Diaspora voices  
March 15, 2023
Identity and the “in-between space” – welcoming Jessica Henrich

In March 2023, we welcomed the newest member of the EUDiF team: for the next five months Jessica Henrich joins us on our diaspora youth internship programme. Jessica, who has German-Malaysian origins, is currently doing her M.A. in International Relations and Development Policy at University Duisburg-Essen (West-Germany). At the start of her time with EUDiF, Jessica sat down with fellow intern Carolina to discuss her interests in the internship and beyond…

Carolina: Hello Jessica! I’m delighted to welcome you to EUDiF. What was your motivation for joining this internship and how do you feel at the start of it?

Jessica: Thank you, Carolina. I am very excited about this opportunity to be a part of the EUDiF project. As I approach the end of my master’s program, I am eager to put into practice the knowledge that I’ve gained during the course of my academic career. Specifically, I am interested in learning more about diaspora engagement, capacity building, and development cooperation. These topics align precisely with my field of study. And since I see myself working in the migration development policy field the Diaspora Youth Internship presented itself as the perfect opportunity to connect my M.A. with an active project. Beyond that, I am interested in crisis management, humanitarian response, and migration policy on a global scale.

Interesting! You will focus your tasks on capacity development during your internship. What strikes you most so far and what do you hope to learn and experience?

I really like EUDiF’s global approach to creating and consolidating knowledge to further elevate diaspora engagement and equip diaspora organisations with useful tools and skills to build on capacities in a sustainable manner. I am excited to learn more about the different micro-projects and engage in region-specific projects such as the project with the African Foundation for Development (AFFORD) on diaspora crowdfunding & crowdlending for West Africa. In addition, this is a valuable opportunity for me to work with an international team that strongly emphasises the importance of youth and encourages us to contribute to projects and publications.

Let’s talk about you and the idea of “diaspora”. There is no one definition, but for EUDiF, diaspora refers to emigrants and their descendants who seek to maintain or create links with their heritage countries and are willing to contribute to development. How do you read yourself in this environment?

Thank you, that is a great question. I would like to refer to IOM’s definition which defines diasporas as “migrants or descendants of migrants, whose identity and sense of belonging have been shaped by their migration experience and background.” This definition precisely aligns with what I believe the core identity of diaspora is. A sense of belonging that is shaped by idiosyncratic migration experiences. Personally, I self-identified as a diaspora fairly recently. I am a person with mixed origins, and lived in Germany, Malaysia, and Brazil by the age of 18; having roots in India and Romania adds further layers of complexity to my sense of belonging. These early cultural exposures have shaped my identity immensely and I constantly find myself occupying an “in-between space” wherever I am.

I can imagine. The complexity of being of mixed origins and identifying yourself in an “in-between space” is a reality for thousands of young people in Europe. This aspect was even discussed during the Seventh European Migration Forum 2022 where I first met EUDiF alumni in the side event dedicated to youth networks. In what ways do you imagine this issue can be debated and worked on?

Yes, I believe it’s a subject that needs to be highlighted more since mixed origins imply multiple cultural ties. This transnational character and understanding of the world puts the diaspora, like me, in a unique position in which we can function as a “cultural bridge”. Therefore, I think it’s crucial that platforms are created for people of mixed origins to share experiences, network, and jointly build a professional space for “in-betweeners”. I recently learnt about the Berlin-founded Migrapreneur Network which has created a community by exchanging innovative best practices and providing holistic support to migrant-entrepreneurs. I strongly believe that such networks provide great opportunities for diasporas to come together and assist each other on a professional level.

Definitely, the creation of platforms and spaces dedicated to people of mixed origins is essential to understand their space in diaspora engagement and even to avoid any kind of cultural and racial discrimination. How do you envision the future of such platforms? What results do you think would be of benefit to society?

Great question, thank you. I truly envision a future in which platforms as such become universal, omnipresent, and accessible. In a sense that transcultural spaces are created and cultivated for different purposes whether professional, socio-cultural, or creative. As a result, I believe that platforms like these can shape society to become more accepting, engaging, and encouraging toward people of mixed origins. The visibility of diaspora through such platforms is essential in order to foster an environment that stands for inclusion. The transnational character of people with mixed origins is an asset to society that deserves to be recognised as such.

Lastly, I would like to ask about the connection of this internship with your master’s research. You are preparing to write your thesis on the Syrian diaspora in Germany. What are you intending to explore and how does the internship programme help?

Yes, precisely. For my thesis, I aim to conduct a conflict analysis of the Syrian war and examine all the structural factors, dynamic processes, triggering events, and regional dynamics that played into the conflict trajectory as a whole. Specifically, I would like to focus on the Syrian diaspora in Germany following the European migration crisis in 2015/16 and explore existing state-diaspora engagement channels. As part of the mixed-method methodology, I plan to conduct an interview with a relevant actor from one of the state-diaspora channels. I hope this internship will help me advance my research skills, consolidate my knowledge on diaspora engagement, and also potentially assist me in conducting an interview with a Syrian diaspora. I am looking forward to this opportunity and eager to connect my thesis with this internship!

I hope this experience will be very productive for you academically and personally. It is a pleasure to be able to be part of this programme with you. Best of luck!

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