Visual sociology in Moldova: University students and advertisements

This post comes to you from Chisinau, the capital city of Moldova. I am here conducting interviews for my dissertation research on the relationship of international scholarship programs and national social and economic development. (If you’re interested, I can tell you more.) Moldova is a small, lovely country in Southeastern Europe, located between Romania and Ukraine.

As I’ve been walking around Chisinau these past two weeks, I have spent a lot of time near Moldova State University, unquestionably the country’s most prestigious university. Among the cafeterias and copy centers, I’ve noticed many images like this:

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Everywhere, it seems, students are being shown images of North America and Europe, with encouraging messages to pursue “the American dream,” study in the EU, or find the quickest, easiest way to emigrate to Canada. The images above are not the only ones; I have at least 5 more on my camera from today’s walk alone. There are also many advertisements for plane tickets to travel to nearby Italy, Turkey, or Greece. And there must be a hundred money exchange kiosks across the city of Chisinau.

DSCN1256With all these images, Chisinau seems to be sending its citizens – especially its brightest university students – a well-coordinated message: Leave Moldova. Go abroad. Your future is somewhere else.

Maybe I’m interpreting the images incorrectly. I only know a little about visual sociology – the study of how images tell the story of social life. The last time I studied the field in earnest was as an undergraduate student.

Yet it’s not only the images that relay this message. In my conversations with Moldovan friends, all of them have a sibling who lives abroad. In an interview, I am told, “every Moldovan thinks of leaving the country.” Another interviewee told me that of her graduating high school class, only 5 out of 26 classmates still lived in Moldova. Plus, when strangers learn I’m American, they want to talk about the green card lottery instead of about Michael Jackson or New York City. According to the Migration Policy Institute, approximately 1 million Moldovans – roughly 25% of the nation’s population – are living abroad.

DSCN1265I believe mobility should be a right, and I pass no judgement on those Moldovans who have decided to live overseas or are planning to emigrate. What I am suggesting is that so many messages of encouragement to leave Moldova in the streets and storefronts around the State University sends a strong message. Leaving Moldova is obviously big business. Just who benefits from these educated students leaving the country? And if university students hope to use their university education to help the country prosper and grow, to which storefront do they go for that?

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