2018 Student-Faculty Fellows Program: Gettysburg College
Cultural Representation in Tourism: Alignment and Diversion
Mentors: Voon Chin Phua, Professor of Sociology
Students: Xiunan Yu, Jesse Shircliff, Brianna Costira, and Meira Ruben
Tourism is one of the major revenue-generating sectors in the economies of Asia Pacific countries and a major source of foreign exchange earnings in countries such as China and Singapore. It is also an important industry in the service sector that provides significant local jobs and functions as an indispensable part of the global economy, making it a key current global issue. Singapore’s lack of resource exports makes tourism a key economic industry. The incentive to market culture as a tourist attraction affects how cultural sites are represented. Research has demonstrated that economic incentives for culture to ‘perform’ as an economic resource leads to potential cultural commodification and an expression of culture that mainly appeals to tourist standards. These representations in the tourism industry are not only business approaches but affect local communities. This SFF project seeks to research how locals and tourists interpret historical and current representations of culture and the extent that they align.
Our research requires us to work closely with tourists, locals and the various cultural centers. Navigating a foreign country is an exercise in awareness. We will learn the perspectives of local individuals and institutions through our meetings and interactions. These interactions will help students better understand and immerse in the local culture. We plan to develop educational materials that will be useful to the various cultural centers that are major sources of educational information for both tourists and locals. We aim to achieve a mutually beneficial alliance where we can enhance our educational and professional development and Asian cultural immersion as well as contribute to the local communities’ educational resources.
Students will have first-hand experience designing a research project in an Asian context with a faculty mentor. Participating in this project provides the experience of developing a study, conducting research, analyzing data, writing documents, and disseminating and reporting the results over the course of several months to a full year. This process will train students to have the perseverance and tenacity to bring longer term projects to fruition. Sharpening collaborative skills with fellow students and local constituents and learning and practicing local social etiquette will inevitably lead to both group and individual growth. Connecting the project to literature and an analytical framework while balancing ‘real-world’ application requires critical thinking skills. While our research focuses on tourism in Singapore, being embedded in Singapore’s culture will provide us an opportunity to recognize our own cultural biases. This understanding is important in an increasingly global world both within one’s career and as a global citizen.
Through my completion of the ASIANetwork Student-Faculty Fellowship, I learned several invaluable skills that prepared me for my future career. As an Environmental Studies major, this fellowship provided me the opportunity to dive into the world of sociological research for the first time. As a result, I learned that I would like to pursue a career that focuses on social science research. I completed several different projects that branched from the research my group and I conducted. Upon our return, my group created a library exhibit containing photos and captions from our time in Singapore. We utilized this exhibit to share our experiences. We also wrote a paper on cultural tourism, with the intent of publishing it. Lastly, we created a poster presentation for a conference. Outside of my group, I have used my experiences with the fellowship to aid in the creation of my senior research project. Aside from the creation of different projects, we fulfilled several different core ideas within the program including understanding current issues within an Asian context and interacting with local individuals. Lastly, I gained insight into what I would like to pursue as a future career. I learned valuable skills, such as working in a small group for an extended period of time and handling a large dataset. These skills are highly transferrable and will be important as I work towards my future career.
Thanks to the kind generosity of the ASIANetwork Student-Faculty Fellows Program, I had the opportunity over the summer of 2018 to travel to Singapore and conduct sociological field research on cultural tourism. Three Gettysburg students and I, under the mentorship of our professor, Dr. VoonChin Phua, spent the previous ten months completing a literature review, writing a detailed grant-proposal, and preparing logistics for the trip. Upon arriving in Singapore, we began collecting our qualitative and survey data and exploring Singapore.
As tourists ourselves in the country, it felt natural and logical to study tourism and culture as sociological concepts. Our research specifically explored how locals and tourists perceive Singapore’s culture, and whether those perceptions align and diverge. We spent four weeks collecting data through semi-structured interviews and online surveys. We completed over 200 in-person interviews with both locals and tourists at various locations across the country. In our time there, we were fortunate enough to have the unique opportunity to experience an authentic culture that many short-visit tourists never experience. In addition to our field research and analysis, we were invited to present our preliminary findings to a public audience at Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority and were subsequently interviewed by a Singapore newspaper, Straits Times. Upon our return, we curated a photography exhibition currently on display in the Gettysburg College library, and we have been working on publishing a paper in an academic journal.
Throughout the duration of my time in Singapore and upon my return to college, I developed both practically and professionally. The SFF experience helped me shape my plans for the future in unexpected ways. In my immediate future, I will spend my summer interning with the Global Education Programs team of the National Geographic Society. I plan to explore graduate school options after graduation in May 2020, and my SFF experience has not only given me the opportunity to develop practical research skills including data collection and analysis, but also cultivated a newfound passion for the academic research process.
The title of our Student-faculty Fellowship Program was “Singapore’s Cultural Tourism: Alignment and Diversion.” Our project outcomes include public and academic presentations in the form of posters and talks given both in the United States and in Turkey, manuscript writing for course work in Asian studies and potential academic articles, as well as the further teamwork required to achieve these goals. The project allowed us to achieve all five core values of the Student-faculty Fellowship Program. First, we investigated the issue of tourism in an Asian context, which is especially relevant to the small island nation of Singapore. Second, through networking with students and local organizations like the Chinatown Heritage Centre and Singapore Heritage Society, we interacted with people of an Asian nation. Third, the project developed skills related to conducting sociological research, though such skills can and have been applied to other contexts. Fourth, skill development such as teamwork and professional interaction are also key components of professional development. Lastly, we were lucky to have a faculty mentor that provided us with freedom to make our own choices and guided us when needed by providing expert advice in conducting research, preparing written forms, and navigating a foreign culture. Finally, the Student-faculty Fellowship played an instrumental role in demonstrating how Asian studies provide rich and interesting means to investigate a range of topics in the modern world, including immigration, identity, tourism, culture, and many more.
In our research, we interviewed hundreds of locals and tourists in Singapore to investigate the perceptions of cultural identity and tourism sites. Even though I was a graduated international student when I participated in this project, I still learned many useful professional skills that prepared me for my career as a programmer in China. From this experience, I significantly developed my networking skills by contacting individuals and institutions for this project. We scheduled several interviews before we started the trip, which helped us make more efficient and effective connections with several institutions. Furthermore, the project required me to work in a disparate environment and learn how to deal with cross-cultural communication. Even though I am Asian, I felt a little out of my comfort zone in Singapore as the Chinese culture there is different from the culture in China. One of the main challenges of this project was adjusting ourselves to communicate with people from different cultural backgrounds within an unfamiliar country. I learned to be more flexible and more adaptable in new situations and environments. Through the experience of conducting interviews, I developed better communication skills that are necessary for a collaborative project. I have used these skills in my current job as a software developer. The SFF experience provided me an opportunity to work as a researcher in Singapore, changing my perspective to where I now think of myself more as a global citizen and opening my eyes to international opportunities.