Risk Contracting Covid-19 or Reunite With My Family?

Gladys Ong, Ginnette Mok, and Sheril Ameilda Alis Binte Ramlan, Singapore Management University

In our pursuit to find a migrant who was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, we had the opportunity to speak with Tyler, whose story resonated strongly with our team.

Tyler is a 21-year-old Singaporean undergraduate pursuing a double degree in law and global studies at the University of Melbourne. He had migrated to Melbourne, Australia with his family when he was 15-years-old as his parents have planned to retire overseas for a long time. His family’s move was also spurred by the desire to provide his siblings, more specifically Tyler’s younger sister, Tina, who was 5-years-old at the time, with an education system that they deemed as “less stressful as compared to Singapore’s”.

Even though the family had moved to Australia permanently, Tyler only adopted a PR citizenship and has yet to renounce his Singapore citizenship. Hence, he was expected to serve his mandatory National Service (NS) in Singapore when he was 19-years-old, upon which he only completed his first year in University.  At the time of our interview, he had just completed his full-time NS a few months prior and had initially planned to take a gap year from University to travel before returning home to continue with his studies.

Ongoing Uncertainty

When the pandemic hit, Tyler was still in Singapore. His first response was to book a flight back to Melbourne immediately so that he could be with his family members whom he has not seen in three years. However, Tyler had to rebook his flight several times due to the evolving travel restrictions and many arising unfavourable conditions in Australia. Summary of his failed flights:

  • First booking: First wave of Covid-19 in Melbourne.
  • Second booking: Strict mandatory quarantine at home that Tyler did not wish to subject himself to.
  • Third booking: Poor quarantine facilities in Melbourne.

Taking Singapore as his country of current residence, Tyler’s story depicts a classic case of voluntary immobility, or not having the aspiration to migrate even if one has the capability to do so. Migration scholar Kerilyn Schewel (2019) introduced three factors that affect a migrant’s aspiration to stay: repel, retain and internal constraints.

Covid-19 & Bad Food

The repel factor, in Tyler’s case, is the conditions in Australia that diminish his aspiration to return. The Australian government falls short in quality quarantine management, with an astonishing 99 percent rate of citizens contracting Covid-19 during their stay in the quarantine facilities (Sainty, 2020). Tyler claimed,

“…news broke out that Australia used Melbourne hotels, with external catering. There were articles that their meals were cheese and crackers or ‘quarantine soup’. The more pressing issue was people contracted Covid-19 from the facilities.”

Tyler finds it difficult to overlook this as he has seen the high standard of quarantine facility management in Singapore and has formulated a certain expectation of what satisfactory facilities should be like. He then explained,

“If I pay [the quarantine fees] and I’m safe, then it’s okay but if I pay so much to get bad food and Covid-19 then it would just make my entire situation worse.”

He added that the measures to reduce the spread of the pandemic were often not sternly enforced by the Australian government due to the sheer geographical size of the country. Therefore, the high risk of Tyler contracting the virus in Australia resulted in his low aspiration to return home immediately.

Safer in Singapore

Retain factors in Tyler’s case refer to attractive conditions in Singapore that incentivise him to stay. Tyler’s hesitation to return to Australia is bolstered by how Singapore has effectively contained the virus within the community, thus providing a safer environment for him to reside in. He also lamented,

“I was very mad at the whole pandemic situation in Australia. The Asian culture stems from Confucianism, which is to put the community before self. I think that’s why Singaporeans are more receptive [as compared to Australians] to wearing a mask.”

It is clear that Tyler prefers the safer environment in Singapore as compared to Australia, which affirms his decision to remain here.

Additionally, he did not have concerns about where he was going to stay for the time being. This was an added incentive for him to remain in Singapore. He stated,

“Since my parents kept the house in Singapore, I can just stay there.”

Furthermore, Tyler was able to find various opportunities to make productive use of his time in Singapore. He volunteered as a nurse’s assistant at the Singapore EXPO Convention Hall that housed migrant workers, gave free tuition to students, and took up an internship. Unlike being forced to be cooped up at home in Australia, the work opportunities in Singapore were added incentives to stay.

Internal Tug-of-war

Schewel (2019) explains how internal constraints, such as one’s degree of risk aversion, may decrease the aspiration to migrate. Tyler portrays high risk aversion now in relation to his health, given that he is reluctant to return to Australia due to the increased risk of contracting the virus.

However, his decision to remain in Singapore is not as straightforward as it seems. Tyler still wishes to return home as he misses his family, especially Tina. He claimed,

“I do not want my little princess to feel alone during this challenging time.”

Tina plays a big role in Tyler’s desire to return to Australia soon as they share a tight bond. He has missed three of her birthdays to date and feels guilty about only being able to communicate with her virtually. Tyler then faces a constant internal tug-of-war between his desire to be with his family and his fear of contracting the virus upon returning to Australia.

Health or Family?

There is an assumption that migrants would definitely choose to return to their families when the pandemic peaked. Tyler’s story illustrates how a migrant’s decision to return may not be as straightforward as we think.

A part of him was disheartened each time he cancelled and rebooked his flight as he remains far from his family. Yet, there is another part of him that feels thankful that he is safe in Singapore without the fear of paying for quarantine facilities and possibly contracting the virus in Australia. Tyler currently shows agency in his immobility, but it is worth noting that he still has the aspiration to return back to Australia eventually.

Recognising how different people have different priorities and varying levels of risk aversion allows us to analyse international migration more critically instead of making general assumptions.

Putting yourself in Tyler’s shoes, what would you choose to sacrifice: your health or your desire to reunite with your family?


Sainty, L. (2020). Hotel quarantine inquiry: First week exposes shocking security, infection control breaches. News.Com.Au, August 22. Retrieved December 11, 2020.

Schewel, K. (2019). Understanding immobility: Moving beyond the mobility bias in migration studies. International Migration Review, 54(2), 328–355.

The Choice to Battle COVID-19 Alone in a Foreign Land

Shernise Tan, Melvin Chee, and Jasleen Sidhu, Singapore Management University

“An unprecedented crisis of our generation” were the words of Minister Lawrence Wong, who announced the tightening of border restrictions to combat Covid-19 (Toh 2020). Among those that felt extreme negative ramifications due to the pandemic were the 23,715 Singaporean students in tertiary institutions around the world (Vignesh 2020). As most Singaporeans students scrambled to head home after the government’s advisory back in March, there were also students like Felicia* who chose to stay in her host country – Australia, as she had access to sufficient economic and social capital to do so. Thus, it is intriguing to understand the reasons behind her decisions and what lies ahead for her as she battles the pandemic miles away from home.

