What They Learned: Rebecca Chang ’19

Personal experience and a semester abroad in Peru informed the growth and structure of cities major’s thesis.

For Rebecca Chang ‘19, a growth and structure of cities major with a minor in Spanish, her senior thesis was an opportunity to explore personal interests over an extended duration of time in an independent academic framework. Chang’s thesis, titled “Searching for Belonging in Ethnic Identity: Young Second-Generation Chinese-Peruvians in Lima, Peru,” partially grew out of her time studying abroad in Lima, among a variety of other experiences.

“Much of this project was inspired by my own upbringing,” said Chang. “As part of a family with complex histories of migration—my great-grandparents migrated from China to Malaysia, and after many generations, my parents moved from Malaysia to the U.S.—the topic of ethnic identity has been ever-present in my own experiences and curiosities.”

Chang attributes the opportunity to pursue personal desires in writing her thesis to the Cities department at Bryn Mawr College.    

“I have always felt incredibly lucky to be part of the Cities department where in my experience, there is such a strong emphasis on bringing your own passions, interests, and experiences to the table,” she said.

The Cities major interlaced an array of background research with structured analysis. She incorporated interviews with second-generation Chinese-Peruvians and anthropological research in order to present her project.

Chang’s dedication to her personal passions, evident in the thesis, extend beyond her academic engagements. Throughout her stay at Haverford, she participated  in the Customs program and is a co-founder of the Pan-Asian Resource Center. As a result, Chang’s thesis is an effective verbalization of what she’s accomplished while at Haverford.

What did you learn from working on your thesis? What is your biggest takeaway from the project?

Through my main methodology of ethnographic fieldwork, I conducted qualitative interviews with young second-generation Chinese-Peruvians in addition to meeting general members of the community and learning more about landmarks, experiences, and histories. In my data analysis, the themes of family, language, and heritage schools served as the three major dimensions in which I analyzed my participants’ experiences. In order to frame their stories, I supplement my ethnographic research with historical and spatial analyses from researchers specializing in the Chinese-Peruvian community, the Chinese diaspora, youth ethnic identity development, sociolinguistics, and ethnic enclaves.

What are the implications of your thesis research? How or why could this help other researchers or academics, if at all?

While my thesis research focuses specifically on a small subset of individuals – second-generation Chinese-Peruvians – I believe that many of my research findings can be extrapolated to other future research on identity, youth development, and migration studies. As a second-generation migrant myself, I identified very much with many of the experiences and trends brought up by my participants, while there were certainly differences in the context. For instance, in Chinese ethnic enclaves in New York City, where I was brought up, heritage schools only taught language during the weekends, while in the case of Lima, the two major schools were full-time private schools.

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.