The ALLIES JRP team is now firmly settled in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia! The 12-hour time difference to the U.S. no longer feels like the challenge it was to the students from Tufts University, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the U.S. Military Academy in the first 72 hours. They have had a very exciting couple of days exploring the culture and attractions that KL has to offer, whilst also gaining valuable insight into the differing viewpoints surrounding U.S-China competition in the region from think tanks and universities.
After exploring the bustling Petaling Street Market and securing a few incredible deals on merchandise, the students turned their focus to learning more about where Malaysia stands on the important issue of the U.S-China rivalry in the South China Sea and trade. The students headed off to their first interview of another 95° F day with 80% humidity at 9:30 AM sharp.
Professors of International Law at the University of Malaya Kuala Lumpur greeted the students and lectured from ten to eleven o’clock regarding the challenges that Malaysia faces in balancing its relationship between the U.S. and China. Before concluding the session, the students had the opportunity to ask follow-up questions while enjoying incredible traditional Malaysian breakfast snacks with tea.
Following a half-hour Grab ride (South East Asia’s Uber), the students arrived at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies to interview members of Malaysia’s premier Foreign Policy Think Tank. It was there that the students learned about the background of the Institute and how it plays a role in government affairs. The students heard interesting counterarguments to points they had heard at other institutions and universities that caused them to re-evaluate some of their points of view.
Following the meeting, the students raced back to the hotel to get some much-needed lunch/dinner (Linner). They dived into a Japanese Barbecue restaurant and feasted on the 13-dollar (!), all-you-can-eat buffet. No stomach was left hungry by the end of the meal. The students capped off their day by paying their first group visit to the famous Petronas Twin Towers. The views were breathtaking, but the students were seemingly more infatuated with the electric scooters they used to drive to the towers. All eleven students rode small electric scooters to and from the towers and lived to tell the tale. They look forward to what comes next!
After a 24-hour trek across two oceans and the world’s seventh busiest airport, the 2023 ALLIES Joint Research Project (JRP) team finally made it to Malaysia. This year’s trip, as always, included both midshipmen from the US Naval Academy and cadets from the US Military Academy. I am also joined by two fellow Jumbos, Caroline Koon (A26) and John McIntyre (A25). For the first time, however, the research project would be split between two countries – Malaysia and Singapore. This played well into our research question, which aims to understand the effect of the US-China power struggle on the economy and national security of both of these nations. In a broader sense, all ASEAN members face a similar challenge in choosing who to accept foreign aid from, conduct military operations with, and ultimately, hedge their future on. In that regard, Malaysia and Singapore’s strategic location along the Strait of Malacca and economic success make them ideal case studies for such a relevant topic in international relations.
Our first round of interviews began an hour south of Kuala Lumpur at Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia, where three professors who specialized in maritime security presented their latest work and gave us the chance to ask questions and discuss future outlooks for the region. A big takeaway was that nuclear submarines pose a threat to the Strait of Malacca given the channel’s relatively shallow waters, as well as the US and China’s buildup of such submarines. Since international law of the sea defines the strait as a transit passage, a class of straits that are so major that individual countries cannot obstruct the flow of vessels through them. Malaysia has difficulty mitigating this risk.
The next stop was a more casual reception hosted by a former Royal Malaysian Navy captain who graduated from USNA. The more laid-back nature of this event allowed us to discuss the topic freely with him and his colleagues over traditional Malaysian food. Among other things, one of my biggest takeaways is that Malaysian coconut crepes are far better than the French ones.
While adjusting to the time zone, we found enough energy to do some sightseeing and check out both Islamic and Hindu religious sites, including the famous Batu Caves. This is evidence of Malaysia’s multiethnic culture, which has been fascinating to observe and compare to America’s diversity. We’re looking forward to our embassy visit early next week, after which we head to Singapore for a second week of interviews, research, and writing.
For the past 10 days, Women in International Relations have been staying in Bogotá, Colombia. We have had the wonderful experience of meeting so many caring and knowledgeable individuals throughout this trip who has helped us explore the topic of female Venezulan migrants in Colombia. Specifically, for my research question, what are the obstacles faced by pregnant female Venezulan migrants in Colombia in accessing the health care system, it is interesting to understand the relationship between accessibility and information. From what I could gather from the interviews I had, one of the issues being faced by pregnant Venezulan migrants with a temporary protection permit (PPT) was the complexity of the Colombian healthcare system. Most were not aware of what obstetric services they were entitled to due to their PPT. Migrants not being accustomed to the Colombian healthcare system, especially impacted them in insurance of xenophobia in healthcare because they were unsure how to report it.
