Every year, the Penn Museum provides support to Penn undergraduates and graduate students as they deepen their understanding of the human experience outside the Museum’s walls. Follow these blog posts from our intrepid young scholars as they report on the sights and sites that they encounter throughout their travels in the field.
May 31, 2015
During my past three years at Penn I have heard many of my anthropology professors recall their glory years of research when they traveled to far away places to tackle questions from anthropological perspectives. Although I’m not an anthropologist just yet, my own questions soon began to form, and this summer I find myself in Bangkok, Thailand, conducting research on Burmese migrant workers.
Soon after arriving in Bangkok, I began my work with my main contact and translator—a woman named Mai who runs her own home care business. She mainly recruits migrants from Myanmar, in order to provide them with job opportunities that may otherwise be difficult to find. Her office is where I began interviewing the diverse array of Burmese people who have come to Bangkok for better employment or education. In the upcoming weeks, I also plan to observe church services attended by migrant workers and explore neighborhoods where Burmese people have started their own businesses.
Through interviews and observations, I am looking to explore the social transition migrants make when they move from one environment to another. For many of the people I have talked with so far, this means going from either a rural village, small town, or a refugee camp to the rather international city of Bangkok. The particular focus of my research is how Burmese migrant workers’ identities are shaped under the influence of globalization. This entails understanding what kinds of communities, ideas, and social patterns emerge within the migrant population after moving to the big city.
As I slowly begin to discover these processes, I am also learning more about migrant people’s personal histories and opinions. Many describe the difficulties they had to endure just to arrive in Thailand. Some people tell of the constant discrimination that they face due to what they believe are ethnic and national differences between themselves and Thais. Meanwhile, others I have spoken with describe no such trouble, and even view Bangkok as their home. This dichotomy is just one of the many interesting details that I have learned on my trip so far.
I am only a few weeks into my research, and fascinating information has already emerged. As I conduct more interviews I will continue to work to understand what is happening with the Burmese migrant workers in Bangkok!