Written by Liudmila Kirpitchenko:
I was very grateful to receive this TASA scholarship and the opportunity it gave me to participate in the conference in Cairns last year. My involvement in TASA activities began in 2006 when I came to Australia from Canada. I started a PhD program at Monash University and began attending a postgraduate reading group led by the Postgraduate Coordinator A/Prof Jo Lindsay. Jo was actively encouraging doctoral students to experience TASA conferences and thanks to Jo’s keen encouragement and support I went to my first TASA conference in Perth almost ten years ago. TASA conferences became the welcome occasions to listen to and interact with key international experts in the field of migration and mobility who became my inspirational notables in sociology. Every year I look forward to attending and presenting at the TASA conference, especially in the thematic group Migration, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism.
In 2015, my paper was ‘Transnational mobility of scholars as an opportunity for learning cosmopolitanism’. This paper summarised my preliminary reflections on the fieldwork I conducted overseas at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence. Although the EUI is located in Italy, it is a distinctly international institution which offers Europe’s largest doctoral and postdoctoral programs in the social sciences. The EUI presented a unique setting for conducting my empirical research project on academic mobility and intercultural communication, because it is a unique international university which exemplifies transnational academic mobility nowadays. Academic mobility is reflected not only in the composition of students and staff, but also, and more importantly, in the internationalised and interdisciplinary research environment which effectively combines multiple cultural and scholarly traditions. It hosts over one thousand scholars from more than sixty European and non-European countries, offering an ideal representation of my target research group – the international academic community – which cannot be found anywhere else.
Last year I was lucky to have the opportunity to be a Visiting Scholar at the EUI as a recipient of an Endeavour Research Fellowship, a mobility grant funded by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training. I have used this time to collect empirical data on academic mobility and conduct face-to-face and Skype interviews with mobile scholars, postdoctoral fellows, research fellows and postgraduate researchers affiliated with the EUI. I also conducted an online survey among alumni of this institution. My research has an objective to analyse diversified experiences of transnational academic migrants and opportunities they have for learning cosmopolitan values and skills.
Academic mobility is a significant topic for Australia. Recently, Australia has signalled its unwavering commitment to promoting academic mobility by launching a new mobility program entitled the New Colombo Plan. This Plan provides mobility grants to Australian students to study in the Asia Pacific region and it serves to further deepen and expand transnational academic encounters. Mobility programs are designed to have transformational effects on participants. Thus, the ‘New Colombo Plan is intended to be transformational, deepening Australia’s relationships in the region, both at the individual level and through expanding university, business and other stakeholder links’. Equally, another Australian academic mobility program called Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships has the aim ‘to increase the skills and global awareness of high achieving individuals’.
Empirical research into the advantages and benefits of academic mobility has been scarce and contradictory. Previous studies suggested that intercultural academic encounters can bring about misunderstandings and refusing the other, and in some cases intercultural interactions can lead to a stronger sense of national identity and even national closure and in-group isolation. On the other hand, intercultural encounters and academic interactions also have enormous potential for knowledge interchange, expanding horizons, cultural enrichment and acquiring cosmopolitan worldviews.
Preliminary findings from my fieldwork suggest that intercultural encounters have a potential transformative power on the careers, world outlooks and life courses of the participants. Such transformations may include opportunities for learning cosmopolitan values, dispositions and competencies. Cosmopolitanism has been acknowledged as a transformative vision contemplating of an alternative society, and mobile scholars are uniquely placed at the forefront of potential cultural and social transformations. In the face-to-face interviews, research questions focused on the individual pathways for intercultural transformations and opportunities for learning cosmopolitan values, beliefs and attitudes, as well as acquiring intercultural competencies, attributes and dispositions. It has been an honour and a privilege to share my research findings with TASA community and I look forward to having this opportunity at the 2016 conference, with the meaningful theme ‘Cities and Successful Societies’.