Other than the interviews we have done here in Colombia, we have had the opportunity to meet several IGL alums while in Bogotá. On our last full day in the city, we were able to meet with Shanti Sattler and Sebastian Chaskel, two alumni living in Bogotá and associated with work being done to help the Venezuelan migrant population in Colombia. It was interesting to talk to them about our findings as well as how Tufts had changed since they attended the university. For the rising seniors on this trip, it was comforting to hear from Sebastian and Shanti about their journeys after Tufts and how being flexible is necessary. Overall, this research trip was a great experience! I was able to not only learn so much about the ongoing obstacles faced by Venezulan migrants but expand my research skills and get to bond with so many wonderful people. I want to thank the IGL for sponsoring this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The past two days in Bogotá have been pretty busy, but also extremely fun! Yesterday, on the 22, we were able to explore the neighborhood of La Candelaria, since our interview scheduled for Monday was moved to Tuesday due to a holiday. La Candelaria has great murals, views of the mountains surrounding Bogotá, and a lot of museums. Again, because of the holiday, only a few were open on Monday, but we managed to get to the Museo Botero, an art museum featuring a large amount of pieces by Fernando Botero (namesake of the museum). We went back to the neighborhood we’re staying in for dinner, before getting together in one of our hotel rooms to prepare for our meetings on the 23. On Tuesday, we got going pretty early to meet with an IGL alum, Shanti Sattler, at her co-working office, which was actually only a couple blocks away from our hotel. It was so fun to talk to a Tufts and IGL alum about her work in Colombia, as well as her experiences since graduating–she gave us some great advice and very helpful information for all of our research projects. After wrapping up with Shanti, we grabbed brunch at a restaurant called Al Agua Patos, which is apparently pretty well-known in Bogotá, and after trying the food, that’s definitely not without good reason, it was delicious. It stormed most of the afternoon, so we stayed in the hotel preparing for our next meeting at 4pm with the Mayor of Bogotá’s Counselor for Immigration Issues, Iván Gaitán Gómez, at the Bogotá Marriott. He actually brought us into an ongoing conference that was apparently hosted by USAID for many different organizations involved with migration in Colombia. We think they were wrapping up a multi-year project based on the concluding remarks (we didn’t hear the introduction since we came in during the middle), which was a very cool experience. After the conference wrapped up, we were able to conduct our interview with Mr. Gomez, which offered a lot of insight into our topics and gave us a lot more information to work with. By the time we got back to our hotel, we were all pretty wiped out, but we did go out to dinner, then came back, worked on some questions, and went to bed–another successful day in Bogotá!
This week, we have made great progress with our research trip in Sri Lanka. The four of us have found contacts and begun interviews with a number of Sri Lankan leaders in business, nonprofit, policy and government circles.
Wednesday was a packed day of interviews and meetings. I began my day on Wednesday by joining Arjun for a visit with the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, a policy think tank focused on South Asia and international affairs. We had the opportunity to meet other undergraduate students working at RCSS, as well as the director, Professor Nayani Melegoda. The undergraduates from Sri Lanka shared with studying international relations in Sri Lanka is like and discussed Sri Lanka’s foreign policy, as Arjun is researching Sri Lankan foreign policy post Civil War. The other students showed us around the RCSS library and even shared some “crocodile buns” (traditional Sri Lankan bread with sugar shaped like a crocodile).
Next, I joined Sabah for an interview with Jezima Ismail, one of the most prominent Sri Lankan Muslim activists and the founder of the Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum. Sabah is studying the experiences of Muslim women in Sri Lanka, and Jezima gave her an overview of the history of Sri Lanka’s Muslim community drawing from her experience dating back to the 1950s. In the course of her career in activism she led nearly 70 projects focused on women, education and the Muslim community in Sri Lanka. Next, I led an interview with economist Dr. Roshan Perera who has worked with the central bank and is affiliated with the Advocata Institute think tank in Sri Lanka. I am studying the impacts of the pandemic and economic crisis on Sri Lanka’s small businesses. Dr. Perera provided insights into the difficulties faced by small businesses, including the difficulty of starting a small business prior to the crises Sri Lanka has faced in recent years. Dr. Perera also discussed how Sri Lanka compared with other countries in the region and the Global South, providing insights into lessons Sri Lanka can learn given the presence of the IMF and the recent economic crisis. We ended our day as a group by visiting Advocata, one of the premier economic policy think tanks in Sri Lanka and meeting the CEO, Dhananath Fernando.
On Thursday, we had the chance to visit the United States Embassy in Colombo. We briefly met the Ambassador, Julie Chung and had a meeting with the Chief Economic and Political Officer, Susan Walke. While this was not a formal interview, visiting the embassy allowed us to learn about the American view on the issues we are all studying in Sri Lanka. The embassy recently opened a new building in September, showcasing beautiful Sri Lankan art, and has over 500 people working for it, both local Sri Lankans, and American diplomats. The embassy is also located on the waterfront of Colombo, and offers a beautiful view of the Indian Ocean, as well as the Colombo Port, which has been a center of geopolitical activity with competing Western, Chinese and Indian interests in Sri Lanka.
