Youth Transitions in Protracted Crises

After a busy year of multiple contracts, I can finally share a research update from my postdoctoral work at the University of Dundee. The research was part of a DFID-funded project on Youth Transitions in Protracted Crises led by Professor Lorraine van Blerk (Dundee) and Dr. Wayne Shand (Manchester).

As part of my work on this project, I spent the better part of April and May doing participatory research with young refugees in remote camps and urban centres in Uganda and Jordan. Field sites in Uganda included Kampala and Nakivale Refugee Settlement. For Jordan, these included Amman, Zarqa, Jerash Camp and Za’atari Refugee Camp. The young refugees that participated in our study in Uganda were from Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo, while those in Jordan were from Syria, Iraq and Palestine.

Importantly, the project employed and trained young refugees (15-24 years old), of both genders and from all five countries of origin, as ‘Youth Researchers’ to carry out interviews and surveys among their peers. I worked alongside these Youth Researchers and their participants to collect videos, photos, drawings and stories about their experiences of being refugees in Uganda and Jordan. Based on the data collected, I created a story map for the project that illustrates some of these young refugees’ experiences of growing up in protracted displacement. You can view the story map and find policy recommendations at our project website. These are intended for wide public dissemination, so please do share with your networks.

Youth Transitions in Protracted Crises story map

Story map cover screen shot.jpg


Brexit and international student mobility

It is 11am and the sun is still sitting low in the horizon. I hear the sound of water drops from the sea waves below tinkling on my office window. Winter solstice is nearly here and as I polish off my marking for the year, I am reflecting on my first year as a postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews. Since February 2016, I have been working with Allan Findlay and David McCollum on an ESRC-funded project on the dynamics and policy implications of changes in student mobility. Our work examines the drivers of international student migration to the UK, Sweden, Austria and Latvia, and it could not be timelier.

The UK is considered a ‘world-class’ destination for higher education and one of the top receiving countries for international students. As such, the results from Britain’s EU referendum has raised several concerns about the future of international student mobility in the UK and the EU. Among the many impacts of Brexit in Britain and Europe, international student mobility is already showing the effects of recent and anticipated policy changes. International students have been a target (and scapegoat) in the UK government’s immigration discourses as well as in the rhetoric of the leave campaign. That, coupled with the removal of the post-study work visa, has likely contributed to dwindling numbers of EU students as well as Indian students – formerly one of the top incoming student groups in the UK. Allan Findlay and I have written a working paper for the Centre for Population Change (CPC) that examines the changes to international student mobility in the UK. Drawing on secondary data from the Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA), the paper provides a contextual backdrop and an evidence base to evaluate the changes to, and rhetoric around, international students in the UK.

While international student numbers have continued to grow in the UK, these are heavily reliant on incoming students from China. However, as the growth in numbers of Chinese students has begun to stagnate, much uncertainty lies ahead for the UK’s higher education sector. In addition, much remains to be seen on the fate of the Erasmus Program in the UK, a popular EU student exchange scheme. With that being said and with this ESRC project coming to an end, there is a need for more research and attention to be given to understanding the implications of Brexit on international student mobility, not only in the UK but in the rest of Europe, and potentially in other parts of the world.

Below are some relevant news articles that have sprung up so far since the result of the referendum:

International student numbers have been plummeting for years. Now what?

EU students applying to British universities plummet by 9 per cent following Brexit vote

Erasmus scheme may exclude British students after Brexit

Third of foreign students less likely to come to UK after Brexit

No 10 rejects idea that foreign students should not count as immigrants

UK government rejects student visa calls

India urges Theresa May to open UK doors to university students

UK considers plans to nearly halve international student visas

Amber Rudd gives us another ill-informed and imprudent attack on international students

Arrivederci Verona!

