind the missionary or the military.  What migrant (or tourist) from the Western world wants to be associated these days with la mission civilisatrice?   The purpose of going abroad is not to change the society in the host country but to be changed by it.

And that is, indeed, what happens.  Living in a new place does provoke profound change as we navigate new waters and learn to live according to different standards. In theory, we are open to this; in practice, many of us come up against aspects of local ways that don't appeal to us at all.  If the local culture and ways, for example, insist that women stay home and care for children, do we change ourselves to conform or do we resist and retain our values that say that women must have a choice in the matter?  And if we resist, can this be construed as a refusal to integrate?  Or worse, can we be accused of attempting to change the society itself?  For as much as we find their ideas threatening, so is the host society threatened by ours.

My sense is that our strategy for deftly avoiding such things is to define integration in a limited way:  learning the language and culture.  This allows us to call ourselves integrated while circumventing the truly dangerous or disconcerting ideas that really would change us in profound ways.  I think that there is an argument here that we are attempting to make the host country culture "safe" for consumption.  Does this strategy work?  Hard to say because as we work to master the minimum, the culture is working on us in subtle ways.  The day I realized that I no longer had the same commitment and understanding of "free speech" was a dark one.  And I'm still not sure how to resolve it.  It remains one of those internal battles between the respective cultures of my home and country.  For the life of me I cannot explain how that happened.

Having defined integration in a very limited way, do we then go out to "conquer" the language and culture?  If "conquer" means to "master for our own purposes" then, yes, I think that's a fair description.

It starts with the Self.  We are learning the culture and language because, ostensibly, it's good for us.  We think of ourselves as better people for being bi-lingual and bi-cultural and we assume that others will think the same.  Not everyone has the opportunity to live or travel abroad and so we must demonstrate that we have not squandered this chance of a lifetime.  Furthermore, language and cultural competence serve two purposes at once:  it confers social capital in the home country and makes it possible for us to find work and make connections in the host country.  It can be a matter of survival because otherwise we are horribly limited in what we can do.  This is cultural capital that we are wise to accumulate because it can be converted to social and economic capital in the home country, and is the lowest threshold for being able to do so many things in the host country.

I find the argument that we are doing this for the native citizens of our host country to be questionable.  We are basically saying that we don't want to be a nuisance and inconvenience them like the terrible tourists that we see gesturing and talking loudly and their native language to the local people.  We are better than that - more considerate - and that gives us the moral high ground over other foreigners be they tourists or new arrivals.  I wouldn't quibble with the argument that it is more convenient for everyone when there is a common language.  That's just common sense.

However, I question how much native citizens really care if  certain categories of migrants master the language and customs or not.  Basic knowledge may suffice or workarounds.  The inconvenience of incomprehensibility is easily overcome with a competent translator or the mastery of a few phrases that cover most common situations.  The baker could care less if you can read Moliere in the original; she just wants a "Bonjour, Madame" plus something that indicates what you want (pointing usually suffices) with a "S'il vous plaît" tacked on at the end.  As for a deeper conversation, well, the French generally don't like to have long conversations with people they don't know (one exception I have found is the chemo clinic), and perhaps don't wish to know. :-)

We could also consider that mastering a language and culture can sometimes be perceived as a threat by the native citizens.  It blurs the boundaries between "foreign" and "native" making it harder to separate the "us" from the "them".  In places where native citizens view language as somehow connected to biology or birth within a particular language community they may be perturbed by examples of fluent foreigners.  I will never forget the Frenchman I met one day who asked if I had any French blood.  Yes, I replied, in the 16th century some of my ancestors left France for Canada.  Ah, he said, that explains why your French is so good.  I still find that reaction to be amusing.  No, sir/madame, there is no gene for the French, English, Japanese or any other language.  We all start from zero with a general blueprint for any language, though admittedly at different ages.

And, more broadly, integration of the foreign is not always welcome for other reasons.  Where the home culture culture confers prestige in the host country, for example.  In one study I saw of French in the US, they appeared to derive more status by playing up their Frenchness as opposed to becoming more American.  Some Americans were frankly delighted to have an "authentic" French person in their midst and so, on all sides, integrating was not particularly interesting or desirable.  I think something of that sort also applies in Japan where association with North American or European foreigners can confer status on a Japanese or  Japanese institution. But note that this status is contingent on the foreigners remaining foreign and not too deeply integrating into Japanese culture.  For example the Gwen Gallagher case (1997-2008).  An older American who was fired from her position at a Japanese university  the Japanese court determined that she could indeed be fired because (among other reasons): "As the plaintiff has been living in Japan for about 14 years and is also married to a Japanese, she lacks the ability to introduce firsthand foreign culture found overseas, as is required of a teacher of level 3 [classes]."