Following the embassy visit, I interviewed Shiran Fernando, an economist from the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, seeking to understand the views of an organization that represents the business sector in Sri Lanka. We wrapped up our day with dinner at the Jetwing hotel, recommended to us by a Sri Lankan classmate, with a great view of the Colombo skyline. With these days of interviews, all of us found new connections and perspectives on our topic areas and look forward to spending more time in Sri Lanka getting to know and understand this country with its unique place in the world right now.
Hours before I boarded my flight to Bogotá, Colombia, I was frantically finishing my finals and desperately wanted to complete my second year of college amid the move-out rush. One final project I was working on was for one of my favorite classes this past Spring semester, Asian Diasporas to Latin America, taught by Professor Diego Javier Luis in the history department. My inspiration for conducting research in Colombia stemmed from the material we read in Prof. Luis’ seminar. The common thread across this course was simple. It was that Asian peoples have always existed in the history of Latin America, and more broadly, in the hemispheric Americas. As someone interested in Asian American history, my courses have taught me that our community’s presence was only limited to experiences on the West Coast of the United States and nothing more. Prof. Luis’ course directly challenged this preconceived notion. And so, I was set on researching the history of Chinese migration to Colombia and could not wait to uncover a forgotten part of a diasporic story. I decided to focus specifically on Chinese migration because I learned in Prof. Luis’ class that there was a huge concentration of Chinese migrants brought to the Latin American and Caribbean regions to work on sugar plantations. Also, selfishly, being Chinese, I wanted to learn more about my people’s history.
When I began my research, I was shocked to find out that barely any historians, sociologists, and other scholars in academia wrote about the Chinese migration to Colombia considering the history of overseas Chinese migration to the hemispheric Americas. I managed to find two or three scholarly articles that were written in the early 2010s that briefly explored the Chinese diasporic migration to Colombia. Unlike my classmates on this trip, my interviews and background information were not the easiest to find. I had to get creative about my approaches to how I wanted to research my topic in a short amount of time.
Luckily, a breakthrough came when I was doing deep Google searches of anything related to Asia or China in Bogotá and Medellín. At the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, a new research initiative made of undergraduate students, master students, and professors in political science, international relations, history, anthropology, and other related fields, known as the Red Asia-Latin America was beginning to bridge the scholarship gap between Asia-Latin American networks. In recent years, mainstream media began covering the growing investments from Asia, specifically China, in Latin America. They covered these political and economic relationships, but never the sociocultural and historical approaches to Asia-Latin America. When I found out this group existed, I was beyond surprised and over the moon. I immediately cold-emailed them, waiting for someone/anyone to respond to me. Hoping I could finally have someone to talk to in Colombia about the Chinese community. To my surprise and luck, hours later, I received an email reply from Ivonne Espitia Montenegro, an anthropologist at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and a current graduate student at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana studying cultural studies. It just so happened that Ivonne was interested in the same topic that I was regarding Chinese migration.
We immediately set up an interview in a cafe in Bogotá, and I was so ecstatic to meet her and relieved that there are other people in Colombia who were asking the same questions that I am. Over the course of the hour we talked, I found out so much about the Chinese community in Colombia that no Google search could ever tell me. It turns out that Ivonne was tracing the history of a family who is of Chinese-Colombian descent. I learned more about general Colombian history and how the country’s overall history affected Chinese migration. From my conversation with Ivonne, I learned about how much of the Chinese migration historically has been located near the coasts of Colombia. Chinese migration historically has been in towns such as Buenaventura, Cali, Cartagena, and Barranquilla. Ivonne told me that the modern-day business ports that exist in these coastal Colombian cities were because of Chinese influence. Many of the Chinese who settled in the mid-19th century to early 20th century settled along these coastal cities to carry out business and were very involved in the trading business. Ivonne was saying that these business relations were important and the basis for the Chinese migration to Colombia. She was also showing me pictures of a Chinese community association that existed in Buenaventura specifically and how there was an abandoned Chinese cemetery that exists to this day. This signifies that there were attempts by the Chinese to create a community in these coastal cities and create a home for themselves overseas.
We connected over the struggles of finding any literature, information, and archival sources that existed regarding Chinese migration in Colombia, but we were excited that we found each other so that we could work together to uncover these forgotten stories. I am so glad that I was able to have an in-person conversation with Ivonne and approach the Chinese in Colombia from a more sociocultural perspective! This bottom-up history is important to trace and adds to a bigger picture of the greater Asian mobilities around the Latin American region. I took so much away from my conversation with Ivonne, and I definitely plan on staying in contact with her beyond my time in Colombia to continue diving into the wonders of Chinese migration in this country!