Chapter 3 Mobility Trajectory Mapping for Researching the Lives and Learning Experiences of Transnational Youth

In: (Re)Mapping Migration and Education
Authors:
Valentina Mazzucato
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Gladys Akom Ankobrey
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Sarah Anschütz
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Laura J. Ogden
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Onallia Esther Osei
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Abstract

Existing methodologies for researching the lives of young people affected by migration have thus far oversimplified their physical mobility by focusing solely on their first international migration or that of their parents. However, previous research shows that migrant youth are mobile and that mobility plays an important role in their lives. This chapter presents mobility trajectory mapping as a methodological tool to record and study these varied mobility trajectories of migrant-background youth. Mapping trajectories allows researchers to employ a youth-centric and transnational lens by involving young people in the co-creation of knowledge about their experiences of moving between places, and by learning about the meanings they attribute to these experiences. This chapter presents our experiences in developing and implementing this method with 183 Ghanaian-background young people in Ghana, Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands as part of the multi-sited, interdisciplinary research project “Mobility Trajectories of Young Lives (MO-TRAYL).” By discussing methodological advantages of mobility trajectory mapping and presenting analytical insights into the nature of transnational youth mobility that it facilitates, we show that mobility trajectory mapping offers an alternative way to research migrant-background youth with potentially deep repercussions for how we understand their transnational lives.

Existing methodologies for researching the lives of young people affected by migration have thus far oversimplified their physical mobility by focusing solely on their first international migration or that of their parents. This oversimplification permeates the research that is undertaken on such youth. For example, a common category used in migration studies is migrant generation: 1st, 1.5, or 2nd generation. Such categories are based on young people’s place of birth or the timing of their or their parents’ migration to the destination country. However, young people continue to engage in physical mobility even after their or their parents’ international migration and they may have engaged in internal migration before moving internationally.

A further category of young people affected by migration are the so-called left-behind, or the children of migrants who stay in their origin county under the care of the other non-migrant parent, other kin, or at times, also non-kin related caregivers. Even here, as the name implies, young people are assumed to be stationary or left behind, while their parents migrate. Yet they too, may move around from household to household and engage in internal migration. All of these moves that young people engage in can be of relevance to their lives, educational pathways, and more generally, their wellbeing (Mazzucato, 2015). The compendium of moves, their timing and duration, as well as how these moves shape the family constellations of who lives with the young people, we call “youth mobility trajectories” (Mazzucato, 2015).

Previous research has demonstrated that young people with a migration background have a diversity of mobility trajectories: some young people move internationally, others nationally, others a combination of these. These movements may entail back-and-forth moves between the countries of origin and residence, for short trips or longer stays. Some young people with a migration background also attend schools in more than one locality – within a country or even between different countries (Abotsi, 2020; Hoechner, 2020; van Geel & Mazzucato, 2018). Furthermore, mobility impacts young people’s life chances. For example, a recent study shows how visits to an origin country can increase the educational resilience of Ghanaian-background youth as it provides access to resources that help to overcome educational adversity in the country of residence (van Geel & Mazzucato, 2021). Even though we know that young people have varied trajectories and that mobility plays an important role in young people’s lives, this has only recently begun to be systematically researched (van Geel & Mazzucato, 2018; Robertson et al., 2018).

This chapter presents mobility trajectory mapping as a methodological tool to record and study the varied mobility and educational trajectories of youth with a migration background.1 Mobility trajectories refer to young people’s geographical moves in time and space, and the resulting family constellations such as who lives with and/or cares for the child (Mazzucato, 2015). The mapping tool that we will review here can be overlaid with other information including the moves between schools or the changing social networks that youth have during their lifetime. The approach goes beyond methodological nationalism – the practice of studying migrants’ lives solely from the perspective of one nation-state, the country of residence (Wimmer & Glick Schiller, 2002) – that continues to characterize the majority of research on youth with a migration background. By focusing on a singular international move and on youth’s lives in their country of residence, migration studies ignore the mobility and educational experiences that young people may have had beyond the country where they currently reside. In contrast, mobility trajectory mapping captures the complex mobility patterns and formal and informal learning experiences that youth with a migration background have throughout their whole lives, irrespective of where they took place. Mapping trajectories allows researchers to employ a youth-centric and transnational lens by involving young people in the co-creation of knowledge about their experiences outside of the country of residence, and learning about the meanings they attribute to these experiences. Trajectory mapping with young people does justice to the fact that young people are active agents in migration and that their mobility may be separate from that of their parents.

In this chapter, we present our experience developing and implementing this method in the multi-sited, interdisciplinary research project “Mobility Trajectories of Young Lives: Life Chances of Transnational Youth in the Global South and North (MO-TRAYL).” MO-TRAYL investigates the mobility trajectories and life chances of transnational youth in the Global South and North, focusing on young people of Ghanaian background residing in Ghana, Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands. We demonstrate that mobility trajectory mapping is a useful methodological tool for the systematic collection of young people’s highly complex mobility patterns. Further, we illustrate the importance of gathering this type of data when researching youth with a migration background, as mobility permeates their lives and impacts their learning experiences and transnational relationships.

