Off the Beaten Track: Lifestyle Migration in Rural Isaan
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The thesis aims to give an insight into the ‘lifestyle migrations’ of Western men migrating to Isaan, the rural north-eastern region of Thailand. Perceptions of men migrating to Thailand are often negative, often assumed to be for the purpose of transnational marriage between an older man and a much younger Thai woman. However, previous research on the relationships between the local Isaan women and Western men to be nuance. Further, Western men have been previously reported to be experiencing social isolation in their home countries, cited as a major reason for choosing to migrate. By drawing on life course histories of interviews collected through participant observation and semistructured interviews, in and around the town of Udon Thani as well as online, through expatriate Facebook groups, I attempt to explore these claims further through the lens of ‘lifestyle migration’. Using ‘practice theory as a broad framework to organise and understand these migrations together with ‘lifestyle migration’ and ‘gender’ theory, I draw attention to the factors relevant prior to migration. Following this I explore how these experiences influence interviewees’ lives in Isaan afterwards, in their pursuit of a “better life”. My main observations found that lifestyle migrants in Isaan presented a complex picture in regard to why they ‘chose’ to migrate. However, common among all interviewees was a perceived feeling of ‘social exclusion’ back home that stemmed from a breakdown in relationships with family and friends. This led to migrants building strong community ties in Isaan and stressing the importance of the family and friends they had made post migration. Further, this was often described as specific to the region, due to its ‘rural’ surroundings and contrasted with other tourist areas of the country such as Pattaya and Bangkok.
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