We spoke to Felicia, a Singaporean, who pursued her education in Melbourne (Monash University) two years ago because her applications for local universities were unsuccessful and she always wanted to experience life in a country with different customs and values. She adjusted to her life as a student immigrant by developing strong social networks among her Australian church community and her university friends. As her church community consisted of Australians who are the children of immigrants, they formed strong bonds due to their common backgrounds. Furthermore, Felicia could support herself comfortably due to the savings she accumulated over the years and she had access to a university education fund given to her by her parents.

This seemed like an ideal arrangement then, but Australia, like much of the world, started to experience the ramifications of Covid-19. Felicia’s education was first disrupted when Australia imposed social restrictions and Monash University transitioned to full home-based learning. Although this shift was meant to safeguard students’ health, Felicia felt like she was cheated of her full international education experience. Nonetheless, Felicia’s rationale for continuing to choose to stay in Australia stemmed from her strong social connections and comfortable financial situation.

However, as Australia was hit by the second wave of the outbreak, the government imposed tighter social restrictions, restricting her access to this church community and support-system that she established. Felicia felt a heightened sense of isolation as she was staying alone in a dorm and was extremely worried about her family due to the escalating Covid-19 situation in Singapore. As such, she started developing thoughts of returning and eventually came home in August.

This pandemic highlighted the differences in each student’s privilege in terms of their economic and social capital, ultimately determining whether they have the agency to decide if they remain in their host countries or return home. Felicia had the privilege of choice to remain in Australia due to her social and economic capital. However, this was not the case for many students who may lack such capabilities.

Voluntary Immobility: The Luxury of Choice

Felicia’s story revealed that she had high social and economic capital, which increased her potential and revealed ability to navigate the pandemic and remain voluntarily immobile in Australia (Carling and Schewel, 2018; Schewel 2019). This expands on our discussion on the ability aspect of the aspiration-ability model.

Felicia shared that financial concerns were not a major consideration when she decided to pursue her overseas education due to the aforementioned reasons. Hence, Felicia’s financial position differed from other migrants as she had no issues continuing to bolster her daily expenses while other students may face financial hardship. Felicia also had high social capital in the form of her Australian church community and her family and friends in Singapore; she maintained many institutionalized networks and connections of mutual acquaintance, hence there is low potential cost of staying in Australia (Massey 1999). Felicia presumably felt supported in Australia, explaining her prolonged voluntary stay in Australia.

Thus, Felicia could fulfil her aspirations to continue staying in Australia and become voluntarily immobilized due to her high level of embeddedness in Australia, as seen from her social and economic capital which are otherwise known as “retain factors” that compels an individual to stay (Schewel 2019). This sharply contrasts to her immigrant friends who she mentioned were scrambling to return to Singapore in March.

What can we learn from this Unprecedented Pandemic

Felicia’s story juxtaposed that of other migrant international students who were facing the same predicament after the pandemic hit. The fact that Felicia’s education migration experience lasted for a longer duration in comparison to her counterparts serves to reinforce her unique position. It was Felicia’s overt voluntary immobility that contrasted the plight of many others who were potentially experiencing involuntary immobility or were forced to return to Singapore due to financial constraints or a lack of a solid support system. We found this particularly striking as it displayed the connections between one’s mobility and one’s access to such resources.

Strikingly, the notion that university students supposedly receive relative equal treatment (their plight and living conditions during Covid-19) was debunked by the pandemic through Felicia’s experience. Some students had more control over their decisions due to their access to social and economic capital. These resources determined their ability to be mobile which then tied in to their aspiration to stay or leave.

The future: Allure to pursue overseas education will remain

As many countries are now experiencing the second wave of Covid-19 and have reimposed restrictions, the question of when international students like Felicia can return to campus safely remains unanswered. Nonetheless, Felicia shared that she will be the first in line to go back, once again underscoring the necessity of social and economic capital in allowing an individual to be in a position of power to opt for mobility or immobility during their pursuit of overseas education.

Therefore, it makes us wonder if host universities and countries have a bigger role to play in bridging these inequalities to ensure that all international students receive balanced treatment and opportunities in their pursuit of overseas education?


Carling, J and Schewel, K. (2018). Revisiting aspiration and ability in international migration. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 44(6), 945–963.

Massey, D. S. (1999). Why Does Immigration Occur?: A Theoretical Synthesis. In C. Hirschman, P. Kasinitz, & J. DeWind (Eds.), Handbook of International Migration, The Russell Sage Foundation.

Schewel, K. (2019). Understanding immobility: Moving beyond the mobility bias in migration studies. International Migration Review, 54(2), 328–355.

Toh, T. W. (2020). Borders to be tightened amid rapidly escalating virus situation around the world: Lawrence Wong. The Straits Times, March 23. Retrieved December 11, 2020.

Naidoo, V. (2020). Commentary: Eve as universities close lecture halls and go online, studying abroad is still the dream. Channel Newsasia, August 16. Retrieved December 11, 2020.

Unique Challenges and Unimagined Opportunities

Danawa Roslee, Claris Kang, and Dharia Mallareddy, Singapore Management University

On the 15th of March 2020 in the Netherlands, Anna was having a delightful dinner with her parents, who had visited her as she was completing the final semester of her undergraduate studies, when she was told by the waiter that the country was going into lockdown the very next day. Anna was shocked. “I didn’t read anywhere about this!” The disseminated news was in Dutch, a language she barely knew. This served as a painful reminder that she was a migrant whose well-being fell second to that of the country’s own people.

Using Carling and Schewel’s aspiration-ability model, we analysed how Anna, a 24-year-old Malay Singaporean student, navigated through the changes in the emigration environment produced by the pandemic. The changing social, economic and political context produced very quick, anxiety-inducing shifts in how she felt about her status in the Netherlands (Carling and Schewel, 2018). We show how the pandemic has brought both struggles and opportunities, but the opportunities can only be realised if one has the capability to seize them. Anna’s journey was difficult, but her financial and social capital bolstered her ability to move back home and then to Germany later on. 

In the midst of the pandemic, Anna attended a Hamburg scholar’s event, where she was singled out to submit her travel history simply because she was Singaporean. At the time, Singapore was second to China in the number of Covid-19 cases. Unlike the welcoming environment she grew accustomed to when she first moved to Europe, she felt discriminated against, given that anyone could have travelled back to Singapore in the past 6 months. Suddenly, her identity as a Singaporean took on a very different meaning.

Her university also left her without clear instructions regarding her examination dates and failed to provide proper assistance should she decide to return home. Anna recalled how her university’s lack of response and the uncertainty surrounding the completion of her Bachelor’s programme left her at the peak of her anxiety during the pandemic. Desperate, Anna turned to her academic advisor to seek advice on what she should do as an international student. Hearing that her exams would probably be postponed to August, she knew it would be best for her to return home as the pandemic revealed the vagaries of her migrant status. At least she would be taken care of in Singapore. In 48 hours, she packed up and embarked on her journey back to Singapore. With Anna’s life in the Netherlands taking a drastic turn in just a few days, the journey home did not provide any relief as she soon faced her next obstacle.

As the Netherlands was discouraging inter-state movement during lockdown, trains between states were unavailable and she soon found herself stranded in the town of Nijmegen. The only option left for Anna was a €100 ride to the airport. Thankfully, her landlord, out of goodwill, offered to drive her to the airport and keep the remaining bulky items in her apartment for free – greatly aiding in her sudden journey back home. During this uncertain period, Anna’s social capital immensely helped her migration from the Netherlands back to Singapore. Based on social capital theory, her durable networks with her academic supervisor and her landlord shaped her aspiration and aided her ability to actualise the journey from Nijmegen to Singapore (Massey 1999).

During the pandemic, Anna seems to have found new opportunities that have shaped her long-term migration plans. When Anna first left Singapore for her Bachelor’s degree, she had imagined that she would follow the “typical Singaporean route” upon graduation: go back to Singapore, find full-time employment and pay her student loans. While she was in the Netherlands, she was offered several scholarships, specifically the LBKM Scholarship and the Airbus Young Talent Scholarship, which would pay for her tuition fees for as long as she studies. Yet, it was not until the pandemic happened that Anna actively considered the prospect of a postgraduate degree and began applying for her Master’s in early March.

Here, we use Schewel’s repel-retain framework to analyse what shaped her future migration decision-making (Schewel, 2019). Since she uprooted her life in Singapore to move to the Netherlands, her life has been embedded in both the Netherlands and Germany. She enjoyed the freedom of living alone so much that coming back home made her feel like she had “gone back to being a child.” In our conversation, she recounts how her German partner, with whom she spent every weekend within Germany during her undergraduate years, is a big reason why she chose to continue her studies there. Along with that, the opportunities offered to her in Germany, such as the Airbus scholarship and the potential career conversion, were “retain” factors that kept her wanting to go back there. Accordingly, the financial support provided by her scholarships also cemented her ability to migrate for the second time. More importantly, the poor economic outlook and the shrinking job market in Singapore were the biggest “repel” factors that gave her the final push she needed to continue her studies instead. In June, while Anna was still in Singapore, she accepted the offer for her Master’s degree programme at a German university.

On 10 August 2020, Germany reopened its borders to unmarried partners of German citizens and residents to enter the Federal territory. Fortunately for Anna, her partner, who is a German citizen, became her “sponsor” for her visa application to actualise her migration journey to Germany for her post-graduate degree. Again, the social capital available to Anna in Germany has enabled her to bypass tighter border restrictions during the pandemic and migrate successfully.

Undeniably, plans have been made and re-made numerous times during the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet it is during this anxiety-inducing period that Anna was prompted to make the firm choice of starting her post-graduate degree in Germany. When asked if she foresees herself moving back to Singapore, Anna smiled and told us “it’s a possibility.” But for now, she seems settled in Germany.

While Carling and Schewel (2018) only focused on the “first move” migrants make, Anna’s story reminds us that the aspiration-ability model can be used to make sense of how migrants decide to return to their home countries and/or continue to harbour aspirations for their subsequent migration plans. In fact, this offers us reasons to be hopeful that the pandemic is not all doom and gloom for student migrants like Anna. The unique challenges presented by the pandemic could blossom into new opportunities that were previously unimagined.


Carling, J and Schewel, K. (2018). Revisiting aspiration and ability in international migration. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 44(6), 945–963.

Massey, D. S. (1999). Why Does Immigration Occur?: A Theoretical Synthesis. In C. Hirschman, P. Kasinitz, & J. DeWind (Eds.), Handbook of International Migration, The Russell Sage Foundation.

Schewel, K. (2019). Understanding immobility: Moving beyond the mobility bias in migration studies. International Migration Review, 54(2), 328–355.

Migration Immobility that Does Not Discriminate: Perspective of an Aspiring Migrant with High Migration Ability and Desirable Background

Amanda Goh, Arino Ang, Ankita Ragam, Singapore Management University

What does the Covid-19 crisis mean for aspiring migrants with high migration potential planning to migrate?

In September 2020, we decided to document the experiences of a highly qualified Singaporean professional who wanted to move to Switzerland to further her education and to be with her fiancé. Initially, we thought our interview would help in understanding the different experiences that people of higher and lower migration potential experience in trying to migrate during this pandemic. However, we seem to have uncovered that the process is confusing and frustrating even for those who have a very high migration ability.

Jane, a 26-year-old Singaporean, first began to worry about her impending migration to Switzerland in March, when Singapore went into its “circuit-breaker” phase, where most non-essential businesses were forced to shut down or work from home by the Singapore government. As the agency contracted by the embassy had been badly affected by the pandemic, they did not entertain queries, let alone process any documents. It remained completely uncertain whether Jane would be able to move to Switzerland for her Master’s program.

Prior to the pandemic, aspiring Singaporean students did not require any type of visa to enter and live in Switzerland because of Singapore’s involvement in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Singaporeans only needed a residence permit to live in their chosen town after entering the country. Jane had planned to do the same, and was not expecting the many obstacles that had cropped up. First, due to the pandemic, and Singapore’s high number of cases in April 2020, it seemed as if Switzerland was not accepting any foreign visitors without a visa. However, given that Singaporeans, by virtue of their inclusion in the EFTA, did not require visas to enter the country, the Singapore Swiss embassy was unfamiliar with the processes necessary to allow Jane to enter.

Jane’s fiancé emailed, called, and translated on Jane’s behalf to enquire about the various paperwork needed for her to settle in St. Gallen, a town in Switzerland. Without the help of her fiancé, Jane related to us that it might have been impossible to obtain the information she needed. She was incredibly annoyed at the embassy especially since her university, the Swiss government’s immigration department and even the authorities of the town she was supposed to be moving to, had said that the Swiss embassy should have been helping her with these issues, and not them.

Eventually, after several angry calls to the Swiss embassy in Singapore and with the assistance of her German-speaking fiancé, who lived and worked in Zurich, she was able to figure out the necessary steps to migrate to Switzerland. Jane prepared her university acceptance letter as proof that she had legitimate reasons to be travelling to Switzerland and steeled herself to face any errant bureaucrats.

At the eleventh hour, however, she was dealt with another blow – Jane would have to serve a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Switzerland. As she had planned her travel such that she would be able to spend as much time in Singapore as possible before her classes started at the end of August, she realised that she had to move her departure date 2 weeks earlier than planned. Jane was extremely upset upon realising this, as it meant 2 weeks less to be spent with her family and friends whom she was already leaving behind. Despite this, she went ahead, said her goodbyes, and got on the flight to Switzerland.

Outside of this last-minute change in plans, things mostly went her way once Jane arrived in Switzerland and completed her quarantine.

From Jane’s story, we can relate her experience to Carling and Schewel’s (2018) migration aspiration-ability model of international migration. Conceptualising Jane’s migration aspiration as a comparison of places, she evaluates the destination, which is shaped by her preferences and needs.

Given that her fiancé is a German, Jane’s preference can be observed in her comparison of Singapore to Germany, particularly in terms of the work culture. She did not like the working culture in Singapore as too much emphasis is placed on face-value than the quality of work done. On top of that, her experience in interacting with colleagues led her to see them as “small-minded”. Jane’s idea of the German work culture is also constructed by her fiancé’s sharing which she then attaches these notions and meanings to.

Following the simple logic of push-pull models, linking migration aspirations to the idea of the destination, the attractiveness of moving out of Singapore was hence further reinforced as Jane already desires to improve her relationship with her fiancé by moving closer to where he is.

Jane’s high migration ability is attributed to her nationality, a Singaporean, her high level of education and working experience in a multinational corporation (MNC), and her relatively high-income status. However, she faced temporary involuntary immobility due to the lack of proper migration policies as well as migration-facilitating agencies being shut down, which were all brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Beyond the pandemic

Even though Switzerland was not in a dire situation when the pandemic hit, the government became concerned and established tighter border controls, restricting the inflow of non-citizens and those who did not hold the necessary permits. Furthermore, despite Jane’s well-furnished background, which makes her highly compatible for moving abroad in a relatively fuss-free manner, the pandemic not only rendered her immobile like everyone else, but also uncovered the actual way of gaining access to and staying in Switzerland. Interestingly, it is only with such a crisis did proper border procedures become reinforced and acted upon. The inefficiencies of the government and embassies can also be observed in Jane’s experience as there was a lack of communication and clear instructions for those who were planning for travels to Switzerland, while they were made temporarily immobile.


Carling, J and Schewel, K. (2018). Revisiting aspiration and ability in international migration. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 44(6), 945–963.

Degrees & Departure: A Look into Student Migrants in the Pandemic

Shi Min Teh, Jing Wen Mah, and Nicole Lim, Singapore Management University

About Jane

It’s 10:30pm, and we see Jane on screen. Miles away and back in Cebu City, Philippines, Zoom has proven to be the only viable way for us to speak to her from sunny Singapore. Bespectacled, she dons a warm smile, ready to oblige us with every query we have of her migration journey thus far. Still, her tired voice does not escape us. This is the generosity and warmth of Jane – putting others above herself.

Jane, aged 21, hails from the Philippines. With parents in the lucrative business of wholesale livestock, Jane has had the luck of receiving a private education. This is testament to Carling and Schewel’s aspiration-ability model (2018) where the financial resources of her family allowed her to aspire. Like her siblings, the aspiration to study abroad for university is one shared by many Filipinos. It is believed that the completion of a prestigious degree attracts a multitude of opportunities that cannot be found back home – thus forming a strong culture of migration as observed by Kandel and Massey (2002). Thus, it was no surprise when Jane decided to complete her bachelor’s degree at a university in Singapore and potentially pursue a career in Singapore post-graduation.

Therefore, it is clear that both structure and agency had a part to play in Jane’s migration trajectory long before she moved to Singapore.

Panic in the Pandemic

At the dawn of the new year, the severity of the pandemic also dawned on the world. An unknown and highly contagious respiratory disease paid no mind to physical borders and spread rapidly through our interconnected world. Then, in January 2020, Jane had to evacuate her accommodation and watch as it turned into a quarantine facility for Covid-19.

4 months on, the second year of Jane’s degree drew to a close. She was stranded alone in Singapore as a month-long lockdown was declared. The pandemic was in full swing and panic was at an all-time high. With the family business weakening and the future uncertain, Jane and her family came up with 4 options:

  1. To remain in Singapore and continue her education at the hefty annual cost of SGD$65,000.
  2. To return to the Philippines, save on student accommodation and continue her university degree virtually.
  3. To apply for a leave of absence (LOA) at her university, return to the Philippines and take on an internship until the situation improves enough for her to return to Singapore.
  4. To return to the Philippines for good and transfer to the Ateneo de Manila University.

While Option 1 proved too exorbitant, Option 4 was the last resort. With little to no concrete information from the school’s administration, a homesick Jane was persuaded home by her parents when the lockdown in Singapore ended. Till then, Option 2 was the goal.

Curved by the Curve

After navigating through much bureaucracy, Jane completed her quarantine in Manila and made it home to Cebu.

In an attempt to flatten the curve, Jane was initially informed that her university would limit exposure by continuing with classes online. Things seemed on track for Option 2 to happen. That was until she was thrown yet another curveball; the school would take a mixed-mode approach for the following semester with the possibility of returning to physical classes midway through the term when the number of infections improved. 

This threw a wrench in her plans to continue her third year virtually. Jane received limited information from university administrators and eventually, she had to rally her fellow international students to consolidate their concerns in a centralised document for the administration to address. When her university provost confirmed that classes could happen in person, it was with a heavy heart that Jane finally applied for an LOA to pursue an internship which allowed her time to wait the pandemic out and shore up financially in expectation of her return back to Singapore in the future.

Hindsight is 20/20

Accustomed to this “new normal”, Jane is seated before us onscreen, generously sharing the trials and tribulations that have led her to this point. She acknowledges that hindsight is 20/20. Ultimately, this is all that this year has truly been. It was only having to think consciously in this interview that she finally recalled the whirlwind of events she has been through. The emotional toll once too fast to process, how the worries of her education then now pales in comparison to the worries of her family and their health.