Here, we review the existing literature on migrant youth, focusing on their mobility and the methods these studies have utilized. We compare the methods with trajectory mapping to explain what the mapping can offer conceptually and methodologically. We then describe the research context and trajectory mapping tool in further detail. The main portion of this chapter is devoted to the actual practice of trajectory mapping. Here, we draw on our experiences using the method in a research capacity with young people of Ghanaian background to illustrate its methodological adaptability and benefits, as well as its potential to produce new analytical insights into how mobility shapes the learning experiences and other aspects in the lives of youth with a migration background. We conclude with reflections on the contributions of mobility trajectory mapping to transnational migration research.

1 Youth Mobility in the Literature: Themes and Methods

The role of transnational mobility in the lives of young people of migrant background has been under-recognized, both as a topic of study and in methodology. We consider youth with a migration background to include what is categorized by the literature as 1st, 1.5. 2nd generation and left-behind youth. In the literature regarding these groups, which are often addressed separately, the actual physical mobility of such youth is either absent, features minimally or is included in a generalized fashion. Recent research agendas are highlighting transnational youth mobility and developing new ways of systematically documenting the trajectories that this mobility results in. Mapping these trajectories is one method that allows researchers to gain insight into the impact of transnational mobility on young people with a migration background, including the various learning experiences their physical mobility facilitates.

Immigrant youth studies have explored various aspects of the lives of migrant-background youth, usually those of Global South origin living in Global North contexts. Usually, the integration of youth in the residence country is the focus, investigating how family, institutional structures, and local community support mechanisms influence the outcomes of migrant-background youth, such as their educational performance (Feliciano & Rumbaut, 2005; Haller et al., 2011; Portes & Rumbaut, 2005). The emphasis of this literature on “integration” in the country of residence has come at the expense of studying young people’s connections with, movement to, and experiences in contexts beyond the country of residence. Methodologically, this is reflected in the fact that immigrant youth studies, including quantitative and qualitative studies, generally rely on data collected at one point in time and in one place (in the country of residence) using tools such as surveys and narrative interviews.

Second-generation transnationalism research, by contrast, has shown that migrant-background youth remain active in “transnational social fields” (Levitt & Glick Schiller, 2004) through various practices that link their countries of origin and residence. These include maintaining linguistic, cultural and religious practices; staying in touch with family and friends; and participating in political and development initiatives linked to the country of origin (Haikkola, 2011; Levitt, 2009; Levitt & Waters, 2002). Some studies have shown how the parental transmission of cultural pride and family histories from the country of origin support educational success (Fernández-Kelly, 2008) and resilience (Franceschelli et al., 2017) of young people with a migration background. Other studies have identified the “dual frames of reference” that such young people develop through their transnational engagements, leading them to compare their prospects in the countries of origin and residence (Louie, 2006; Orupabo et al., 2020). With some exceptions, these studies focus on how transnational connections are maintained from within the country of residence, often presuming young people to be immobile themselves. As such, they overlook the various resources and learning experiences that young people can gain through transnational mobility. Methodologically, these mostly qualitative studies collect data that pertain only to the country of residence and it is often collected retrospectively, such as through narrative interviews.

Inspired by the “mobilities turn” in the social sciences (Sheller & Urry, 2006), more-recent literature on second-generation returns focuses specifically on how young people’s travels – particularly their relocation to the country of origin – shape their identity and belonging in different contexts (Binaisa, 2011; King & Christou, 2011; Reynolds, 2011). Methodologically, however, these studies are similar to the literature reviewed above: they usually collect data retrospectively and in one place (most often the country of residence), resulting in an exploration of mobility that does not systematically track the timing, nature and patterns of young people’s mobility trajectories. Rather, it relies on generalized portrayals of relationships to a country of origin, viewed retrospectively. As such, data collection is usually distant in both time and space from the various moves a young person may have made. Such methods make it difficult to account for changes in mobility experiences over time and to capture the nuances of different visits to, and various locations in, their parents’ country of origin. This results in depictions of countries of origin as monolithic, and young people’s relationships to them as static.

An exception within the second-generation returns literature are the studies that document the phenomenon of migrant parents sending youth “back” to the country of origin for formal, informal and/or religious education (Abotsi, 2020; Bledsoe & Sow, 2011; Kea & Maier, 2017). Methodologically, these studies tend to be multi-sited ethnographies that collect data in both the countries of origin and residence, thereby avoiding the methodological nationalism of earlier research on youth transnationalism. However, these studies do not systematically contextualize this type of return migration within young people’s broader mobility trajectories. Without this contextualization, our understanding of how young people experience physical mobility and what they gain from it are limited to single instances of mobility, rather than the impact of mobility throughout their life course.

A further type of youth that is affected by migration are young people who are “left behind” in the country of origin when their parents migrate abroad. This body of literature investigates how families continue to act from a distance. Some of the main topics investigated are the well-being outcomes for left-behind young people (Graham & Jordan, 2011; Mazzucato et al., 2015); the effects of protracted separation on parents (Dreby, 2007; Schmalzbauer, 2008); and how information and communication technologies enable parenting from afar (Madianou & Miller, 2011). However, these studies suffer from the same oversimplification as the previous by ignoring the left-behind youth’s own mobility, presuming them to be stationary. Yet left-behind youth may be quite mobile, either nationally as they move between caregivers and (boarding) schools (Mazzucato & Cebotari, 2017), or internationally to visit migrant parents abroad. Furthermore, very few studies (Lam & Yeoh, 2019) have considered young people’s own perspectives on how their migrant parents’ mobility, specifically their home visits, shapes their lives. Methodologically, only a few studies interview left-behind children in the country of origin and, even when they do, these studies do not systematically track young people’s own mobility and continue to be based primarily on what adults say about them (Dreby, 2007; Graham & Jordan, 2011).