This is an interesting example of how the "quest for authenticity" goes both ways.  Just as there is the search for the"authentic" French/Japanese/German/Thai experience and people on the part of the migrant/expatriate (who also seeks to master the experience and integrate), so, too, there exists a desire for the "authentic" foreigner defined precisely as someone who has not integrated too much.

That "impulse to conquer," I suggest, is reciprocal with all concerned having interests around integration that are not necessarily compatible. My sense is that the host country society has the greater weight - they define the parameters around integration for their own purposes which will always be more powerful than our intentions. This makes the charge of "imperialism" laughable because we are not as in control of the integration process as we might think, and we change in ways we never imagined. Dare I say that we don't "conquer" a new culture as much as it "conquers" us?

Not a conclusion that I like, mes amis, but one that makes sense to me.  Your thoughts?


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Migration Systems

In my migration studies the theory that I liked (loved, actually) the best was migration systems theory.  I thought it captured the complexity and interdependence of migration in a wonderful way and one of my first papers was about the migration system that I thought existed between Quebec and France.

General systems theory goes back to the middle of the 20th century.  Since then it's been applied to a lot of other fields.  It argues that a system is a set of interconnecting elements that create a specific  environment that is much greater than just the sum of its parts.  In 1970 a fellow named Akin Mabogunje  (a Nigerian professor of geography) applied systems theory to internal migration between rural and urban areas.  And then it was applied more broadly to international migration.

What do I like about it?  It's a more holistic approach  In order to understand a migration flow you have to look at the whole picture:  sending AND receiving countries and the links between them be they formal or informal, economic or cultural.  In migration systems theory people are just one element among many others and it's the interaction of the elements and the creation and maintenance of links that make up the system. Furthermore, the history of those connections matter a lot; with Quebec and France I went back 400 years and traced the always evolving links to the present day.  

Evolution is the key word here.  Systems are dynamic in the sense that elements in it change and so do the links.  The demographics of Mexico, for example, or the strained circumstances of Americans on fixed incomes will change the migration system between those two countries.  The thirst for native English speaking teachers in Japan could change as could the number of Anglophones from the US, Canada, or Great Britain with university degrees willing to migrate and provide that service. Culture, science and economic ties matter, too.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, Americans came to France and Germany to study medicine. In 17th century French urban dwellers went to Canada to become farmers. In the 21st century migration system between France and Quebec a common language is still a driver of reciprocal migration between the two - a good example of how migration between two developed countries (sometimes called north-north migration) has elements very similar to migration between developed and less developed countries.  

In 1989 James Fawcett published a very good paper that attempted to define the basic elements of a migration system. He identified four categories of linkages: State to State Relations, Mass Culture Connections, Family/Personal Networks and Migrant Agency Activities. A Mass Culture connection could be a common language or history.  State-to-state relations could be formal agreements to recognize each others professional and academic credentials.  Networks of people are another type of link where, for example, one person migrates because of marriage and other members of the family follow.  The most interesting to me are the Migrant Agency Activities which still exist and not just in the Philippines.  I think many Americans, Canadians and others would be very surprised to learn that Japanese companies in the education industry have a presence in countries outside of Japan and recruit young college graduates in major cities.  ECC. a language school in Japan is actively recruiting now in Australia, Canada, the US, and the UK. This is an important, though often overlooked, migrant recruitment that is very active and drives temporary and permanent migration from Anglophone countries to Japan.  

I find that migration systems theory is a very elegant and comprehensive way of looking at migration flows.  For instance, with a systems approach to migration between the US and Mexico would look at all the links between the two and what is happening in Mexico is just as important as what is happening in the US.  It would consider how the flows are reciprocal:  Americans migrating to Mexico, for example, as well as Mexican nationals coming to the US.  These flow are not disconnected from each other or from the other cultural or economic links. With that in mind, many migration flows look more like an exchange of people as opposed to a unilateral exodus.  Granted, one flow may be numerically greater than the other but they are still linked and in very interesting ways.

On a personal level all of us who live outside of our countries of origin can use this theory to start asking a different, much broader question then the usual "Why I moved to [insert country here]." The better question is:  How do I fit into this broader migration system between Canada and Japan, the US and France, Mexico and Spain or any other combination of countries?  An American academic, for example, in Japan will find there is a long history in Japan of importing foreign academics.  He/she might also learn that US citizens do not pay a fee for getting a Japanese visa (State to State agreement).  The contract and terms under which a foreigner was recruited for the position is a Migrant Agency Activity.  The position itself may be known to him or her because of a personal and academic network.  And it may be (something to investigate) that this migration system was kicked off (or perhaps only greatly encouraged) by war and occupation, though it is not sustained by these things today. 