'Living The Dream'

‘Living The Dream’ (Graffiti along the Adige River in Verona)

So today is the final day of my visiting scholarship at the University of Verona and admittedly I’m not too keen to pack it up so soon. Time flies and three months is a very short period of time to properly settle into a new place and culture (not to mention a new language). This is a sentiment that has also been expressed by many of my PhD participants on shorter-term exchanges (3-4 months); that is, once you start to feel comfortable in a new place, it’s already time to pack up and leave. It’s having to re-pack your bags after you’ve just finished unpacking them. It’s interrupting the experience before you can even complete the cultural adaption process (I’m still in the honeymoon phase – see image below).

Cultural adaptation curve (

Cultural adaptation curve (

Just as I began to feel ‘at home’ in Verona my mind had to shift to my other ‘home’ in London (although granted, having an impeding submission deadline for a PhD thesis looming ahead doesn’t help either). Of course the notion of ‘home’ is explored in my research and I could devote an entire blog to the topic but for the sake of time (I’m still in the midst of packing my suitcases at the 11th hour) I will save a more lengthy discussion for another blog post.

When I first came to Verona in January to meet with university colleagues and look for an apartment it was a sunny but cold and hazy day. The streets were quiet; nothing like the hustle and bustle of London where I live or Florence where I was staying for the holidays. Verona was picturesque and charming, but its streets were empty – both physically and figuratively. On my first night in Verona I ventured out in my neighbourhood in search of a place to eat and found the streets almost devoid of traffic or people (granted, it was a cold Monday night in February). But the streets also felt empty in the sense that I had yet to ascribe or fill them with meaning.

Piazza Brà in Verona during the Spring flower festival


As I explored my new surroundings I began to accumulate experiences, adventures and friendships that imparted character, warmth and liveliness to the city. Soon every street corner had a story to tell, and as the winter months waned and the arrival of spring gave way to warmer temperatures and vibrant colours so too was the effect on my sense of place. Verona’s old historical centre and narrow cobble stoned streets embraced by the Adige River now evoke such an intimate sense of warmth and comfort. While the warmer weather might have helped, it was foremost the experiences accumulated in situ over time that kindled my sense of place. While I can still admire the city through the eyes of a tourist, my gaze is now firmly underpinned by a homely sense of place – a sense of ‘home’.

I have to give many thanks to Caterina Martinelli for this unique and wonderful experience. Caterina is a social and cultural geography professor at the University of Verona who invited me here as a visiting scholar and it is thanks to her enthusiasm and help that I was awarded a scholarship under the CooperInt Program. I owe her my sincere gratitude for giving me the opportunity to develop and teach a Master’s level course on Geographies of Mobility, Travel and Tourism, as well as conduct a research project on international student mobility in Verona. Caterina has been a truly wonderful colleague and friend. In addition, both my students and research participants have been engaging groups to work with and as a result, I have learned a great deal during my sojourn here. With newly acquired friendships, Italian language skills, wine and food tastes (I could dedicate an entire post to food and wine but I digress), I leave Verona having thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my time here. Until next time, arrivederci!

Verona from Castel San Pietro

Verona from Castel San Pietro

A Veronese exchange

Ciao! I’m finally settled in Verona, Italy, the city of Romeo and Juliet and pretty much everything else Shakespeare and love-related. I’m here as a visiting scholar to teach a Master’s course on Geographies of Mobility, Travel and Tourism, as well as conduct a research project on international student mobility.

Verona historic centre and the Adige River from Castel San Pietro

Verona historic centre and the Adige River from Castel San Pietro

Back in summer 2013 I was invited by a researcher (Caterina Martinelli) to apply for the university’s CooperInt Program. Fast-forward to 2 years later and here I am as a double international student (i.e. a Canadian studying in England and doing an exchange in Italy)!

My research project will explore the experience of exchange students here in Verona, with a particular interest in the role of place, mobility, home and social networks. Currently I’m in the process of contacting interested students to talk about their exchange experience thus far. Having done a few international exchanges or studies myself in France, Brazil, England and now Verona, I’m excited to see how this experience fares to my previous ones and, more importantly, I’m looking forward to learning from a multicultural group of exchange students how the experience compares to other countries, places and groups  such as my Canadian research participants in the Global South. As a qualitative study it will explore central themes around home and social networks through interview conversations with students as well as my own observations and experiences as an exchange student/visiting scholar.

Hopefully in the coming weeks I will find more time to write a longer and more engaging post on my experience! (Spoiler alert! Food and wine will likely be involved).

RGS-IBG Session: Geographies of Youth Mobility

            At the Royal Geographical Society and Imperial College London               August 29th, SAF Building, room 120

Geographies of Youth Mobility (1): Home and Belonging
Organiser: Laura Prazeres (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Glasgow – ‘homey’? The experiences of belonging of young refugees in Scotland
*Joanna Wiseman (Newcastle University)
Young Singaporeans’ Narratives of Home and Belonging through Overseas Mobilities
*Tracey Skelton (National University of Singapore, Singapore)
Discovering self and home within international student exchanges
*Laura Prazeres (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Talking about my Generation: Emigration and “Sense of Generation” among Highly
Skilled Young Italians in Paris
Hadrien Dubucs (University of Paris IV: Paris-Sorbonne)
*Thomas Pfirsch (University of Valenciennes and Hainaut-Cambresis)
Camille Schmoll (University of Paris VII: Denis Diderot)
Discussant: Johanna Waters, University of Oxford

Geographies of Youth Mobility (2): Everyday Mobilities and Social Space
Organiser: Laura Prazeres (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Educated to be Global: Growing up in South-West India with the World as a Potential Activity Space
*Sara Lång (Uppsala University, Sweden)
Experiencing the (different) everyday on an international school-led trip: a New Zealand example
Margie Campbell-Price (University of Otago, New Zealand)
*Tara Duncan (University of Otago, New Zealand)
Migration temporalities of English teachers in South Korea
*Sergei Shubin (Swansea University)
Francis Collins (University of Auckland, New Zealand)
Island Youth Mobilities and Conceptualisations of Freedom
*Clare Holdsworth (Keele University)
Matt Benwell (Keele University)
Future transport? The changing mobility practices of Generation Y
*Debbie Hopkins (University of Otago, New Zealand)

CFP: Geographies of Youth Mobility

Call for Papers: Royal Geographical Society with IBG Annual Conference, London, 27-29 August 2014

Geographies of Youth Mobility

Convener: Laura Prazeres (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Discussant: Johanna Waters (University of Oxford)

Sponsored by the Population Geography Research Group and Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research

Session abstract:

Young people make up the world’s most mobile group (UNDESA, 2011). Their movement across space is dynamic, contested, socially and politically charged and fraught with meaning, desires and challenges. Youth mobility has recently emerged at the fore of international attention. The forthcoming UN World Youth Report focuses on the theme of the 2013 International Youth Day (IYD) on ‘Youth Migration’. With the IYD celebrated annually on August 12th, this RGS session is particularly fitting and timely with the burgeoning interest in youth mobility. Buliung et al. (2012) have highlighted the need for geographers to engage with, and contribute to, research on youth mobility from diverse theoretical and methodological angles. Youth mobility is a highly relevant and vibrant area of research that stands to contribute to the discipline of geography as well as to wider interdisciplinary debates. This session seeks to gather a breadth of topics under the overarching theme of youth mobility. Aiming to build on existing and emerging scholarship, this session seeks to generate critical and innovative discussions and debates to guide future work. A broad definition of ‘youth’ is taken into consideration to encompass students, migrants, travellers, expatriates, global nomads, third culture kids (TCK) and others.

This session invites abstracts that deal with various facets and themes of youth mobility. These include (but not limited to):

–          Educational travel
–          International and intra-national student mobility
–          Study and volunteer abroad
–          Tourism and voluntourism
–          Young backpackers and travellers
–          Transnational perspectives
–          Flows between the Global South and Global North
–          Urban-rural youth migration
–          Young expatriates
–          Mobility and belonging
–          Sense of place and ‘home’
–          Journeys for self-discovery and personal development
–          Global and national identities and citizenship
–          Cosmopolitanism
–          Motivations for mobility and migration
–          Memory and affect
–          Everyday life
–          Transportation and commuting
–          Mobile ethnography and methodologies

Please send abstracts of 250 words, including title, author names, affiliations, email addresses to Laura Prazeres by February 7th, 2014.

This session is expected to occupy two time slots with a format of 4 or 5 papers each.


United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) (2011) International Migration in a Globalizing World: The Role of Youth Technical Paper No. 2011/1). New York: UNDESA.

Buliung, R., Sultana, S., Faulkner, G. (2012) Guest editorial: special section on child and youth mobility – current research and nascent themes. Journal of Transport Geography 20, pp. 31–33.

To study abroad or not to study abroad?

To study abroad or not to study abroad? That is the tough question. A recent report by the British Council – “Broadening Horizons: Breaking through the barriers to overseas study” – looks at UK and US students’ perceptions of study abroad. It also compares the perspectives of both countries and reveals some of the differences between American and British students.

A notable difference between both countries is the greater proportion of US students (56%) than UK students (20%) that considered studying abroad. Although both UK and US students share similar reasons for considering studying abroad, the main reason reported by US students was to ‘have fun travelling and exploring other cultures’ whereas the reasons for UK students were predominantly aligned with career aspirations. There is also a higher proportion of US students that indicated the undergraduate level when considering studies abroad compared to UK students that were considering studying overseas at the postgraduate level. It would seem that while American students have a preference for short-term exchanges (one or two semesters), British students seem more interested in acquiring a diploma overseas. This reflects the aforementioned reasons indicated by both countries. US students view study abroad as a short-term travel and cultural experience while UK students see it as part of a long-term aspiration to live and work abroad.

So why do a greater proportion of American students consider studying overseas? Why do US students consider study abroad primarily as a short-term, undergraduate experience? Although the reasons are complex, one possible interpretation is that if we consider the different geographical contexts of each country, US students – compared to UK students – have fewer international destinations within proximity (the nearest are Mexico and Canada). As such, US students can incur higher costs and greater distance to travel beyond their borders. On the other hand, British students have more geographical proximity to different countries and thus the advantage and convenience of being able to travel for leisure – even for just a weekend – to a different country at a relatively lower cost. In this perspective, financial, geographical and time constraints may play into the preference of American students for short-term study abroad sojourns. US students may view study abroad programs as an opportunity to combine their desire to travel with their program of study. They can travel abroad while gaining credits and maintaining full-time status in their program of study (kind of like hitting two birds with one stone, so to speak).

As for concerns with studying abroad, these were consistent between both countries. Both UK and US students reported ‘prohibitive costs’ as the primary concern, followed mainly by language barriers and ‘leaving family’. However, a higher proportion of US students than UK students reported a lack of confidence in their second language skills. Yet, US students’ ranked France and Spain – two romance-speaking countries – in their top 3 destinations for study abroad (the UK was first). UK students’ top 3 destinations were all English-speaking countries (US, Australia and Canada respectively). Although Canada was the third destination preference for UK students, it did not figure among US students’ top 10 destinations for study abroad despite being more affordable and proximate than European destinations. I would seem that US students’ are primarily interested in distancing themselves – both geographically and culturally – from their home country.

As for non-academic drivers, US students indicated ‘becoming more self-sufficient’ as the third driver for studying abroad (this was sixth for UK students). This is relevant to my research project as my empirical data suggests that one of the main motivations for Canadian students to study abroad is to gain more independence and personal growth.

It would be interesting to see how Canada compares to the UK and US perspectives. Do Canadian students’ perceptions reflect more the UK or the US? What are their main motivations? How much interest do Canadians have in study abroad? What are their top destinations? Here’s hoping a Canadian report is in the works!

What happens when you study abroad?

I came across an interesting article the other day via a friend on Facebook who is studying at the same university as me. As an international student in London she found the article very fitting to her experience so far. The title quickly drew my attention: What Happens When You Live Abroad. I read the first two paragraphs and thought not much of it, but by the third and fourth paragraph I was struck by some of the similarities with my research participants. It reflects some of what my participants have been saying thus far in the interviews, not to mention some of my own personal experiences (see article).