When inquired about her future plans, Jane is determined to return to Singapore one day. Here, we witness the parallels of Jane’s story to Zhan and Zhou’s (2020) article on skilled immigrants in Singapore. Firstly, she recognizes her privileged position in relation to the many who have been relegated immobile back home. Jane has had the privilege of the resource to travel freely to Singapore to pursue an education that allows her to attain a higher wage. But as mentioned in Zhan and Zhou’s article, we witness the second dimension of migrants like Jane who, despite having high social and financial capital, can still be subjected to employment insecurity and settlement uncertainties associated with unstable jobs, temporary residence, and risks of downward mobility. For Jane – who has yet to graduate or be fully-employed – we observe how her long-term plans reflect the precarity she faces. Although Jane initially desired to remain in Singapore upon graduation, her long-term plans are now instead marked by uncertainty as a result of Covid-19. This is evident in her dilemma; to stay in Singapore or to return home to join the family business in the Philippines? This is a decision that is to some degree, still at the mercy of this virus and only time will tell.

A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way

Jane’s story highlights a myriad of issues faced by student migrants in Singapore; from the financial capital required to study abroad, to the social capital required to settle in comfortably as well as the precarity faced in an unfamiliar environment with little to no network to be leveraged on. It is precisely because we are in a hyper-connected and ever-shrinking world that we ought to care for those around us, regardless of race and nationality. As Jane expressed, one source of frustration when it came to communication was the lack of transparency by the school’s administration. She posited that this was attributed to the fact that unlike her, these administrators were Singaporean and had much stability in employment, housing and citizenship. This seemingly inconsequential act of poor information communication has had an exponentially negative impact on Jane’s lived experience. In conclusion, better global citizenship can be practiced in our highly globalised world; affording greater empathy to those around to build a more cohesive community.


Carling, J., and Schewel, K. (2018). Revisiting aspiration and ability in international migration. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 44(6), 945–963.

Kandel, W. and Massey, D.S. (2002). The culture of Mexican migration: A theoretical and empirical analysis. Social Forces, 80, 981-100

Mata-Codesal, D. (2015). Ways of Staying Put in Ecuador: Social and Embodied Experiences of Mobility–Immobility Interactions. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 41(14), 2274–90.

Zhan, S., and Zhou, M. (2020). Precarious Talent: highly skilled Chinese and Indian immigrants in Singapore. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 43(9), 1654-1672.

Precarity Through the Lens of Singapore’s Foreign Talent

Prarthana Prakash, Gillian Oh, Alston Tan, Singapore Management University

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted all sections of Singaporean society, and international students are certainly one of them. This impact was highlighted in the local news recently, where an article (pictured below) reported about the anxiety and uncertainty faced by international students over their inability to find employment to fulfil their tuition bond. To understand more about this issue, our group interviewed Stacy, a 23-year-old Chinese national, who came to Singapore as a student in 2016. She graduated in July 2020 from Singapore Management University and was looking to pursue a career in the banking and financial services industry. However, securing a job as an international student amidst a global pandemic proved to be more difficult than anticipated.

When we interviewed Stacy, we found that she felt stressed during the pandemic as the existing pool of jobs was drying up. She saw government policies favouring locals over foreigners who had attained education in the country. In their 2020 article on precarious talent, Zhan & Zhou pointed out how foreign talent isn’t immune to the uncertainties of the job market. They are fungible for domestic talent, often viewed as “flexible” parts of the market. The pandemic also changed the context of reception for migrants in Singapore’s job market as a result of locals-friendly policies. This affected Stacy too, making her feel “like a foreigner”. She admitted not feeling “encouraged, supported or welcomed in the country.” From being excited to start her education in Singapore in 2016, she was left feeling disappointed near the time of graduation owing to the lack of support from the Singaporean government and a sense of animosity from local Singaporeans.

While Stacy managed to land a job after almost a year of searching, she continues to worry about her status in Singapore. A lot is at stake for foreign talent like Stacy who will lose a stable source of income, certainty of the future and the job, if they lose visa sponsorships. Following this, Stacy mentioned how she had the aspiration to become a global citizen, but now, she hopes to obtain a Permanent Resident (PR) status in Singapore as she claims that “permanent residence seems like a reliable guarantee for expatriates in Singapore given the current economy”. Through this, we can see that the pandemic has changed Stacy’s initial aspirations and capability completely.

Zhan & Zhou (2020) also highlight the risks for highly skilled migrants holding employment passes. The fault lines highlighted by the authors can be likened to Stacy’s situation. A recent graduate from Singapore Management University, Stacy would qualify as a “privileged” migrant who may not need government support beyond subsidising tuition grant. However, this discourse often misses the level of precarity that skilled professionals, such as Stacy, face in the job market. Singapore has curated its migrant flow since the 1990s. This, coupled with stricter employment policies makes the path to achieving permanent residence for those like Stacy, trickier. Therefore, even if the aspiration to live and work in Singapore is strong, it doesn’t necessarily translate into certainty for foreign talent.

All these factors beg the question, do foreign talent ever stop feeling like “precarious talent”?

Given the precarious situations faced by highly skilled workers, a way they cope would be through the utilisation of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This is reflected through Stacy’s experience, where she mentioned how she frequently used ICTs to keep in close contact with her family and friends and that it helped her through tough times. However, she expects difficulties in adapting to life back in China given the difference in technological usage and her lifestyle between Singapore and China, if given the choice of going back. She explained, “Alipay or QR code is very popular and developed faster in China than Singapore. Actually, for people who stay in Singapore like, when we return back to China .. like we cannot get used to Chinese apps. I almost changed all my apps… in China. And when I come back to Singapore, I change back to Instagram and Facebook – the apps I deleted when I returned to China [sic].”

While the globalised world has increased the demand for skilled migrants, little is done to protect these migrants from the risk of sudden job losses. Immigrants like Stacy will continuously face unpredicted immobility, uncertainty and precarity just like their situation in the Covid-19 pandemic as little support is given by their host and home country. In the current migration structure, governments play a huge role in building “chutes and ladders” for low skilled migrants, but we see this being evident for foreign talent as well (Wee et al. 2010). This is the case for Stacy and other foreign talents, where they are given the opportunity to enter Singapore through a joint partnership between the Singapore government and their home country such as by providing education scholarships, work bonds or implementing lax immigration policies in exiting and entering the country. Perhaps the biggest impediment for Stacy in returning to her home country was the financial obligation of not fulfilling the three-year employment bond in Singapore. Unfortunately, the consequences of unemployment were Stacy’s to bear even though the attainment of employment was influenced by factors beyond her control.

We see governments encouraging migration but taking little effort to support foreign talent when they face precarity. If not the government, who then has the responsibility in alleviating their precarity? Do these precarious talents have to fend for themselves just because they decide to migrate?