Now I am not saying that there actually are migrations systems between the countries I have mentioned - that argument would require much more research than I have done in this short blog post. However, I invite you to consider your own migration experience in  light of the links between your home and host country and to consider how your own migration may have been facilitated and shaped by being part of a larger system.  It was quite a revelation to me, for example, how a sister city association between Nantes, France and Seattle, USA was the French/American link that led to my own migration to France.  So follow the links and see where they take you.

The truly fascinating aspect of migration system theory for me is that "[e]ach migration system is unique in the sense that the combinations of links between two countries will be different from one migration system to another." (Quebec and France - A Dynamic International Migration System by V. Ferauge, 2016.) That means that every migration system can be analyzed by its links but when they are taken together every migration system will be singular. For that matter, individual migration experiences are, I argue, a result of different links in different contexts which makes comparisons between migrants and flows possible, but also allows each migrant to be unique thanks to different combinations of links as well as different personal life trajectories and levels of social or economic capital. This, I find, is quite familiar to me in that it very closely resembles Amin Maalouf's take on identity and individuality: "Thanks to all my adherences, taken separately, I have a certain relationship with a large number of people like me; thanks to the same elements, taken all together, I have my own identity, which can never be confused with any other."

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Boundaries of Belonging

I went to lunch the other day with Ellen and as always we had a fine time and a good chat.  I am happy to report that wherever we went we spoke French and everyone spoke French right back at us without blinking an eye.

That pleasant experience brought up a theme that I return to often which is the idea of belonging.  I had some negative reactions to a previous post where I described the same situation in two countries: the non-native tries to speak the local language and the native adamantly replies in the foreign language. I construed this as a negotiation where one party tries to assert that he or she belongs and the other contests that assertion.  Some of the critics made very good points so I thought I would revisit the topic today and try to do better.

Belonging has two sides.  The first is the sense of comfort and safety we feel when we belong.  We are part of something larger than ourselves.  It can be a nation or a neighborhood. It's the ability, even the right, to say "we" and to speak and act as a member.  The other side is the acceptance of the group. The other members have to acknowledge our claim and that is contingent on our meeting the requirements for membership.

As migrants we are usually (but not always) from a place where we take our belonging for granted. Perhaps we have those "primordial ties" to a culture or a community: we were born here; we speak the language; we are citizens because our parents were citizens.  Belonging to a political community was our birthright which Ayelet Schacher in The Birthright Lottery likens to inherited property and privilege.

This is the base upon which we go out into the world.  And what do we find there?  Places where we don't just belong as a matter of course.  Rather, we must negotiate our right to stay and belong.

My sense is that we underestimate the kind of existential crisis we go through when we are confronted with how out of place we really are. Through not fault of our own we are not like the people in our new place who were born there and have their own sense of taken-for-granted-belonging.  In the beginning of our settlement, our claims to belonging are very weak or even nonexistent.  We reach for anything that links us to the new place however tenuous: marriage to a national, language studies, professed love for the country and culture.  Over time we can point to other things like mastery of the language and culture, success in our chosen profession, children, how long we have lived in the country and perhaps our citizenship status.

Nonetheless, our claims to belonging on those and other grounds can be contested because we weren't born here, our parents were not citizens, this language is not our first language.  And where the boundaries to true belonging contain one or more of these things, our efforts to achieve the taken-for-granted-belonging that we had where we came from will be frustrated. It is perhaps unachievable, anywhere; even in the home country once many years have passed.  How many times I have heard return migrants talk about how their former country no longer feels like home and how they don't really belong there anymore?  Many, many times.

I think that many of us have this deep sense of insecurity in our host countries: a constant need to signal that we really truly belong here.  It manifests itself in comparisons. Some of us hold ourselves up as models of integration: we live in the "real" [insert country here] while those others live in an expat bubble and make grammatical errors when they speak the language. Over the years I have become very suspicious of this distancing and dramatic assertions of belonging.  What would happen, I ask myself, if I talked to their neighbors, spouse, co-workers and friends?  What would be the group consensus about their/our degree of belonging? How many of us, however long we have lived in our host country, would be comfortable being subject to such scrutiny?

Something like that happens when we are in public and a native refuses to speak the local language with us or when someone consistently refers to us as their [insert nationality here] friend (even if we have citizenship).  I agree that it is not necessarily nefarious.  But what it does is burst our bubble (if only for a moment) about finally getting to a place where we are again able to take belonging for granted.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Flophouse Garden

Taking a few weeks off to play in the garden.  A little pruning; a lot of weeding.  The biggest project was dethatching the lawn, removing the moss and putting down some fertilizer.  Here are a few pictures.  Hope you are having as pleasant a month of May as I am.