EAC Thesis Award Runner-up: Helen Ellis

20 July 2021

In addition to the winning thesis, the jury panel of the 2021 EAC Thesis Award have chosen two runners-up. Here you can read about one of these, written by Helen Ellis of Massey University in Albany, New Zealand. The thesis’ title is ‘”How is distance grandparenting for you?” A study of long haul, New Zealand distance grandparents and inter-generational transnational familying.’ The following is an excerpt from the executive summary, as written by Helen:

An expatriate wears many hats. He or she is an adventurer, a globetrotter, an opportunist, and a global citizen. An expatriate is also a distance daughter, distance daughter-in-law, distance son, distance son-in-law and/or distance grandchild – and let us not forget distance sibling, niece, nephew, cousin, godchild and more. Countries, jobs, homes and schooling choices can chop and change with assignments, but an expatriate’s distance family role never leaves their being. Every minute of every day, distance parents, grandparents and others wish their family was near. This dilemma impacts all expatriates.

Anthropologists, like myself, want to know how and where people live and inhabit, in relation to who and what is important to them. My thesis asks these questions of the left behind parents and grandparents of a handful of New Zealand expatriates (and migrants). These grandparents are a drop in the ocean of the vast numbers of distance parents and grandparents who populate the world; but a researcher has to start somewhere.

My thesis […] contributes to the advancement of scholarly perspectives by offering…

  • evidence of an under-researched aspect of expatriates’ lives (their left behind kin) and the resulting stories that are going unrecorded;
  • evidence of a successful research methodology that others may duplicate;
  • a set of findings that others may build on.

[M]y master’s thesis addresses a topic (distance parents and grandparents) that is integral to every expatriate’s story because hands down, scholars and mobility commentators maintain the strongest emotion expatriates experience is guilt – the guilt of the left behind family. To shift and expand our understandings of what an ‘expatriate’ is, is to appreciate the truth that thoughts of their left behind kin occupies a significant portion of an expatriate’s thinking space. How the folks are at home radically affect the stories of how it is being a distance son, distance daughter or distance grandchild.

COVID-19 has exacerbated this social phenomena. The left-behind kin is a contributing factor to previously unthought of considerations of repatriation. This is resulting in the re-writing of some expatriates’ stories.