Featured post

Translating Impermanence

Welcome to the official webpage of the ‘Media and Transient Migrants in Australia and Singapore: Mapping Identities and Networks’ research project. The temporary migration of people for work, study and lifestyle takes place on a global scale. Transient migrants are part of the ethnographic landscape of every nation, yet very little is known about how they negotiate everyday life in transience and the impact this has on their identities.

This project is a journey of discovery into the evolving cultural and social identities of transient migrants in two of the most notable destinations in the Asia-Pacific: Australia and Singapore. This project aims to ‘translate impermanence’ and interprets everyday life as made up of social networks and the media.

An Australian Research Council funded research project by the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University, Melbourne.


Read more about the project and its progress.

Singapore students in transition

Working together with Professor Jonathan Tan of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Gomes wrote a paper discussing Christianity as a culture of mobility in Singapore. This paper which will be published later in 2015 by Kritika Kultura argues that….”More than ever before, the global and transnational movements of young people for work and study has become part of everyday life. Yet there is very little research on this phenomenon in relation to how actors in transience create strategies to cope with being away from home nation (place of birth and/or citizenship) and from family. As part of the findings of a larger international study on the identities, social networks and media/communication use of transient migrants, researchers found that Christianity featured prominently during life in transience for Asian respondents. This paper thus puts forward the notion that Christianity may well function as a culture of mobility by looking at its significance to Asian “foreign talent” transient migrants in Singapore. Through face-to-face interviews with fifty-seven Asian working professionals and international students, this paper found that thirty not only identified themselves as Christian but whose social networks were also made up of Asian foreign talent transient migrant Christians. This paper thus suggests that Asian foreign talent transient migrants turn to Christianity as a way of coping with everyday life in transience. The Christian groups they join allow them to create a sense of community while being away from the home nation. This sense of community however is with other transient migrants rather than with locals.”

Building local connections

In September Catherine Gomes wrote in The Conversation about the problems international students have with making Australian friends in Australia, and the unhappiness that this causes. She offers economic justifications to underline why our educational institutions should consider this a problem, and then some potential ways to improve the situation. Here are some excerpts from the article.

“International education brought in $16.3 billion in 2010-11, and the students contribute to the Australian economy in secondary industries such as real estate and tourism. This is not an industry we want to lose, both for economic reasons and because international students provide social benefits, giving Australians valuable opportunities to meet, mix and mingle with nationalities, cultures and ethnicities different or even similar to their own.”


Universities need to create inclusive orientation programs that foster interaction between local and international students. One way to do this would be to actively include interstate and country students in the international student orientation program. International students would thus meet Australians who are in some ways just as alien as they are. This would also offer Australian students new to the state or the area a guided introduction while making some new international friend

Students in a lecture theatre

Making friends

In late 2013 Catherine Gomes, Chief Investigator for the Translating Impermanence project, spoke on “Parallel multiculturalism: Asian international students in Australia” at the Multiculturalism and Asia International Workshop at Monash University.

ABSTRACT: “Work on the experiences of international students in Australia often point out that these students do not successfully integrate into Australian society with many international students counting very few or no Australians as friends by the time they complete their studies. International students instead live in a parallel multicultural society made up almost exclusively of fellow international students. Through in-depth interviews with 50 Melbourne-based university-going international students from Asia — the source of Australia’s biggest export education market — this paper explores the complex multicultural society these students occupy. By highlighting Asian international students’ self-perceived identities, social networks and media use, this paper throws light on the ways in which these transient migrants create a multicultural existence for themselves while not being part of conventional Australian (multicultural) society. A study examining international students in the broader discussion of multiculturalism in Australia is necessary since many of these students convert their status to permanent after they finish their studies.”

Gomes more recently spoke with Sydney’s Radio 2SER about the barriers preventing more friendships between international and Australian students. Expectations of meeting lots of Australians can diminish quickly for incoming students. It’s not necessarily about where you come from, but what you are going through. Commonly-shared experiences as international students might be a stronger glue for them to stick together, rather than being from the same country. In a survey organised by the project, some international students thought that their impermanent status could be a bit of a turn-off to Australians with strong local networks. At another level it’s simply who you choose to sit next to in class. Cat talks through these and more factors in the linked podcast. 2SER

New York

Bright lights, big cities

Work on international students in Australia points to the desire of these transient migrants to stay in Australia through permanent residency rather than return immediately to the homeland once they graduate from their course of study. While this work is accurate in its assessment of the trajectory of international students post-graduation, my study of international students points to a new pattern emerging, particularly among female international student, that shifts beyond home-host nation connections. Although female international student desire Australian permanent residence, they do not necessarily stay in their adopted country. Through extensive interviews with 34 international student women in Melbourne, my research reveals that these women are aspirational global citizens with ambitions to live and work in the big cities of Europe and North America. Their mobility is encouraged throughout by the friendship networks they make with fellow international students rather than with locals and their cultural, ethnic and national identities anchored through their sense of belonging to the home nation through rapid developments in communication and media technologies.

This is the abstract of a paper delivered recently by Chief Investigator Catherine Gomes, ‘The World is My Oyster: (Female) International Students in Australia and their Aspirations for Global Mobility’. Catherine spoke about the aspirations for transience of female international students in Australia at the Women in Community: Power of the M.I.N.D. conference held between 27 February to 1 March 2014, at the Wee Kim Wee Centre in the Singapore Management University.

Image from ermes.net , CC2.5, cropped.