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Campus Now

Spring Verdure Issue (May)

A WASEDA Miscellany

Gracia Liu-Farrer

Embracing Changes

Gracia Liu-Farrer
Associate Professor, Faculty of International Research and Education
(Graduate School of Asia Pacific Studies)

Life is unpredictable. For me, it constantly brings pleasant surprises. When I left China for the United States in 1996, I thought I would spend the rest of my life in that country. I was going to an American graduate school and newly wedded to an American graduate student. If someone told me that some years later I would be making my home in Tokyo and teaching at Waseda University, I would have laughed with disbelief. While I was finishing my master’s program at the University of Chicago, my husband, finishing his PhD at the same university, came home asking how I thought about going to Japan because there was a university position there that he had a chance for. “Sure,” I said, “Sounds exciting.” Twenty months after I immigrated to the United States, I landed at Narita Airport in 1998, equipped with the 46 hiragana memorized during the flight across the Pacific Ocean.

I obtained my PhD in sociology in 2007. With a family life now already rooted in Japan, I decided to pursue an academic career in Japan. I am lucky to have encountered many colleagues in Japan who appreciate my work and encourage my intellectual pursuits. After spending a year and a half as a research fellow at Tohoku University and half a year as an assistant professor at Ochanomizu University, here I am! With Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies’ international focus and Waseda’s global vision, I believe I have found the ideal intellectual home in Japan.

I am a sociologist studying international migration, in particular, the contemporary migration from China to Japan. I research the economic practices of the Chinese in Japan, especially their positions in Japan’s global economy and their transnational career patterns. I also write about the social and emotional consequences of migration. My own life trajectory makes my interest in the geographic mobility of people a logical choice. Having migrated several times in my life and in different circumstances, I have learnt to adapt to different linguistic (dialectical), social and cultural environments, and am therefore particularly sensitive toward the conditions, struggles and achievements of immigrants. I spent years carrying out participant observation, interviewing and surveying among the Chinese immigrants in Japan. I went from the immigrant social dance hall to immigrant churches. I shamelessly accosted strangers in Chinese grocery stores. The fieldwork period was hard at times. However, through this field research, I learned a great deal not only about the life of Chinese immigrants in Japan, but about life itself. The prolonged fieldwork trained me to be a better sociologist as well as a more empathetic person.

I teach courses on cultural flows and social changes in an age of globalization. I also teach research methods, both qualitative and survey methods, which is unusual. Sociologists often do either. I am a strong advocate of mixed methods for social scientific research. I never hesitate to tell my students such. Only by participating in the activities of our subjects and talking to them can we gain understanding of the meaning of their practices and their perception of the society. And with statistics we can put in perspectives the information we gain from fieldwork.

And passion, honesty and a sense of humor are the only pedagogies I know. With passion I show that I love the knowledge I am sharing, and with honesty I let students know that I have limited knowledge and through the course of teaching I am learning together with them. And I like to crack jokes when I notice the students are drifting into a dreamy world. I have been very happy with the GSAPS students I have. We are lucky to have such an international mix. Students share their experiences and understandings originating in different social and cultural backgrounds. The diversity in voices makes the teaching fun and rewarding.

If I have any advice for students, both Japanese students and non-Japanese students, I will say just embrace and welcome changes. If there is anything that is constant it is the fact that everything changes. I have enjoyed the changes of scenery so far, and I have a fuller and more interesting life because of them.