In conclusion, although the discourse on precarity mostly revolved around low-skilled migrants, Stacy’s story serves as a timely reminder that attention should also be paid towards the precarity faced by high-skilled migrants. While the common assumption is that low-skilled migrants require more government support due to their less favourable circumstances, we see that high-skilled migrants also face several obstacles in their immigration journey and the precarity they face should not be overlooked. The Singapore government has a long-standing emphasis on leveraging foreign talent to facilitate economic development of the country. Thus, it is important that the same or more levels of support be shown for the very migrants they depended on even in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as implementing measures to improve local’s social acceptance of foreign workers.


Wee, K., Goh, C., Yeoh, Yeoh, B.S.A. (2019). Chutes-and-ladders: The migration industry, conditionality, and the production of precarity among migrant domestic workers in Singapore. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 45(14), 2672-2688.

Zhan, S., and Zhou, M. (2020). Precarious Talent: highly skilled Chinese and Indian immigrants in Singapore. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 43(9), 1654-1672.

The Experience of a Transmigrant Student

Puteri Nur Huda, Mika Sasaki, and David Lim, Singapore Management University

Emigration has become increasingly common in Singapore, especially amongst young Singaporeans who travel overseas for education. With the Covid-19 crisis, mobility plans have been severely disrupted, adversely affecting the lives of many due to border closures and travel restrictions worldwide. Our group sought to understand the experience of student migrants during this period of unprecedented immobility. Our interviewee, Qarah, gives us insight into the struggles, inconveniences and constant feelings of uncertainty during the pandemic.

A Route Less Travelled

Singaporeans’ top 5 countries for migration are Australia, New Zealand, the US, the UK and Canada (Hussain 2018). The case of Qarah however, is contrary to this cultural norm. We were surprised to hear that she was pursuing an undergraduate degree in Kuala Lumpur (KL). She shares with us that her long-term plan is to return to Singapore and work as a Malay teacher. Qarah is unique not just for her choice of destination country but also because she strays away from the route typical of aspiring teachers like herself. The undergraduate programmes at the National Institute of Education (NIE) Singapore is the most common route for local students to become a teacher, due to its strong partnerships with the Ministry of Education and Singapore schools. Qarah had instead chosen a completely unexpected path to pursue the Bachelor of Professional Malay Studies at the University of Malaya. She admits it herself that this is indeed “a route less travelled”, but one she felt would be “worth it at the end of the day”. 

What’s most interesting is that while her decision was, to a certain degree, influenced by her social network, it was not at all in the way that mobility scholars such as Kandel and Massey (2002) postulated. None of her family members had prior experience or migrated to Malaysia, and of the relatives she sought for advice, those who were currently working as teachers – all of whom had obtained a local degree – encouraged her to study in Malaysia instead.

Involuntary Immobility

Due to the close proximity between Singapore and Malaysia, Qarah frequently travels back to Singapore over the weekend to spend time with her family. On Thursday, 12th of March, she made her way back home a day earlier than usual, bringing with her only a backpack’s worth of clothing, electronic devices and some books she needed for her assignments. During that weekend, there was news of classes being cancelled or held online. So, she decided to delay her return to Malaysia from the usual Sunday mornings to the following Tuesday.

It was on that Tuesday that the borders between Singapore and Malaysia were announced for closure in efforts to curb the spread of the virus. As the countries went into lockdown, Qarah was left “stranded” in Singapore with no way of retrieving her belongings from her college residence in KL. She expressed some regret over not making the decision to travel across the border that Tuesday to pack up her belongings and bring them back to Singapore. At that time, Qarah and her parents decided it was safer to stay in Singapore and wait it out, expecting the border closure to be temporary.

Qarah was not alone in her predicament. Many of the Singaporean friends she made during her time at the University of Malaya were similarly “trapped” in Singapore. When restrictions started easing in Singapore, they hung out regularly and she was able to maintain these social ties; a transnational social network that would typically be limited to her student life in KL, reflecting the fluid nature of these transnational social spaces (Levitt & Jaworsky 2007). Furthermore, Qarah’s participation in the Singapore Student Society at the University of Malaya and her majority Singaporean friend group places her in a unique position as a transmigrant student, who engages in minimal transnational activities and continues to maintain strong cultural and social ties with her home country.

Adapting to the New Normal

Life during lockdown was not easy. Qarah found it “tough” and “stressful” having to make adjustments to the new normal of quarantine life at home and attending lessons online. As the university grappled with planning for the rest of the term amidst the uncertainties, her one-week mid-semester break turned into five weeks. The lack of support from her university during this period caused her to feel anxious and led to disruptions in her learning. She shared, to our surprise, that one of her professors in taught his class through the messaging platform, WhatsApp. She was “disappointed” but reminded herself that there were students who had it worse, students who did not have access to internet like she did.

Qarah made the conscious effort to count her blessings and remained thankful. She was grateful to be with her family during this difficult time because they’ve always been her pillar of support. If she were in KL, she would have only been able to confide in them through video-calls but since she’s “stuck” in Singapore, their physical support brings her great comfort.

Months have passed since the lockdown and with restrictions eased in Singapore, Qarah is hopeful for the new semester ahead. Her university has made added preparations to equip professors with better IT skills to more effectively conduct lessons and provided students with increased support for their learning through platforms like Microsoft Teams. She has also received updates that her belongings are safely kept in her college residence.

Qarah’s story prompts us to reflect on the existing concept of the culture of migration and how our social networks influence migration aspirations and ability. Furthermore, having witnessed the crucial role of technology during this crisis, we should ask ourselves if technology could bridge the gap in migrant’s experience and remove the salience of borders in the near future?


Halemba, A. (2020). Borders never disappear. COMPAS. Retrieved 11 December 2020

Hussain, A. (2018). Nearly 1 in 5 young Singaporeans want to emigrate: survey. Yahoo! News, September 28. Retrieved December 11, 2020.

Kandel, W. and Massey, D.S. (2002). The culture of Mexican migration: A theoretical and empirical analysis. Social Forces, 80, 981-100

Levitt, P. and Jaworsky B. N. (2007). Transnational Migration Studies: Past Developments and Future Trends. Annual Review of Sociology, 33, 129-156.

Kok, X. H. (2020). What Singapore-Malaysia border re-opening means for coronavirus-era travel. South China Morning Post, August 17. Retrieved December 11, 2020.

Finding the Silver Lining in Immobility

Lim Li Yun, Jerlyn Cheong, and Chen Lee Wai, Singapore Management University

When asked about the pinnacle of university education, most university students often describe their International Student Exchange Programme (ISEP) experience: A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that allows them to experience living abroad for 4 to 6 months, outside of their comfort zone. However, the ISEP experience was vastly different for thousands of students this year.

On 15th March 2020, the Singapore Ministry of Education recalled all students on official overseas placements due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While university students were scrambling to return to Singapore, A, a 22-year-old Singaporean undergraduate was left stranded in Warsaw, Poland as the worsening situation in Europe had prompted Poland to shut its borders.

What distinguished A’s exchange experience from others was the extensive immobility she and her friends faced. Derived from the aspiration-ability model (Carling and Schewel 2018), immobility is a result of the interaction between one’s desire to migrate (aspiration) and the actualization of the aspiration (ability). During A’s journey home, changing aspirations and abilities resulted in different forms of immobility. From which, we can also see how they interpreted their immobility differently, embodying Mata-Codesal’s (2015) concept of how people give meaning to their immobility.

When the alarming spread of Covid-19 prompted Polish officials to move lessons online, A and her friends experienced their first form of immobility. While international students around them returned to their home countries, A’s host university had yet to update them on module-related arrangements. For the sake of getting a guarantee to complete their curriculum in Singapore, A and company chose to remain in Poland, reflecting voluntary immobility.

Shortly after receiving confirmation from their host university, Murphy’s law struck: Poland closed their air borders on March 15, and subsequently, their internal land borders.

With the majority of flights cancelled, they were forced to stay in Warsaw involuntarily, unable to travel anywhere nor return home. A and friends had previously made plans to visit Spain and Budapest, and travel within Poland, but alas, the year 2020 had other plans for them. A looked defeated, seemingly reminiscing the emotions she felt back then.

She proceeded to recount dejectedly that the Covid-19 restrictions implemented in Poland left them with no choice but to be cooped up in their small apartment for the majority of the time, only leaving for grocery runs. If given the choice, A and her friends would have chosen to travel anywhere beyond the vicinity they lived in, but they evidently lacked the ability to do so.

The option of returning to Singapore was further defeated by a lack of information from her home university. In response to A’s urgent calls and text messages, she was simply told:

“Erm… Just try your best.”

Unsurprisingly, tensions rose in the small apartment. Nonetheless, A assured us that disputes were quickly resolved via nightly bonding sessions. Although it was not easy to stay, A found meaning in her immobility, in terms of being able to bond more with her friends.

In contrast, her friend perceived their immobility differently. Coming from a less privileged background, A’s friend wanted to make the most out of her exchange trip and was quite reluctant to head back to Singapore. Their inability to return home made her somewhat happy because it meant spending more time in Europe. At the same time, it dismayed her that she was stuck in the apartment and could not realise her travel aspirations.

However, any aspirations to travel beyond the constraints of their apartment were eventually worn down after hearing the experience of A‘s friends crossing the Poland borders. Upon receiving news of Poland’s closure of air borders, A’s friends attempted to return to Poland from Lithuania via Uber. Unfortunately, their driver refused to drive too close to Poland’s borders after witnessing barricades being set up and exclaimed:

“I cannot and I don’t want to drive you any further.”

The group resorted to making an arduous trek towards the borders, only to be turned away by the border officials. After futile calls to various points of liaison for help, they defeatedly lugged their weary bodies and luggage to a town in Lithuania by foot some distance away. Only after 2-3 days of calling the Consulate and Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was the group able to set foot into Poland again. 

In lieu of this story, A had her aspirations challenged, leading to internal constraints of risk aversion (Schewel 2019). Coupled with a lack of available commercial flights, her aspiration to move was drastically reduced. This reflects A’s transition into acquiescent immobility, where she had neither the ability nor desire to force her way out of Poland.

A and company eventually left Poland via an emergency flight out to London, after repeatedly reaching out to the Singapore Consulate in Poland for help. Thereafter, the onus was on them to find their way back from London, which involved extensive administrative work given the limited options available. They were in a constant state of uncertainty as they had to ensure that airports were still open for transit. After a 24-hour door to door journey, they finally returned to Singapore. What was previously a convenient, uncomplicated experience had now evolved into weeks of stressful planning and liaising. Who would have thought that air travel would have changed this drastically within a month?

However, finally being in Singapore was not the bed of roses we thought it would be for A. While relieved to be home, A recounted in despondence that her return was yet another prolonged period of immobility due to the imposed stay-home notice and subsequent circuit breaker. Despite similar conditions of immobility, A’s experience at home left her feeling more isolated than her Poland experience, where she was in constant companionship of her friends. Albeit it was a shame that they could not enjoy the full exchange experience, it was admittedly an interesting and unforgettable one.

A’s journey of immobility is definitely novel, but in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, most of us are experiencing immobility too and will continue to do so in this new normal. Throughout A’s journey, immobility seemed like a less than ideal situation, but she navigated through it and found meaning. Thus, immobility need not always be interpreted negatively as we have the power to shape our perceptions. With the Covid-19 situation unlikely to ease anytime soon, how then will you make meaning out of your immobility?


Carling, J and Schewel, K. (2018). Revisiting aspiration and ability in international migration. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 44(6), 945–963.

Mata-Codesal, D. (2015). “Ways of Staying Put in Ecuador: Social and Embodied Experiences of Mobility–Immobility Interactions.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 41(14), 2274–90.

Schewel, K. (2019). Understanding immobility: Moving beyond the mobility bias in migration studies. International Migration Review, 54(2), 328–355.

Transnationalism and citizenship in the pandemic: Alice’s journey

Brenda Wang and Cass Zheng, Singapore Management University

The pandemic has created new forms of immobility, and the situation is even more complex for those with multiple citizenship, such as 21-year-old Alice, who is ethnic Taiwanese-Chinese but is an Australian and Taiwanese citizen who holds permanent residency status in Singapore, where she grew up. Alice currently studies Dentistry in Sydney, while her parents reside in Singapore for work.

Alice’s parents possess Australian and Taiwanese citizenship, and they are ethnic Taiwanese-Chinese. They moved to Singapore before Alice was born due to its abundance of economic opportunities, while they saw Australia as a place for retirement. Referencing the case of Alice, this blog post seeks to offer an expansion to the bi-national nature of transnationalism and gives insight into how tensions between cultural and legal citizenship is further complicated by the pandemic.

