AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 627

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Session 627: Asian Border-Crossing Mobilities II: The Rise of Asian Overseas Volunteering

Organizer and Chair: Noel B. Salazar, Independent Scholar, Belgium

Discussant: Antonella Diana, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Italy

While cross-border mobilities in Asia have been associated with self-betterment since colonial times, mobility framed as serving the development of the places one travels to or their people, traditionally a preserve of the First and the now-defunct Second World, is becoming an increasingly common discourse, accompanying an expanding practice and span of mobilities. Volunteers, missionaries, investors, doctors, teachers, engineers and “responsible tourists” all claim to be contributing to this noble goal. Together with Asian Border-Crossing Mobilities I, this panel explores how voluntary mobility has become linked with various forms of development of “others” – economic, social, cultural, environmental or soteriological – across Asian societies. Where do the currently dominant imaginaries of help-through-migration come from and which mechanisms and institutional regimes ensure their circulation? How are other- and self-improvement linked, and in which situations do both come into conflict? This panel focuses particularly on the rise of Asian volunteerism abroad. Volunteerism, and related activities such as language teaching in a remote, poor country, is generally understood to be an artifact of a particular set of economic and ideological circumstances characteristic of the post-industrial West. Our panelists, however, show that Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Taiwanese volunteers and language teachers are now found both across Asia and outside it. Sometimes, a combination of their entrepreneurial zeal and religious devotion coalesces into a discourse of mission that appears to parallel “the white man’s burden” from a century ago. The papers explore individual and state motivations behind this impulse to “help.”

International Voluntary Service and the Philippines: Milestones, Motives and Meaning
Gregory Rohlf, University of the Pacific, USA

Asian nations and peoples have become significant participants in International Voluntary Service (IVS). After the U.S. Peace Corps, Japan and South Korea rank two and three in total numbers of volunteers sent abroad through government-sponsored programs, just ahead of Germany. Private, non-governmental organizations from many countries send volunteers overseas, as do for-profit enterprises that advertise volunteering as a kind of tourism. It seems clear, therefore, that IVS is becoming more appealing and more common around the world. This paper explores how the Philippines and Filipinos fit into this global story. The Philippines is examined as a case study in this paper. The country has hosted international volunteers for decades but starting in the 1970s, it has also distinguished itself as a sending country. It has consistently been one of the largest contributors of international volunteers to the United Nations Volunteers program. Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), the largest non-governmental sending agency worldwide, set up a Philippines-based branch in 2005 to meet Filipino demand for overseas placements. One goal of the paper is to explain why people volunteer to help others far away. What makes digging a ditch in a faraway place appealing and transformative? The historical analysis shows that new, globally-circulating ideas about the moral geography of personal experience underlay the development of volunteering across nations and regions. The paper contributes to the history of ideas in the contemporary times and how Filipinos have participated in the discourse about IVS.

Mobility & Modernity: Taiwanese Volunteer Tourist’s Experiences in Europe
Joyce Hsiu-Yen Yeh, National Dong Hwa University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

The contemporary world seems to be full of incredibly significant and interesting mobilities (Urry 2007). It is not surprising to find that travel and tourism relate to these mobilities which, increasingly, are seen to be involving large numbers of young people traveling across the globe. And yet, it is surprising to find most discussions of tourist encounters and youth mobilities have often been concerned with the Western point of view. There are very few studies of young people’s patterns of mobilities and especially that of young Asian youths in Europe. This paper, for its part, is an attempt to destabilize this association and provide an Asian view of cross-border travels and of why young Taiwanese are ‘on the road’ and of their experiences in providing ‘volunteer services’ to European communities. From a sociological investigation into the reasons for the appeal of ‘doing Europe’, this paper also deals with Taiwanese youth mobility and its implications for the more profound consequences of modernity. Drawing upon an ethnographic approach and in-depth interviews, this paper is concerned with traveling, especially for long-term volunteer tourists, as a set of strategies for self-improvement and ways to accumulate their multiple capitals (Bourdieu 1984). This paper points to a range of Taiwanese volunteer tourist experiences in Europe and seeks to probe different angles in a new line of tourism research and mobility studies, together with other more general theoretical explorations of cultural aspects of touristic experiences and practices.

Social and Cultural Mobility: Chinese Language (Volunteers) Teachers in Laos
Manynooch Faming, Chiang Mai University, Thailand

Since the inception of the Chinese Volunteers’ Overseas Voluntary Service Plan, hundreds of Chinese volunteers have chosen to work in 15 developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America such as Laos, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Guyana. Their work covers a wide spectrum of services, including English and Chinese language teaching, medicine and health care, agricultural techniques, martial arts and sports training. The purpose of this paper is to provide a case study of voluntary mobility in a form of development of the other. In other words, most Chinese language teachers who have been sent to Laos have expressed ‘hope’ to improve lives of Lao people through Chinese language and culture. That is, these teachers view and follow the Chinese national’s propaganda in ‘bridging’ China to the rest of the world, particularly the developing countries and those of ‘socialist’ countries. Through teaching-learning Chinese language, including Chinese traditional songs, dances, calligraphy, traditional medicine, food, etc., these teachers find themselves acting as a representative and/or a diplomat of Chinese civility. This representative/diplomat role, I would argue, could be seen as ‘better’ and thus more ‘noble’ than other roles (i.e., a teacher and trainer) that they are assigned. In sum, this study investigates: who are these language teachers? How have they been recruited? Why do they want to teach Chinese in developing countries, in this case, Laos? Finally, the research attempts to seek an answer to some of the meanings of the representative/diplomat role through teaching Chinese language abroad of these teachers in Laos.

The Mutual Seduction of Intra-Asian Development in Nepal
Heather Hindman, University of Texas, Austin, USA

Nepal has been sustained by the dual industries of international aid and tourism; in the late 20th Century this was driven by Europe and America, while in the last decade East Asia visitors have come to dominate tourism, missionary work and development projects. This paper looks at two sides of this trade in people and ideas: East Asia's vision of a "civilizing mission" to its Asian sibling-nations and Nepal's courtship of these new relationships, desirous of what an "Asian modernity" might bring to Nepal. A new generation of young East Asians are visiting Nepal as "voluntourists" - through government programs, religious groups or as independent travelers. For some, these trips are seen a means to establish themselves and their nations as givers, rather than receivers, of aid. East Asian governments capitalize on the rhetorical value of aid and claim a historical and regional sympathy that inoculates their programs from accusations of domination. Soft power projects are pushing East Asia to the forefront of the imagination of aspiring young Nepalese. Believing that these countries offer the opportunity for wealth once associated with the United States, many young people in Nepal are becoming interested in the popular culture and languages of China, Japan and Korea. This paper examines the contemporary "mutual seduction" (Adams 1996) taking place between Nepalese and a new population of East Asian partners, questioning the way in which this may signal a new era of mutually beneficial mobility or perhaps just a mimesis of past domination strategies.