Barry McNamara  |  Published May 05, 2023

Singapore in June

Monmouth College group headed to Asian nation to study migrant domestic workers.

WE'RE GOING HERE: Jacinda Garcia points to the spot on the map where a team of five Monmouth ... WE'RE GOING HERE: Jacinda Garcia points to the spot on the map where a team of five Monmouth students and two faculty members are headed in June. Also pictured are, from left, Michael Andal, professor Jialin Li, Kylie McDonald, professor Marlo Belschner, Addison Cox and Ethan Forsberg.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Five Monmouth College students and two faculty members will spend the majority of June in Singapore to gain a broader and deeper understanding of the everyday lives of migrant domestic workers in the nation of 5.5 million people.

Professors Jialin Li and Marlo Belschner will lead the trip. Li brings a background in sociological training, while Belschner helped make the trip possible through her knowledge of working with different grant agencies, as well as her background in feminist theories and issues and in transnational feminism. The English professor has led the Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s India program and also traveled in Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Nepal and Istanbul.


The focal point

In Singapore, migrant domestic workers have played a key role in taking care of children and the elderly since 1978, when the state granted work permits allowing a limited recruitment of domestic servants from Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Philippines to ease the burden of working, middle-class women in Singapore.

Prior to COVID-19, about 260,000 such migrants worked and lived within employers’ households. However, many local journalists and scholars recently started to shed light on the legal barriers and gender-based violence migrant female workers are facing. The global pandemic further worsened the situation.

Belschner and Li selected three non-governmental and/or non-profit organizations with which to partner: Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics, Transient Workers Count Too, and Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training.

“We’ll be researching the migrant domestic care workers who are there, especially females. We’ll learn firsthand about the experiences they face, like a lack of days off, being underpaid and restrictions they face. We’re going to interview staff and hopefully shadow them.” Kylie McDonald


“Students will learn from our NGO hosts while improving their intercultural communication and collaboration skills,” wrote Belschner and Li in the grant. “With the guidance of the NGO staff, the students will identify migrant domestic workers who are willing to speak about their experiences to acquire a deeper understanding of their daily routines as well as their perceptions of family and motherhood.”

Both before, during and after their research in Singapore, the Monmouth students will learn teamwork skills, practice both soft and hard skills related to ethical research with vulnerable populations, and translate their fieldwork into presentations for diverse on- and off-campus audiences. These skills and the creation of artifacts will be incorporated into their professional portfolios as a part of their career preparation.

“After we come back, we’ll do multiple projects together,” said Belschner. “There will be meetings that take place over the next year.”


Hearing from the students


Michael Andal ’26, Addi Cox ’23, Ethan Forsberg ’24, Jacinda Garica ’23 and Kylie McDonald ’23 all took a half-credit course to prepare for the trip, although the trip itself is not for credit.

“We’ll be researching the migrant domestic care workers who are there, especially females,” said McDonald. “We’ll learn firsthand about the experiences they face, like a lack of days off, being underpaid and restrictions they face. We’re going to interview staff and hopefully shadow them.”

“I’m really excited to do research far out of my field,” said Cox, who will graduate on May 14 with a degree in English. “I’m going to be on a very specific academic path for the next six years after this, and I’ve always been interested in beefing up my skill set.”

“I’m really excited to do research far out of my field. I’m going to be on a very specific academic path for the next six years after this, and I’ve always been interested in beefing up my skill set.” Addison Cox


“This project is really meaningful for me,” said Andal, who is part Filipino. “I want to interview other Filipinos. My aunt has worked abroad in places like Dubai and Hong Kong. Going to Singapore, I’ll be around people that I’m used to from growing up, and it’s great to expand my knowledge, as well.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing the cultural differences between Singapore and the United States,” said Garcia. “The diversity of food, the street life of the people, the weather. It’s going to be hot and humid and sticky and gross (with heat indexes hovering around 110), but that’s part of the experience.”

“I got an email from Dr. Li that they were applying for the grant,” said Forsberg, a sociology and anthropology major who will be traveling abroad for the first time. “I’ve taken a few classes with her and she always has very interesting reading, assignments and classes. I knew I had to be a part of whatever she was going to be studying there and that it would be something I would kick myself for the rest of my life if I wasn’t a part of.”

In addition to the research project, the group will also have a full experience of the multi-ethnic culture in Singapore, including various foods at hawker markets and ethnic neighborhoods, such as Little India, Chinatown and Arab Street/Kampong Glam. Aiding their research and sightseeing is the fact that mostly English is spoken in Singapore. The group will also visit Sentosa Island, a recreational island off the mainland with water parks, beaches, sky trams and bumboat tours.

“Sentosa Island is an amazing place. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.” Marlo Belschner


“Sentosa Island is an amazing place,” said Belschner. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.”

The group will also explore Singapore Zoo and Singapore National Museum, as well as shopping plazas and churches. Aiding their research and sightseeing is the fact that mostly English is spoken in Singapore.

The funding

The Monmouth trip is funded through ASIANetwork. Its Student-Faculty Fellows Program supports faculty-led student summer projects in Asia emphasizing five core ideas under the broad theme of “Engaging Asia.” The core ideas include: current global issues in an Asian context; interaction and collaboration with the people of Asia; practical and professional skill development; student career and professional preparation; and strong faculty mentorship of students

Supported by the Freeman Foundation, the ASIANetwork grant awards up to $5,000 per mentor and student. Belschner had previously applied for an ASIANetwork grant with former faculty member Tim Gaster in 2015 and then again with Li in 2019. Even if that latter grant proposal had been accepted, the Monmouth group still wouldn’t have been able to go due to travel restrictions during the pandemic.

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