University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee Campus


Fall 2023

Campus Magazine

Professor Jody McBrien’s ‘global citizen’ experience sparks unprecedented research

By Marc R. Masferrer, University Communications and Marketing

Jody McBrien is an American in Paris, and loving every minute of it.

And the more the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus interdisciplinary global studies professor spends working and living in the City of Lights — including teaching online courses for students back in Florida — the more she feels at home among the city’s many cultural spots and, more importantly, the friends she has made.

Plus, where better to start her newest research effort, an unprecedented study of the experiences and attitudes of women just like her living in and contributing to the betterment of their “second homes,” whether temporary or permanent, in Europe?

Some might consider them “expatriates,” but McBrien said many, wary of possibly negative connotations, prefer to be called “immigrants.” As for herself, McBrien, who has done research in Europe, Africa and Asia throughout her academic career, said she thinks of herself as a “global citizen,” aware of and concerned about the world that extends beyond political and geographic boundaries.

Like McBrien, many of the women she is studying have formed friendships based on their common experiences in Europe through women’s groups, cultural events and philanthropic opportunities. McBrien said she has found no comparable experience for men who settle overseas.

“Work that the women do through their organizations includes making and distributing food for the homeless and refugees, teaching the local language to newcomers, making and collecting clothing for those in need, raising awareness about global issues, and fund-raising for charitable organizations in the locale and internationally,” McBrien said. “This kind of work provides a deepened sense of life purpose and meaning, and it provides essential services for those in need. Additionally, the activities increase one’s sense of belonging and making a difference in the world.”

McBrien, whose scholarly interests include refugees and global migration, is in the early stages of her latest research. About 300 women, mostly Americans, have responded to a survey McBrien created to ask them about their experiences — for example, “What do you like about living in Europe that is distinct from your home country?” She also has conducted a handful of follow-up interviews, with many more to go.

“After 20 years of research and writing about refugees, I’ve found myself wanting to capstone my career with something quite different,” McBrien said.

McBrien said her research should lead to a better understanding of and appreciation for the contributions of these women in the communities where they have chosen to settle, and their sense of place.

“Many researchers have found that determining meaning and purpose in life can help people live happier, more engaged and satisfying lives and deal better with adversities,” McBrien said. “I have also found this in my many years of working with refugees.”

McBrien said she hopes to publish her findings in a feminist or international migration journal and develop a lesson as part of her global migration course, which she taught online from Paris this year. She also wants to publish a book that features photographs depicting how the women she is studying live and work overseas.

“Teaching, research and building awareness. Those are the three pillars I tend to build my career around,” McBrien said. “Given that this is a completely unexplored topic, it could bring some newsworthy opportunities to the university, especially if I can get the book published in the next few years.”

Sabbatical leads to new research interest

McBrien arrived in Paris in the fall of 2021 to work for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development as a Council of Foreign Relations fellow while on a sabbatical from USF. The war in Ukraine, which started in February 2022, the refugee crisis it unleashed and other topics kept her busy, but she still had time to make new friends and become part of a group called the American Women’s Group, among other organizations.

Her experience was a catalyst for further exploration of what McBrien, who returned to Paris after her sabbatical ended, was seeing and learning.

“As I got to know some of the members and a little bit more about their activities, I was really intrigued because they were so mindful of social justice, international issues, and so engaged in philanthropy. Since that is something that I really care about, I was encouraged to look into it,” McBrien said.

A review of databases found that the experiences of American women overseas has gone unexplored by researchers.

“It’s a brand-new topic. How incredibly exciting,” McBrien said. “For over 20 years, I have done research on international refugees. Then I’ve expanded into international migration. I teach a course in global migration. I thought, well, this is international migration, almost the opposite end of the spectrum from what I’d been doing. But I just thought, it needs to be looked at.”

While in Paris, McBrien has been much more than an observer or academic researcher. She has shared with the women she is studying numerous experiences, from delivering coffee and sandwiches to the homeless in Paris on Saturday mornings to studying French to boost their fluency to exploring the city’s many art museums and jazz clubs.

She has made many new friendships. “We always talk about how much we absolutely love Paris,” McBrien said. “I feel like I found my tribe here. I have more friends in Paris than I do in Florida, by far, because we have really similar interests.”

After 20 years of research and writing about refugees, I’ve found myself wanting to capstone my career with something quite different.

Jody McBrien

The women McBrien has met, most of them American, are of varying ages and marital statuses. Some have children, and some are wealthy. Their reasons for moving to Paris vary. Some came for love; others came to work.

“I’ve met two who came over to become opera singers. I’ve met others who just wanted to live an international life,” McBrien said. “Certainly, a lot of them have family at home, and so they travel back and forth. There are a number of women like me who do three months here, three months there, three months here, three months there, which is interesting. There’s a huge array.”

Many of the American women McBrien has met keep in touch with what is happening in the United States. Some left for Paris and chose to stay, according to McBrien, to escape the gun violence and political rancor they say has made living in America untenable.

McBrien said she is learning about the women’s “sense of belonging.”

“They found a greater sense of belonging once they became fluent in the language and said they were helped by friends, in-laws, and taking classes,” McBrien said. “Almost half have held positions of leadership with women’s organizations to which they belong, and they participate because they enjoy the friendships.”

McBrien’s research on migration issues has had impact

McBrien’s prior research on issues related to global migration have brought her and USF considerable acclaim. Her writings about refugees she studied while a doctoral student at Emory University in Atlanta have been cited more than 3,000 times. Awards she has received include Emory’s Humanitarian Award (2005); and an Ian Axford Fellowship in New Zealand (2014), as well as the Council of Foreign Relations fellowship that took her to Paris in 2021-22.

While in Europe in 2022-23, McBrien has participated in panel discussions and webinars on the Ukraine-Russia war, migration and refugee eights.

“My work has taken me around the world to conduct research and provide support to refugees and to inform others through peer-reviewed and invited and keynote presentations,” McBrien said.

McBrien is studying women making a positive impact on their overseas homes, but she also is making a difference.

Beside teaching and conducting her new research, McBrien has become involved in various social justice and philanthropic organizations while in Europe, including the Federation of Women’s Clubs Overseas, or FAWCO. In March, she presented her research on LGBTQI+ refugees to a FAWCO conference in Bratislava, Slovakia, and she was recently named co-chair of the group’s human rights committee, which is raising money to support a nonprofit group serving girls in Kenya.

McBrien also hopes to do more research on the experiences of Ukrainian and other refugees in Europe — a subject close to the hearts of many of the women who are the subjects of her new research.

“The majority of my research has been with asylum seekers and refugees and trying to help with supporting them to be successful in school,” McBrien said “That’s always been what I have really cared about. And through this sabbatical, I met these women who care deeply about refugees, as well.

“I just became intrigued at the amount of social justice work they do because I care about social justice work,” McBrien said. “I think that was the connection for me.”

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About Sarasota-Manatee Campus Magazine

Momentum is published by USF Research and Innovation and the Office of University Communications and Marketing on the Sarasota-Manatee campus. The University of South Florida, a member of the Association of American Universities, is a high-impact research university with campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee.