Skip to main content

For Tual Sawn Khai (KhaiPi), PhD Fellow in Sociology and Social Policy at the School of Graduate Studies, Lingnan University, the learning environment, friendly culture along with resources that support research work, provide a platform for future success. "I feel that Lingnan is providing me with the support and opportunities I need to succeed in my future career," says Khai who is in his second year at Lingnan. While he initially chose Lingnan because the university offers sociology and social policy courses, he was also influenced by the interdisciplinary research publications and high research output. Student's  sharing their experiences on YouTube provided further positive endorsements says Khai who graduated with a master degree in Social Services and Development (MSSD) from the Asian Social Institute (ASI) the Philippines and conducted fieldwork in Malaysia. He also completed a thesis on the topic of "Experiences of Chin Irregular Migrant Workers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. His research includes examining how and why people from Chin State migrate, their experiences the challenges they face and the coping strategies associated with migration. Meanwhile, his current PhD research project focuses on the barriers to labour legalisation and access to healthcare faced by migrants from Myanmar working as undocumented labour in Thailand.

While Thailand is currently home to about three million migrants from Myanmar, including about one million of whom are undocumented labourers, according to Khai, there is a lack of academic studies that provide systematic data and the details of labour legalisation and health policies. "There is a lack of awareness," says Khai who has first-hand knowledge of the pressure and sacrifice working as an undocumented labourer can put on families. To pay for his formative education, his father worked as an undocumented labourer for seven years, first in Malaysia and then in Thailand. As the first social science PhD student from Myanmar to study at Lingnan — coming from Chin State, the poorest state in Myanmar — the scholarship offered by Lingnan was also extremely important facilitating PhD research. "Lingnan not only helped me to acquire my scholarship, the university also helped me with the payment for my hotel quarantine cost, which provided me with relief from additional financial burden.

When he completes his PhD, Khai has plans to develop his dissertation into a handbook in the local language explaining the details of labour policies and how to access legal processes in Thailand and Myanmar. He is also motivated to set up an education and boarding facility to provide the local community with social science education. His vision is to fill a gap that will help people to acquire skills to enable them to work in Myanmar or migrate as skilled workers.

Home from home

Recalling his first day at Lingnan, Khai says the way that University Vice-President, Professor Joshua Mok Ka-ho's introduced him to members of faculty made it feel like he was meeting old friends. "The welcoming environment creates an atmosphere where students feel comfortable asking professors any type of question," he explains. "There is no feeling of anxiety; there is a feeling of being at home." An absence of anxiety creates what Khai describes as a "comfort zone" for conducting research. He also appreciates the opportunities Lingnan provides to enhance his research experiences such as presenting his findings on the international stage through participating in webinars and seminars, which are organised by the university. "I have learned how to facilitate a seminar or webinar and even acted as MC." Furthermore, Khai says his involvement with seminars and webinars has helped with his personal development by improving his communication skills and expanding his professional and social network. For example, he has an opportunity to research affiliates with Refugee Law Initiative, School of Advanced Study University of London. Support from Lingnan library is another resource that Khai values. "We can borrow a book for up to six months," he says.

Support and collaboration

Coming from a country where publishing research findings in academic journals is rare, Khai has found insights provided by faculty and fellow students to be particularly useful. For instance, how to properly accredit a citation. "Knowing how to use citations correctly can avoid problems that could be damaging in my future career," Khai notes. Fellow students who have had their work published are generous with passing on advice.  When it comes to students at Lingnan supporting each other he says, it is not a case of being in competition with each other; it is collaboration with the purpose of enhancing knowledge.  At the same time, Khai enjoys enhancing his Hong Kong cultural knowledge. "I never cook; I like to try different types of local food." Away from his studies, Khai regularly uses the Lingnan sports facilities, especially the gym.  He also likes to hike with friends. "There is a lot to explore in Hong Kong," he says, "I like the way Hong Kong people care about the environment."