This brief review of the literature makes it clear that the diverse mobility trajectories of young people affected by migration are not accounted for by existing methods and have not been researched systematically. Recent research agendas highlight the importance of studying the patterns and impacts of transnational youth mobility in an increasingly globalized and mobile world (Cheung Judge et al., 2020; Mazzucato & van Geel, 2020; Robertson et al., 2018). The few studies that have begun to explore how mobility trajectories impact young people find that visits to the origin country can equip young people with resources that increase their resilience to overcome educational adversity (van Geel & Mazzucato, 2021) and racism (Hoechner, 2020) in the country of residence. Furthermore, youth mobility is an empirically important phenomenon. We know that many young people are transnationally mobile: quantitative research indicates that more than half of migrant-background youth in various European countries travel annually to their (parents’) country of origin (Mazzucato & Haagsman, 2022; Schimmer & Van Tubergen, 2014). We also know that there is great variety in young people’s mobility patterns: some young people move once, others move back-and-forth between the countries of origin and residence for visits or longer stays, and some receive formal education in two or more countries (van Geel & Mazzucato, 2018).

The prevalent categorizations and methods used in migration research gloss over young people’s physical mobility. Generational categorizations of migrant-background youth (1st, 1.5 and 2nd generation) overlook the diversity in mobility experiences and their effects. Methods such as narrative interviews and observations obtained only in the country of residence result in various impediments to research: they make collecting accurate information systematically from various participants difficult; they rely on memory recall – sometimes about mobility far in the past – without adequate tools to evoke specific mobility experiences; and as such, they lead to generalized depictions of mobility that gloss over the details of moves and fail to generate understandings of the mobility patterns of youth with a migration background throughout the life course.

This chapter outlines the mobility trajectory mapping methodology as a way to capture and investigate the diversity of mobility experiences of young people with a migration background, enabling researchers to develop new categories related to mobility and to construct more detailed analyses of how mobility shapes young people’s lives. It recounts the experiences of the MO-TRAYL research project in collecting and analyzing the mobility trajectory maps of young people and how this allowed us to make visible the ways that young people are engaged in and affected by mobility throughout their life course. Some of these ways, which we discuss later in the chapter, include making resources gained throughout mobility trajectories visible; revealing the global nature of transnational networks beyond the countries of origin and residence; capturing changes over time in young people’s mobility patterns, experiences, feelings and relationships; and showing how the mobility trajectories of young people are interlinked with those of their significant others.

2 Mobility Trajectory Mapping as a Method

What exactly does mobility trajectory mapping entail and how can it be used as a research method? Youth mobility trajectory mapping was developed as a data collection tool for the MO-TRAYL research project.2 The project investigates the relationship between migration and young people’s life chances, including educational pathways and experiences, by studying young people’s mobility trajectories from a transnational perspective. The project operationalizes a transnational perspective through the use of a multi-sited research design in which researchers were based both in Ghana and their respective European country to follow young people as their mobility trajectories unfolded.

The five authors of this chapter include the Principal Investigator and four doctoral researchers, who each conducted between 14 to 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork among youth of Ghanaian background based in Ghana, Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands. Our research participants were between the ages of 14 and 25 years old and were attending or had graduated from secondary school in their respective countries. For the European case studies, participants had to have engaged in at least one international move to or from Ghana, including both migration and/or shorter trips. For the Ghana case study, participants had to have not lived with one or either of their parents due to their parents’ migration. Additionally, in Ghana we included a comparison group of young people who lived with both of their parents. Participants in Europe were recruited through various entry points in the field sites, such as high schools, Ghanaian churches, and snowball sampling where contacts in the field introduced us to others in their networks. Participants in Ghana were selected from a previous survey conducted amongst secondary school students that included a quota sample of young people with migrant parents (Mazzucato & Cebotari, 2017). The European cases included between 20 to 36 young people at each site. The Ghana case had 102 participants.

We conducted mobility trajectory mapping to systematize the collection of highly complex data about participants’ mobility trajectories. The great diversity of stories, different ways that people recollect their histories, and the constant forward and backward movements in time in the process of recounting a narrative, resulted in highly complex data that was also quite different in type and amount for different respondents. As such, gaining an overview of participants’ mobility experiences as well as comparing across cases was difficult. We were inspired by the work of French and Senegalese demographers who developed a tool for dating life course events more precisely and consistently (Antoine et al., 1987). We then modified and applied the tool (van Geel & Mazzucato, 2018) to systematically collect mobility information. Mobility trajectory mapping involved the use of a grid to collect data on the time, duration and location of moves, including both international migration and shorter trips made by youth participants and their nuclear family members. We extended the method for our project to include data about who was/were the main caregiver/s of participants at any given time, as well as data on where a young person was schooled, the types of schools attended, duration at each school, repetitions and grades skipped. We have included the interview guide (Appendix 2) and an example of a filled in grid (Appendix 1) to demonstrate how such information was collected. Once the data were collected, visual representations were made and discussed with respondents. The three steps involved are outlined below.

First, we collected trajectory data from our participants by asking them the questions indicated in the interview guide (Appendix 2) and entering it into the grid (Appendix 1). Sometimes data collection occurred in a single interview and functioned as an introductory activity; at other times, it was done after first having spent time with participants in offline and online settings in order to establish rapport with them. Irrespective of the format, we referred back to the common interview guide to make sure that all the questions about young people’s mobility trajectories were covered for all respondents. This entailed starting from the participant’s year of birth and asking them about all the places they had lived, when they had moved, who their caregivers were at each place of residence and all the schools they had attended along the way. The tool is versatile and can be conducted in a more structured way with a large number of participants, as was done by the originators and in subsequent large scale migration studies (Beauchemin, 2018) or as a conversation through which the emotional and embodied experiences can be elicited as they relate to each move and life phase.

In the second step, the information collected was visualized in a form that could be easily interpreted by research participants in later discussions. These visualizations (maps) are included in the section below.

In the third and final step, we reviewed the visualizations with our young participants. This was used as a moment to check the information, correct or add any data, and elicit further information about the participants’ mobility and educational experiences. This process resulted in back-and-forth engagements to gather more accurate maps with participants. Once the maps were considered complete, these visualizations helped to collect other information through thematic interviews, for example, about experiences on trips and important relationships. Pointing to and asking about elements on the participants’ trajectory maps helped to evoke their memories of experiences, emotions and affections relating to particular moments in a young person’s life. This facilitated the systematic collection of detailed temporal data relating to different moments in a person’s life. Mapping trajectories, thus, allowed us to employ a youth-centric approach by involving our participants in the co-creation of knowledge. Often, the young person wanted a personal copy of the maps and sometimes even updated them on their own initiative beyond fieldwork as their mobility and educational trajectories unfolded.

3 Trajectory Mapping in Practice

In this section we present four cases to highlight four insights that trajectory mapping brought to our work, both methodologically and analytically. Each case opens with a vignette that describes important mobility elements of a case and illustrates how the data were collected. Each vignette ends with a brief reflection on what the method allowed the researchers to achieve. These relate to how mobility mapping can be used as an introductory, ice-breaker activity which serves to show young people what participating in a research project can look like; turn data collection into a co-creation exercise; help to collect more precise recollections of important life events including emotional and sensory experiences; and trace the mobility of other important people, such as migrant parents, to better understand what is happening in the youth’s lives. We then present the visualization of the trajectory map pertaining to the case. Both the vignettes and the visualizations show the data that we were able to obtain from the mapping tool. Each visualization is followed by a summary of some of the analyses we conducted based on the data collected from the mapping tool. We show how mapping young people’s mobility gave us insights into the significance of their pre-migration educational experiences for the way educational pathways unfold in the country of residence, the global nature of transnational networks, how relationships with their or their parents’ country of origin evolve over time, and the importance of other people’s mobility in the lives of young people.

4 Joycelin: The Effects of Pre-migration Educational Experiences on the Education of Migrant Youth in Destination Countries

4.1 Mapping as an Introductory Activity

Joycelin (17) was sitting in front of me, bobbing her friend’s baby sister up and down on her lap. It was Saturday youth group in one of the Ghanaian churches in Antwerp and Joycelin had approached me today and said, “You can talk to me now.” As Joycelin had postponed our interview a few times and seemed to feel most comfortable in the familiar space of church, we began mapping her mobility and educational trajectory together here. With a few interruptions from the baby cooing or the church songs in the background, I systematically went through the interview guide and wrote down her answers in the trajectory grid. Once we had completed the mapping exercise, Joycelin pointed to a couple of friends standing close by and asked, “Have you done the interview with them?” Curious about what we were doing, both wanted to do the trajectory mapping as well. At the beginning of my fieldwork, I had tried to introduce my project in a way that would be understandable by young people, using a brochure in lay language. But being involved in a research project still seemed to be considered rather abstract and this discouraged some young people from participating. The mapping exercise proved to be an engaging activity that allowed other people to be present and it was a good opportunity to give insights into what a research activity could look like.

FIGURE 3.1
FIGURE 3.1

Jocelyn’s mobility trajectory

Joycelin was born in Kumasi, Ghana, where she lived with her mother and her younger brother and sister. When Joycelin was 13 years old, her mother and younger siblings migrated to Belgium. As Joycelin had just started Senior High School in Kumasi and the school fees had already been paid, she decided to stay behind and graduate before joining her family. After her mother’s migration, Joycelin relocated to a different neighborhood in Kumasi where she stayed with a female cousin. Three years later, Joycelin successfully finished her secondary schooling and moved to Accra by herself, a city about 250 km away, to prepare for her move to Belgium. Having skipped a year of primary school, Joycelin joined her family in Belgium before turning 17, which allowed her to enter mainstream secondary education, something that would not have been possible a year later. After one year of language class, her teachers in Belgium suggested she be placed in vocational training. However, Jocelyn contested her teachers’ advice, in part because her younger sister was already familiar with the educational system in Belgium, and because Joycelin was equipped with the self-confidence from having received a degree from a good secondary school in Ghana. “I already finished school in Ghana and I did sciences; I know what I can do, so don’t tell me what I can or can’t do!” Once she joined the higher track, Joycelin reported finding the material easy to understand and only encountered some difficulties with expressing herself in Flemish.

Joycelin’s ability to contest being put in a vocational track in secondary school was fundamental for her later progress. There are numerous studies that demonstrate that early tracking of students leads to youth with a migration background being disproportionately advised towards lower tracks and this has huge consequences for the degrees they end up obtaining (Van Caudenberg et al., 2020). The fact that Belgian teachers advised her to take a lower track reflects the fact that educational systems in Belgium commonly perceive young people who arrive in Belgium as a “blank slate.” Their prior mobility and educational experiences remain hidden or are considered unimportant. Through trajectory mapping, these experiences were made visible: it allowed us to uncover educational capital that some young people gained in Ghana and helped us to understand what contributed to Joycelin’s agentic behavior when she contested her teachers’ advice. We saw how Joycelin had made the conscious choice to remain in Ghana for three more years and finish her secondary schooling when her mother and siblings moved to Belgium. Three years in a high-ranking secondary school in Ghana attuned her to core educational values, gave her the confidence to go against her teachers’ recommendation in Belgium to follow vocational training, and equipped her with the necessary knowledge to enter a different educational system.

5 Angela: Acknowledging the Global Nature of Transnational Networks

5.1 Co-creating with Young People

Angela (16) and I sat facing each other on the grey leather couch in her living room, our feet tucked beneath us as we chatted about school and the weather. Then, we used the mobility trajectory grid to map her trajectory, leaving some details that she couldn’t remember blank, including the timing of trips she made as a child. To my surprise, Angela arrived at our next meeting with an audio recording of an interview she had conducted with her mother to help us fill in the gaps of her trajectory. We sat at a café table, sharing her headphones, and listened to the interview in Twi. She simultaneously interpreted into German, pausing at important details to fill in the map in front of us. Angela was endlessly curious about the research, asking perceptive questions about how I would use “all this data.” The mobility trajectory mapping made transparent to Angela the data I was collecting and made it possible for her to take an active role in co-creating research knowledge about her own mobility over the course of the research.

FIGURE 3.2
FIGURE 3.2

Angela’s mobility trajectory

Angela was born and raised in Hamburg. She had been to Ghana only once, when she was one year old; her mother, whose parents had both died, did not see the point in taking the whole family to Ghana. However, as we mapped Angela’s mobility, I realized that her trajectory extended far beyond the Ghana–Germany corridor, guided by her mother’s desire to keep family ties alive. Alongside several school trips she made within Europe and to the USA, she was also connected to a global Ghanaian network of family and friends through her mobility. She had visited an aunty in the UK a few times and spent time in Paris with her older sister, who undertook a gap year there after high school. Through these mobility experiences, Angela developed a love of travel and curiosity about the world. At the time of our mapping interview, Angela was planning a year-long school exchange to the UK, during which she would live with another “aunty,” her mother’s best friend from Ghana. This connection within her transnational Ghanaian network provided a “springboard” to other opportunities, enabling Angela to pursue her goal of attending school abroad and improving her English. Through subsequent interviews based on her trajectory map, I learned that these trips sustained a connection with her Ghanaian network and also constituted important learning experiences. They shaped how Angela defined her changing identity as a young person of Ghanaian background, how she saw her future opportunities, and how she understood social but deeply personal issues of racism and inequality within a global perspective. Based on her experiences abroad, Angela perceived her future employment opportunities as better in the U.S. or UK than in Germany, but she valued having a clear sense of her Ghanaian “origins” and lamented that most African Americans could not place their African roots. A few months into her school exchange in the UK, Angela reported that she was now framing her identity differently. Whereas she commonly told people in Germany that she was “from Ghana,” in the UK, “I walk around the school and say, ‘I’m German.’ I don’t say, ‘I come from Ghana’ anymore, because I am German, I was born and raised there.” Reflecting on these informal learning experiences abroad that were captured in her mobility trajectory map, Angela mused, “I think you learn through travelling. You have many more experiences [travelling] than when you sit in class and write exams.”

The countries of origin and residence are usually presumed to be the only countries of relevance for migrant-background youth. The cosmopolitan outlook and mobility of privileged social groups identified in research on international student mobility, for example, is not presumed to apply to them. However, through mobility trajectory mapping, which documents and visualizes all moves made by young people, we learned that many of our participants are part of, and are mobile within, global Ghanaian transnational networks. Participants’ maps showed visits to Ghanaian family, friends, and church communities in the UK, Italy, and the Dominican Republic, among others. While such trips were often motivated by a desire to retain connections with Ghanaian friends and family abroad, or made possible by their hospitality, they regularly encompassed other purposes, including educational (like Angela’s student exchange), religious, and cultural activities. As such, these trips generated important learning experiences, both formal and informal, which gave rise to new perspectives for the young people undertaking them, including what it means to be Ghanaian in different parts of the world.

6 Alex: Revealing an Evolving Relationship to Ghana

6.1 Eliciting Emotional and Sensory Experiences

Mobility mapping was the first interview I undertook with Alex, who was 23 years old at the time. During the interview, I systematically collected information about Alex’s mobility trajectory to draw the main components of his trajectory. As Alex answered questions about his migratory moves, I drew the corresponding lines on the mobility grid. “Oh, that’s a lot of places,” Alex said when I suggested we do the same for his shorter travels. To make it easier, Alex first wrote down all the trips he had made on a piece of paper. We then went back and forth between the list and the grid, while making corrections in the process. After this first session, I updated the map as more information was shared with me during the remainder of fieldwork, resulting in a more complete map. Hence, the creation of the mobility map was a process in which information was collected over both short (within the same session) as well as extended periods of time (throughout the fieldwork period).

The subsequent interviews revealed more emotional and sensory experiences. We moved beyond factual descriptions of the mobility trajectory, making the moves in the map come alive. For example, while pointing to his first travels on the map, I asked Alex about his first memories of traveling to Ghana. He recalled the smell of the sewage system, taking cold showers, constantly scratching his many mosquito bites and his parents’ laughter whenever he imitated aspects of Accra’s local life. As such, mobility mapping proved particularly useful as a probing tool to elicit emotions and sensory details associated with particular moves and moments in Alex’s life.

Growing up, family trips to Ghana were a yearly summer routine for Alex, who was born in The Netherlands. “It was always during the summer. I remember that I always needed to wear a suit [in the airplane]. I wore black loafers, with a gold pin attached to the side, which fucking hurt my toe,” Alex said expressively as he relived the moment. The tradition of making trips to Ghana came to an abrupt end after his maternal grandmother died in 2014 – when Alex was 20 years old – and his mother stopped travelling to Ghana on a yearly basis. Since this critical life event, Alex had been forced to reflect on his relationship to the country. “I’m not getting any value out of my relationships with [remaining] family members to be honest. Why? It might have to do with my ambitions.” Despite his frequent family visits to Ghana, Alex realized he had “nothing in common” with family living there, including aspirations for the future. Most of Alex’s trips to countries other than Ghana, on the other hand, were marked by a sense of independence and stimulated by his urge to develop himself outside of the formal education in which he felt educationally disengaged. Alex travelled extensively abroad to establish a career as an American Football player and later as an entrepreneur, and also undertook tourist trips together with friends. After a “break” of four years, Alex had come to see Ghana in a new light due to stories of peers who had immersed themselves in sightseeing and leisure activities there. While family visits had previously defined his experiences there, Alex had explored different sides of Ghana as a “tourist” together with his girlfriend and peers during his most recent trip. This shift reflected Alex’s desire to learn more about the country, in his own way.

Young people’s relationships to their (parents’) country of origin are often presumed to be static and solely mediated through parents or other adults in the transnational migration literature. However, mobility mapping allowed us to notice young people’s evolving relationship to a country over time and the factors that shaped this. First, mobility mapping showed a disruption in Alex’s mobility pattern: from yearly visits to Ghana to a sudden “break” after 2014. Through probing, we gained insight into the impact of Alex’s grandmother’s death on his sense of engagement with Ghana. Second, by comparing diverse mobility experiences, Alex was able to give further meaning to his relationship to Ghana. Different from family trips to Ghana, Alex described travelling to other countries as a way to develop himself. Peer relationships played an important role in Alex’s renewed interest in Ghana as they inspired him to shape his relationship to the country according to his own needs. By paying close attention to young people’s experiences of particular moves or moments in their lives, mobility mapping allows for an understanding of young people’s shifting engagements with their or their parents’ country of origin.

FIGURE 3.3
FIGURE 3.3

Alex’s mobility trajectory

7 Wappy: The Importance of Parental Home Visits for Parent-Child Relationships

7.1 Showing the Mobility Trajectories of Significant Others

While conducting the youth mobility trajectory interview with Wappy, it was clear that he had changed residence various times in his life as a result of his father and mother’s migration. It thus was important to trace the mobility of his parents to understand what was happening in his life. When I met with him to discuss his mobility map as it interlaced with that of his mother and father, Wappy opened up to me. This is when I learned of his relationship with his migrant father, how he came to be the main caregiver of his younger siblings who were born in Europe, and how fundamental his father’s visits to Ghana were for him.

Wappy currently lives with his younger siblings in his migrant father’s house in Sunyani. Wappy’s younger brother and sister were born in Europe but returned to Ghana from Italy in 2012 with their mother. A year after this return, Wappy’s mother died, and Wappy became his siblings’ primary caregiver at the age of 17 years old. His father returned to Ghana for his mother’s funeral and took care of all the arrangements. This was the first time Wappy’s father had returned to Ghana since leaving for Europe in 2000. From 2013, Wappy’s father began visiting Ghana every two years. During these visits he stayed in the same house as Wappy and his siblings. He would ship a container of goods to Ghana and sell the items during his visits, allowing him to raise money to support his children.