Alice’s Experience as an Alternative to the Polarity of Transnationalism

Alice is embedded in a transnational social field intertwined between Singapore, Australia and Taiwan. Transnationalism posits that migrants can be simultaneously embedded in the multiple sites and layers in the transnational social fields in which they live (Levitt and Jaworsky 2007). However, for Alice, navigating her identity remains a challenge. As Alice said, “I feel like I don’t really belong to any country. Every country I go [to] I feel like a second-class citizen”. Alice notes that her migration trajectory was determined by her parents. As a result, her experience as a second-generation immigrant reveals the unique aspirations of those who end up in places physically and culturally far from “home”.

There was an air of helplessness as Alice recounted her experience of growing up as a non-Citizen in Singapore, such as paying more for education and the disadvantages she faced in applying for courses like Medicine and Dentistry which prioritized Singaporeans. Although Alice continues to maintain transborder connections with people in Singapore, she doesn’t feel like she truly belongs in Singapore or Australia. She feels even less connected to Taiwan, where ties to her extended family remain but her cultural similarities limited to her Taiwanese accent when she speaks Mandarin.

Although most scholars tend to explain transnationalism in cases where migrants can culturally belong in two countries, Alice’s story illustrates how migrants can actually be part of three or more countries. As Levitt and Jaworsky (2007) acknowledges, transnationalism is “too easily dichotomised as incompatible with assimilation and delineates three forms of transnationalism – bi-local, bi-national or pan-ethnic” (:131). Understanding that transnationalism is not merely bi-national is important to better comprehend the new complexities that migrants now face.

Additionally, while transnationalism tends to focus on migrants’ simultaneous cultural belonging in multiple places, whether these feelings of cultural belonging correspond to migrants’ citizenship in these places have not yet been fully explored. Alice’s story shows that cultural belonging and legal status can actually be at odds with each other in a single place.

Utilising “Cultural Citizenship” To Expand Our Understanding of Transnationalism

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Alice was “trapped” in Australia. She made multiple attempts to return to Singapore but was unsuccessful because of limited flights available and the cumbersome permits required by the Australian government prior to departure. When her permit was approved, her flight had already taken off, and Alice’s Singaporean housemates had left Australia. Alice eventually decided to remain in Australia. Cost of healthcare was important especially during the pandemic. By staying in Australia, Alice would have access to healthcare benefits as a citizen, whereas she would have to pay expensive medical fees as a non-Citizen in Singapore.

As an Australian citizen, Alice could also obtain a job at a dentist clinic in Sydney, which kept her busy and appeased her parents’ concerns that she would be lonely there. However, increased racism towards Asians in Australia during the pandemic made Alice feel unsafe in her own country of legal citizenship. Hence, Alice’s story highlights the need for distinction between cultural citizenship and legal citizenship in the study of transnationalism, as the latter often does not reveal enough about the motivations behind their trajectories.

The concept of cultural citizenship “considers citizenship beyond its legislative status and acknowledges the relationship between culture and citizenship” (Vega and van Hensbroek 2010 as cited in Beaman 2016) which focuses on societal inclusion and belonging (Pakulski 1997; Stevenson 2001 as cited in Beaman 2016). Therefore, while Alice is a legal citizen of Australia and Taiwan, she is a cultural citizen of Singapore. Her benefits as an Australian citizen informed her decision to study there and stay there during the pandemic. Yet, the racism she faced as an Asian posed a barrier to becoming a cultural citizen in Australia.

Furthermore, cultural citizenship offers an alternative explanation in expanding upon Lewitt and Jaworsky’s (2007) conception of cultural transnationalism. Alice’s conscious choice to live with Singaporeans where she “could be more like [herself]” and maintaining habits she practised in Singapore like picking the second item off the supermarket shelves was her way of maintaining cultural ties with Singapore, although these traits could not be said to be uniquely Singaporean. Thus, cultural ties with a country are more than just participating in transculturalized arts and cultural practices, but also social practices and habits that migrants’ bring from their cultural homeland.

The pandemic has further highlighted the need to consider how cultural citizenship frames and shapes the transnationalist identity. Alice’s experiences brought to light a more nuanced group of migrants who feel “stuck” in a country where they have legal citizenship and are unable to leave for their cultural homeland. For many like Alice, their home country is somewhere foreign where she had to “confront an entirely different racial hierarchy” (Lewitt and Jaworsky, 2007:139) as a minority.

If given a choice, Alice would have prioritised her cultural citizenship over her legal one but the pandemic made her reconsider her priorities. Evidently, her legal citizenship serves as a pragmatic explanation for migration, but it can sometimes overlook the other cultural struggles they face. Moreover, it is important to recognize the increasing complexity of migrants’ transnational social field, how migrants can be embedded in 3 or more countries at the same time, and the implications it has on their migration trajectories.

In conclusion, transnationalism is akin to a magnifying glass which is a useful tool for studying migration. However, it reveals much more when the focal lengths are adjusted to consider other aspects which might be left out in its initial conception. Alice’s story is apt in showing how this lens needs to be expanded to consider migrants who are part of more than two countries and the role of cultural citizenship in transnationalism.


Beaman, J. (2016). Citizenship as cultural: Towards a theory of cultural citizenship. Sociology Compass, 2016, 10(10), 849-857.

Levitt, P. and Jaworsky B. N. (2007). Transnational Migration Studies: Past Developments and Future Trends. Annual Review of Sociology, 3, 129-156.

The Pandemic Pivot: International Programming at Yale-NUS College During COVID-19 and Beyond

By now, there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted just about every aspect of our lives, and international education is certainly no exception. Since its founding, Yale-NUS College has prioritized global engagement, building an internationally-focused curriculum, highly diverse student body, and placing a significant emphasis on international opportunities for students. We are now forced to rethink much of our work, and reconsider how to support student learning during this era of limited to no international travel. We have welcomed Singaporean “exchange” students from our partner institutions abroad, reconfigured experiential programming that used to take place abroad for the Singapore context, and shifted more of our partnership development efforts to Asia Pacific. We have also worked with students to help them secure meaningful learning opportunities locally, deepening our connections to the community here in Singapore. While we look forward to more global student mobility when it is once again feasible, we’re also seeing that we may want to make some of these changes permanent. In this session, I hope to explore some of the potential silver linings of Yale-NUS College’s “pandemic pivot.”

Lindsay Allen is the inaugural head of exchange and study abroad at Yale-NUS College, Singapore’s first liberal arts college founded in 2011 through a partnership between Yale University and the National University of Singapore. She holds a BA in Asian Studies from the University of Michigan, an MA in Translation from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, and is pursuing a second MA in International Education from SIT Graduate Institute. She has presented at global conferences including APAIE, EAIE, and NAFSA on topics including large-scale global partnerships, connections between study abroad and careers, and faculty engagement in study abroad.