Storycrafting and Drawing: Enabling Children to Express Their Experience of Migration

The second year MA student Deborah Onorati gives an overview of a recent open anthropology lecture series Inimkond: Current Issues in Anthropology and Beyond. She found out from folklorist Pihla Siim’s talk that it is not easy to get children to talk about their migration experience the same way that adults do, but there are creative methods that help.

Pihla Siim, Inimkond lecture

Tallinn University is an interactive setting: a place where students feel comfortable to get involved, to participate, and where learning experiences continue outside the class schedule.

This is what happens during “Inimkond: Current Issues in Anthropology and Beyond”, a seminar series of interactive open lectures where researchers from anthropology and anthropology-related fields share their experience in the field and their analyses. Attendants listen, learn and discuss in a multi-disciplinary environment that feels welcoming and truly open to everyone.

If you are not familiar with the seminar, you are not a member of the academia, or you are thinking that perhaps this is a strict format, discussing university-matters only, come along once and you will see for yourself how intriguing the topics are!

On 10 October, Pihla Maria Siim, a researcher at the University of Tartu and University of Eastern Finland presented her on-going study on migration patterns between Estonia and Finland with her talk “Translocal Everyday Life from Children’s Perspective: Experimenting with Methods”. Siim’s research focuses on children of migrating families from Estonia to Finland, and highlights their perspectives on the situation.

Doing research with children is not as easy as one might think. They are easily influenced by their parents’ presence, they do not trust the researcher as easily as adults and do not necessarily keep their focus throughout the interviewing process. Therefore, different strategies need to be adopted. Her team decided to gather information through a hands-on process: drawing sessions and storycrafting.

With a practical set of tactics, they managed to collect enough data to draw some conclusions on the understanding of migration from the children’s perspective. And there is more! They also used the drawings in a book, making the research a concrete and attractive product not only for members of the academia interested in migration and transnationalism, but also for the general public.

Visibility is in fact one of the aims of Siim and her team’s project; aside from publishing a book, the team – composed of Pihla Maria Siim herself, a journalist, a documentary filmmaker, and a visual artist – wants to have a graffiti piece near the harbour of Tallinn. Although the municipality of Tallinn has rejected the idea for the time being, the murals are still an ongoing plan to enhance and further promote discussion on the topic. The effort continues through the project EST-FIN Hargmaised Perekonnad – Siim distributed beautifully-crafted postcards depicting the Kalevipoeg, the Estonian folklore hero, but also the term for an Estonian worker working in Finland.

The final goal of the project is to facilitate an innovative outlook on migration. And indeed, the project also hints at changing the general perspective on the currently much-discussed topic. While academic mobility is often considered a "fancy" example of migration, going abroad to work is sometimes looked upon as degrading. With touching on issues of care, affect, and belonging, the project broadly wants to reconfigure the idea of a transnational family.

The lecture was not just a talk. It offered an insight into a particularly interesting research project and discussed research methods that, although useful within the academia, are applicable outside the university campus as well.

I am really glad I could attend the event: I learnt something new, I can see myself using this as a tool in my future career, and I also spent a nice afternoon with an inspiring person who truly is passionate about her field of research.

Text by Deborah Onorati, Anthropology MA student

Photos by Marje Ermel (see more here)