In Ghana, left-behind youth can be very mobile, moving from one caregiver to another and sometimes from one city or town to another. Mobility maps were crucial for capturing this mobility to counter the often assumed immobility for left-behind youth. Yet it also became clear that in order to better understand what was happening in these youth’s lives, it was necessary to map the trajectories of their migrant parents. Trajectory mapping is versatile enough to allow concurrent mobility trajectories to be mapped, as in Wappy’s case.

In discussing the significance of his father’s visits, Wappy explained that his father’s regular calls with the family and his home visits were important for making his siblings feel taken care of and not stressed by their mother’s passing and their father living abroad. Yet parental home visits do not always help children to feel cared for. In fact, following the different mobility trajectories of migrant parents and overlaying them onto the mobility trajectories of the young people left behind allowed us to note the effects of parental home visits on the parent-child relationship. We analyzed cases where children never saw their parents due to the parents’ inability to travel back to Ghana. If these young people were able to communicate with their parents via cellphone, then they often expressed missing their parents, but they did not feel abandoned by them. There were also cases of children who received visits from their parents and lived with them during these home visits. These young people were able to renew their relationships with their parents during the visits which, in turn, facilitated the maintenance of their relationship once the parent returned abroad. But parental home visits also could create new tensions. This was the case for young people whose parents returned to Ghana but who did not visit them or spent very little time with them. In such cases, young people expressed feeling hurt and had more difficulty communicating with them once the parents returned abroad.

FIGURE 3.4
FIGURE 3.4

Wappy’s mobility trajectory

8 Conclusion

This chapter proposes the concept of youth mobility trajectories and the methodology that maps them, to study the way that migration and other types of physical mobility impact young people’s lives. We define youth mobility trajectories as the geographical moves in time and space that young people engage in and the resulting changes in their family constellations (Mazzucato 2015; van Geel & Mazzucato, 2018). After presenting the literature and the main methods that have been used thus far to study the physical mobility of young people with a migration background, we explained how mobility trajectory mapping data are collected, showing both the tools for data collection and the resulting visualizations. We discussed four analytical insights into the lives of young people with a migration background and four methodological points that we gained through mapping young people’s mobility trajectories. Studying the mobility trajectories of young people allowed us to understand how mobility experiences of migrant youth prior to their international migration affect their lives, including their education, in the country of residence; how young people are part of global transnational networks extending beyond the origin – destination dichotomy; how young people’s relationships to their or their parents’ origin country evolves over time, partly due to their experiences while traveling there; and how left-behind youth are impacted by their migrant parents’ home visits.

Methodologically, mobility mapping can serve as an introductory ice-breaker activity which also helps young people understand what participation in a research project entails. Due to its visual nature and easy-to-read character, mobility mapping is amenable for youth-centric research designs. In our research, mobility mapping became a co-creation exercise with some research participants. In fact, many of our participants asked to keep the maps as a visual testimony of important moments in their lives. Mobility maps also helped us to evoke more precise recollections of important life events and elicit emotional and sensory experiences during mobility. This allowed us to study the changing nature of young people’s relationships to their or their parents’ country of origin. Finally, tracing the mobility of important people in youth’s lives, such as migrant parents, allowed us to better understand transnational family relationships from the perspective of left-behind youth.

Youth mobility trajectory maps are a versatile tool. They can be used in both quantitative and qualitative data collection. The tool can be applied in a closed-ended way as part of a large-scale survey, or as a qualitative tool to which additional information can be added in a processual way. Both can be converted into visualizations that serve as springboards for collecting more detailed information about whichever aspect is being researched, including a young person’s changes in schools and educational experiences, or the sensory and emotional aspects of their mobility experiences.

Depending on the research question, different types of information can be added to trajectory maps. For example, educational trajectories can be juxtaposed with the mobility trajectories of youth – such as in Joycelin’s case to understand how her current schooling in Belgium is influenced by prior educational experiences. Parental mobility trajectories can also be overlaid with youth’s own mobility. This encourages us not to assume that young people necessarily strictly follow their parents’ mobility but rather to study the two as entangled – such as in Wappy’s case, where parents’ migration abroad entailed all sorts of national mobility for him.

Youth mobility trajectories are a tool that helps to systematize the collection of data that, precisely because of its complexity, can be difficult to collect in the same way for each participant, making cross-case comparisons impracticable. Instead, by comparing maps, one can find common elements or important emerging differences. For example, van Geel and Mazzucato (2018) categorized types of trajectories, based on the degree of mobility in a person’s life that had occurred before and after the first international move.

Work on the mobility of young people with a migration background is burgeoning. We propose mobility trajectory mapping as a way to bring young people’s own mobility patterns and experiences more to the center of migration research, both in terms of developing new categories with which to analyze how migration affects young people’s lives and in terms of understanding the complex transnational social fields that young people inhabit. More research needs to be undertaken in this field to fully explore how mobility trajectories can lead to new research questions, as well as reveal new kinds of findings and offer solutions to theoretical and methodological problems. For example, large-scale quantitative studies should collect information about young people’s mobility patterns beyond the country where they reside. Smaller-scale studies should focus more on how life circumstances change as young people move through their mobility trajectories. In this way, they will create a more nuanced and time-sensitive understanding of young people’s relationships to their or their parents’ origin country and how mobility affects their lives in multiple ways.

