Interview with Dr Annie Wu, 2023 Postdoctoral Writing Grant Recipient

Interview with Dr Annie Wu, 2023 Postdoctoral Writing Grant Recipient

Congratulations on being awarded an ASAA 2023 Postdoctoral Writing Grant! Can you tell us a bit about your current research?

My current research is a monograph about the circular migration between Australia and Timor-Leste. It’s an ethnographic and longitudinal piece about seasonal agricultural workers’ lives in Australia. In addition, it’s about the socio-economic and community impacts back in sending communities in Timor-Leste. After 7 years of investing my time and efforts in this topic, I discovered multi-scalar, long-standing, overarching impacts of circular migration between the migrants’ sending and receiving societies. Several policy analysts believe that monetary gains can compensate for the ramification of family separation. This may not be true for seasonal workers who have completed more than 5 seasons. I explore the long-term impacts on the community through a comprehensive, diverse, and in-depth lens.

The most valuable part of this longitudinal and ethnographic study is to see changes over time. Workers are brought into Australia via the governmental guest worker schemes – either via the Seasonal Workers Programme (SWP) or Pacific Labour Australia Mobility for a duration of 6 months to 4 years. A large number of my participants are on shorter SWP visas. Usually, policy impact research has the limitation of being a hypothetical and top-down approach. My research utilises a bottom-up approach that oversees the outcome in both Australian and Timorese communities.     

How did you first become interested in this field of research?

I was first interested in the issues of human geography from my travelling experiences in Southeast Asia in 2009. I have been to every country in Southeast Asia except for Timor-Leste by 2018. Labour migration and circular migration is one of the prominent topics of discussion in many Southeast Asian countries; including Timor-Leste. After realising the gap between Timor-Leste and other migrant-receiving countries regarding the environment, socio-economic landscape, and basic infrastructure, I became intrigued to research the topic of migration and its outcomes. I am more interested in learning about what motivates people to embark on the journey of labour movement and how migrants adapt to the new lifestyle in their destination country. 

What have been the most challenging aspects of doing your research?

The most challenging aspects of doing my research were the environment in Timor-Leste and the implicit sexism and racism I experienced as a woman born in Taiwan but coming from Australia. I encountered teenagers who pulled my hair and scared me in front of Timor Plaza when I first arrived in Dili. It was blunt and rough. Yet many of my white Australian counterparts did not have a similar experience to me; especially men and those who were older. Instead, their nationality, race and age meant they were well-respected in Timorese society. On occasion, I was mistaken as a student or assistant of an older, white colleague, even though I have a Dr title and work as an expert with the United Nations. 

Despite these experiences, I still managed to discover the beauty of Timor-Leste and travelled around the field sites from time to time. Wonderful moments occurred when I was trying to converse in Tetum in everyday life. I enjoyed being humorous when young children and teenagers were curious about my background. During my stay in rural districts I was asked whether Taiwanese people eat rice, or if Australia has any trains. I learned that Timorese people have never had a chance to access a train in Timor-Leste. I would explain how railways work in Australia in my limited Tetum, describing that there would be air-conditioners, cushion seats, and toilets, that they stop according to the timetable every half an hour in the same place and sometimes sell ice creams onboard. They were overjoyed!  

What are your hopes for the influence of your work?

My upcoming book will be the first research monograph that illustrates the current and up-to-date development situation through labour migration and its remittance outcome. My hope for the influence of my work would be to fill this niche of contemporary literature on Timor-Leste studies. Timor-Leste is the youngest country in Southeast Asia and still there is not much existing literature available in the aspects of economics, society, agriculture, development, gender, environment, and migration. During the period of revisiting Dili for the recent fieldwork, I found there are quite a lot of people who are interested in reading my previous publications but without any digital access to journal articles or sufficient Internet. The influence of my work will hopefully reach out to the developing world and contribute to its scholarship in a significant way.

How will the Postdoctoral Writing Grant support you in your research? 

This Postdoctoral Writing Grant is a huge recognition for me! It acknowledges my efforts in writing and researching. I have lived in Dili since the time of application and need to travel between Australia and Timor-Leste frequently for data collection this year. This Postdoctoral Writing Grant will assist me with airfares and accommodation which has been a huge relief for me. Because Timor-Leste is not a popular tourist destination, everything is costly if the living quality is to be maintained. With the support of this Postdoctoral Writing Grant, I can move one step forward towards achieving my goal of publication.  

Dr Annie Wu is an International Expert of Ethnography & Data Science at the Timor-Leste Accelerator Lab, UN House in Timor-Leste.

Share On: