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October 21, 2016
Canadian Excellence

Kerala, India, location of Walton-Roberts' sabbatical research

Margaret Walton-Roberts: "Doing migration research in India - Perseverance and the exhilaration of discovery"

Notes from the field.
November 2008,
Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

I have been in India since early September on a Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute faculty training fellowship conducting research on the migration of nurses from Kerala to the United Arab Emirates. I developed this research project for two reasons: one was to examine the issue of skilled female migration and the other was the opportunity to contrast the migratory networks of Kerala emigrants to the Punjab-Canada migrant networks I had researched for my PhD. The research itself involved interviewing students and faculty at government and private nursing colleges to understand how international opportunities influence the professional status of nursing, the matrimonial demand for nurses, and how geographical knowledge about the different international opportunities available to nurses is circulated and informs the migratory aspirations of students. 

                The Centre for Development Studies (CDS) in Thiruvananthapuram is one of the best research centers in India, and home to a number of scholars with very active projects in the area of migration, development and remittances. This affiliation with CDS has been of inestimable value in my efforts to interview various officials, since the centre has a great deal of credibility in Kerala and beyond and is well networked with the state government.         
            As an affiliate of CDS, I have access to a beautiful campus, good library, computer facilities and the opportunity to interact with bright graduate students in the applied economics MPhil and PhD program (which is offered in collaboration with Jawaharlal Nehru University,  Delhi).
            Much of my time in Kerala, however, has actually been spent away from the CDS campus; rather, I have been traveling in the south and central parts of the state. This extensive travel (I also visited Punjab in Northern India after being invited to meet scholars in Chandigarh and explore possible joint projects) has been physically and emotionally exhausting at times, but also very worthwhile. 
            Beyond this, the major difficulties I found have been dealing with the Indian bureaucratic system, which can sometimes cause irritating delays in areas such as securing a research visa, gaining clearances to interview in government nursing colleges, opening a bank account, and buying a railway ticket (although, to be fair, the railway system is very efficient in most regards). In the face of these adversities, I have found perseverance and good humour to be indispensable, and a bit of pig-headedness has helped as well.
            I will freely admit that this undertaking has been challenging at times, but now I look back on it, things have gone fairly well. In the thick of it, though, maintaining the motivation to keep pushing on despite the privations faced was difficult, and I will admit to moments when I felt like saying ‘to hell with it’. Nevertheless, the exhilaration of discovery and the ability to satisfy that most basic of intellectual motivations, curiosity, have been immensely rewarding, and  I am very grateful to have had this opportunity.

Margaret Walton-Roberts,
Geography and Environmental Studies