Fil-Am Fulbright scholar undertakes study on Pinoy BPO agents

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Grace Talusan
Grace Talusan [via Facebook]

Armed with a Fulbright scholarship and a desire to reconnect with her Filipino heritage,Filipino-American Grace Talusan is conducting a study on the lives of call-center agents to shed light on the Filipino worker at the other end of the telephone line.

“The Golden Headset: The Lives of BPO Workers” is the title of Grace Talusan’s study.

After being granted a Fulbright scholarship by the Philippine-American Educational Foundation (PAEF), Talusan spent almost five months in the Philippines researching for her study on the lives of business process outsourcing (BPO) workers or better known as call center agents, and at the same time getting in touch with her Filipino roots.

Talusan, a writer and English professor at Tufts University in Boston, says in a published interview that she became interested in researching about Filipino call center agents because of the connection they had with Americans. “There’s one million (call center agents) in the Philippines and I wanted to talk to a few of them and know what it is like who’s on the other end of the line. Mostly they’re servicing US calls,” Talusan shares.

The IT-BPO industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the country as it has grown 46% annually since 2006, and has an expected growth of 1.3 million employees by 2016 that would account to nine percent of the country’s GDP.

The Fulbright introduction to Talusan’s study states, “With a large percentage of clients in the U.S. and the Philippines 12 hours ahead, Filipino BPO workers are temporal or virtual migrants, seeking better economic opportunities while their families sleep. The economic benefits are great, but what are the personal costs to workers’ lives? Research into the personal stories of BPO workers illuminates both the sacrifices and benefits of wearing the golden headset.”

To explain the rationale of her research, Talusan said, “The US and the Philippines continue to have a relationship other than the military. We have an intimate one-on-one relationship over the phone and I wanted to talk to people about it.”

Talusan presentation
Talusan presenting the result of her research on the life of business process outsourcing (BPO) workers at the Fulbright Philippines office in Makati City [via Fulbright]

From January 19 to May 31 Talusan, accompanied by her husband Alonso Nichols, conducted her research while at the same time getting to know the country she left when she was 3 years old.

Talusan’s interest in the Philippine BPO industry and its connection with the US is not just born out of curiosity, as she added, “My idea is that we, the US, call all these phones and they don’t even know anything about them. I want them to know that there’s a person with a life on the other end of the line and maybe that will help them be a little more respectful.”

Talusan is one of the three Fil-Ams granted the Fulbright scholarship this year. She is joined by Jason Reblando, an artist and photographer based in Chicago and a professor at Illinois State University; and Joseph Legaspi, a poet based in Queens, New York and works in Columbia University.

Reblando’s research work was entitled “Home Away from Home: Benefits and Losses of the Filipino Diaspora” and Legaspi’s was entitled “Home and in the Diaspora, a Non-Portrait and Poetry Reading.”

The Fulbright Program, founded in 1945 by Senator J. William Fulbright to help promote peace after World War II, is an international educational exchange sponsored by the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

There is also an increase every year of Filipinos going to the US under the Fulbright scholarship. In 2014 there were 36 Filipino Fulbright scholarship grantees under four different programs.

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