Our findings – that mobility makes a difference to how young people experience their current schooling, their parent-child relationships, the way that they relate to their or their parents’ country of origin, and possibly even their general well-being – indicate that focusing on young people’s mobility can produce different insights when compared to the focus of the majority of previous research on young people with a migration background. Mobility trajectory mapping offers a concrete methodological approach to operationalizing youth mobility, with potentially deep repercussions for the ways in which we understand the transnational lives of young people with a migration background.

Author’s note

This chapter is the result of an equal and collaborative effort between authors. The first author is the principal investigator of the Mobility Trajectories of Young Lives (MO-TRAYL) project. The co-authors are listed alphabetically.

Notes

1

We use the term “youth with a migration background” to refer to young people who have migrated themselves, or whose parents have. This latter group includes young people who are born in the country their parents have migrated to and those who stayed in the country of origin while their parent or parents migrated abroad.

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Appendix 1 Youth Mobility Trajectory Mapping Grid

Appendix 2 Interview Guide Mobility and Education Trajectory Mapping

Using this grid, I would like you to join me to plot your moves, travels and schools over time. We will plot your moves and travels, your schools, and also the moves and travels of your biological parents and siblings. Let’s start with when you were born and then turn to each move you have made since then.

  1. Place of birth

    1. What year were you born?

    2. Where were you living when you were born (i.e., neighborhood, city and country)?

    3. Who was your caregiver at the place that you were living when you were born? (Caregiver refers to the person who mostly takes care of you when you are at home.)

  2. Moves (to other places the participant has lived for more than 3 months, beside place of birth)

    (Include situations where the participant lived in more than one house in the same neighborhood and city.)

    • Where did you live next (i.e., neighborhood, city and country)?

    • In what year/at what age did you move to this place or house?

    • Who was your caregiver at this place or house? (ask for name and relationship, write relationship code)

    • How long (months or years) did you stay at this place or house?

Repeat questions until all moves have been identified, including current place of residence. If the respondent attended a boarding school, probe for the place that they returned to as home when not at the boarding school. Here, record the people that respondents say they visited during vacations when they didn’t go home. It is the latter home that you indicate on the grid.

  1. IIIShort trips abroad (less than three months)
    1. At what age or in which year did you make your first trip?

    2. How long was this trip? (Months, weeks, days)

    3. Where did you travel to? (Country, city, neighborhood)

    4. What was the purpose of that trip? (Choose from: family visit [FAM], study [STU], internship [INT], vacation [VAC], or other [OTH])

    5. Who did you travel with? (ask for name and relationship, write relationship code)

    6. Who did you live with on this trip? (ask for name and relationship, write relationship code)

Repeat questions for each subsequent trip abroad.

Use dotted lines to chart trips, and write the purpose for each indicated travel overseas. Details on “other” purposes can be noted separately.

  1. IVEducation trajectory.

    (Start from the present day and work backwards, all the way to preschool (if attended). Fill each cell of schooling years with the relevant school grade, e.g., PS1, JHS1, SHS1. Note each program, profile, and course studied at each stage of schooling.)

    1. When did you start attending the school you are currently attending (year vis-à-vis age)? What is the name of the school?

    2. Where is this school located? (City, neighborhood)

    3. What type of school is it?

    4. What level or class did you first enter in this school?

    5. Did you ever attend any other school apart from your current school?

  1. Repeat questions for all subsequent schools until the first school attended (possibly pre-school).
  2. Boarding schools should be marked with “(B)” beside the school name and the location (city) of the school, if different to the residential location.
  3. Note the location of schools in the same city but different neighborhood from place of residence.
  4. Once you have asked about the educational trajectory as a whole, ask questions “f” to “h” below.
    1. f.Did you ever change a track in a school? If yes, when (year or age) and in which school?
    2. g.Did you ever change a profile in a school? If yes, when (year or age) and in which school?
    3. h.Did you ever repeat or skip a year in a school? If yes, when and in which school?

      (For repeat, write the grade in the two relevant consecutive cells, and circle the repeated year cell. For skip, indicate S in a circle next to the following class.)

    4. i.(For higher education only)

      Did you ever change a course in school?

  1. VFamily members’ moves & locations. Now, I would like to ask you about all the places that your biological parents and each sibling lived from the time of your birth until now, as far as you know/remember.
    1. (General impression of family mobility; skip if already clear or if you want to focus on family members here)

      Have your biological parents and/or siblings ever lived away from you?

    2. Beginning with your mother, can you tell me where she was living when you were born? From this place, where did she move to and when?

      Repeat for all the places that the mother has lived until the current residence. Repeat for the father.

      Repeat for each sibling (includes anyone the participant considers a sibling, including half- or step-siblings).

    3. (For those family members who lived in a different country to the participant at any point) Did any of these people ever visit [country of participant’s residence] while they were living in a different country to you? If yes,

      1. When and where was each visit?

      2. How long was each visit?

      3. Did you see the person on their visit?

      4. Did you stay in the same house or neighborhood as them during the visit?

      5. What was the purpose of their visit? (Choose from: family visit [FAM], study [STU], internship [INT], vacation [VAC], work [WOR], or other [OTH]

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