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Former UMass professor Suzanne Model to study immigration in Taiwan

Retired University of Massachusetts professor of sociology Suzanne Model has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study immigration in Taiwan. She began work at The Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica on January 15 hoping to answer the question of “how do those returning to Taiwan after emigrating differ from those emigrants who remain abroad in developed countries like the U.S. and Canada?”

Model said that winning the Fulbright was an accomplishment that made her happy and reflected that others saw the importance of her research.

“As with achieving anything competitive, it feels good,” she said.

The award she received was the Faculty Research Award which she described as “awards for American faculty who wish either to teach or to do research (or to combine the two) abroad.”

 “The research that I am doing involves two strategies,” said Dr. Model in an e-mail interview from her Taipei apartment. “First, I do computer-based work; computer files created from the answers that Taiwanese people have given to questions on surveys and censuses,” she explained. “These files distinguish people who never emigrated from people who emigrated and returned to Taiwan and people born in Taiwan who are still in the US,” Model elaborated. “My computer-based research involves trying to identify the similarities and differences among three groups of people.”

Model said her research, in essence, is working to determine why people leave or return to Taiwan.

“My second strategy is to conduct personal interviews with these three types of people,” the former director of undergraduate studies in the Sociology Department.

“Here in Taiwan, I want to ask people about their reasons for never leaving or their reasons for leaving and returning,” she said.  

Model has traveled for research before, visiting Australia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France and China. She said Taiwan, while culturally distinct from the West, is, in her opinion, easier to navigate than China.

“Taiwan is much less Western than Australia or Europe, although lots of Taiwanese speak English. At the same time, compared to China, Taiwan is cleaner, richer, freer, and more user friendly,” she said.

Model also added that Taiwan’s weather is a welcome change from Amherst’s.

“Compared to Amherst, the weather is terrific; winter temperatures rarely drop below 50,”  she quipped. “If there’s a downside, it’s the weather… it is very wet,  it rains a lot and the air is very humid.”

Taiwan is known as one of the four Asian Tigers, the four most powerful economic powers in Asia. Dr. Model notes that “all four are known for their relatively high standard of living,” and joked about Taiwan’s healthcare standards relative to America’s. “You know legislation that would give every American affordable health care insurance,” she rhetorically asked, “Taiwan already has that.”

Taipei is the capital city of Taiwan, housing about 15 percent of the country’s 22 million residents. Model describes the city as “very clean” and says that “there are fewer cars than in the U.S. and lots of motor scooters.”  

Model also commented on the island nation’s bullet train connecting Taipei and Kaohsiung, the capital to the second largest city, as one of the fastest trains in the world. The capital city is a green city meaning that recycling is a high priority and as model said “Poor countries do not have the resources to support formal recycling.” Taipei was also home to the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Taipei 101 until this past year when Dubai’s Burj Dubai surpassed it.

These positive aspects of Taiwan may be among the reasons that Model said a “large proportion of [Taiwan’s] emigrants spend some years abroad, usually going to school, but also sometimes working, and then return to Taiwan.” Model added that “many developing countries wonder what they can do to be more like Taiwan; that is, to increase the percent of those who study abroad who also return home.”

Sam Hayes can be reached at sdhayes@student.umass.edu.

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