Although this article is written from the perspective of someone who has lived abroad for a long period of time (likely several years) — while my participants are only abroad for one year or semester — it does resonate with some of the themes in my interviews so far. In particular, the idea that living in a different country can provoke changes to the self and is often the motivation for people to move abroad. This notion of ‘personal change’ while abroad, whether as a motivation or outcome, is often noted in the literature on study abroad. Students often seek out international exchanges as an opportunity to ‘escape’ and develop personal growth. The author observes that just going to the grocery story is an exciting activity and that “having to start from zero and rebuild everything, having to re-learn how to live and carry out every day activities like a child, fundamentally alters you.” As she noted, this can bring on a new found sense of confidence. This has often been the case with my participants and something that I can relate to from personal experience.

However, not all aspects of this article are relevant to my research, particularly what the author discusses as ‘the fears’. This idea or sense of fear has seldom come up during my interviews. My participants are well aware of their brief, finite time in their host country and as a result, seek to maximize their sojourn abroad with the comfort of knowing that they will soon return home. They are not considered expats but nor do they consider themselves tourists. For these students, they belong to a different spatio-temporal category.

The part of this piece that really captured my interest is the idea that a part of you remains in the different places that you call (or once called) ‘home’. There seems to be a sense of ‘in-betweeness’ when studying or living abroad. You feel in-between two places, and in some cases, two ‘homes’. When you return to your home country, there is often a nostalgia and longing to go “back for at least a few weeks and dive back into the person you were back there.” As if a certain part of yourself can be revived or reanimated in this place. The author suggests that  “you realize that much of ‘you’ was based more on geographic location than anything else.” Whether this is the case for my participants remains to be seen, but the author also mentions the idea of putting oneself through an ‘uncomfortable new situation’ to incite personal change and this is a theme that is strongly reflected in my interviews with participants as well as in the literature, and something that I’m eager to explore further in my research. [What Happens When You Live Abroad]

Intercultural UNESCO schools conference

In December I had the unique opportunity to be a facilitator for high school students from Germany, the United-States and Canada as part of a UNESCO schools conference on Human Rights Education. The conference was part of a tri-national project between Israel, Germany and Canada with the goal to promote Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education through intercultural dialogue.

Opening ceremony

Opening ceremony

The conference took place in Winnipeg, Canada, and despite the frigid temperatures, the atmosphere and camaraderie was warm and welcoming. With a mix of German, American, French Canadians, native/aboriginal and Québécois students, the conference was a great opportunity for young people to engage in intercultural dialogue. Students regarded the conference as an invaluable intercultural learning experience. Although my research project examines the experience of university students on an academic exchange semester or year abroad, it would be interesting to explore the impact of short-term exchanges such as these on young people’s awareness and understanding of cultures, both within national borders and internationally. UNESCO Schools Conference “Learning to Change our World Together”

Home sweet home, where art thou?

With my research project exploring young Canadians’ sense of citizenship, identity and home in the context of international student mobilities, it was inevitable that my return to Canada during the holidays would cause me to reflect on my own sense of home.

Parliament in Ottawa

I’ve come to realize through my experiences as an international student (both current and past) that my idea of home has become ever more complex and ambiguous. When I’m in London I refer to Ottawa as ‘home’, and when I’m in Ottawa I refer to London as home. Do I then consider having two homes? Is my reference to ‘home’ in this case just a descriptive term to refer to different physical locations of residence or is it a symbolic emotional attachment to place?


As I write this post, the song ‘Home’ by Phillip Phillips is appropriately playing on the radio. What is ‘home’? What constitutes home for people? A house, a place, symbolic material objects, family, social networks? What about the role of time? How does time influence our idea of home? These are just some of the broader questions I’m exploring in my study.

One thing is certain, ‘home’ is a complex and often ambiguous concept, one that I hope my study will help shed some light on.