Before jumping into my personal experiences, let me break down my ISP for you: I aimed to study about the creation and usage of Batak textiles, also known as ulos. In order to find interviewees, I decided to travel to Balige in North Sumatra and spend time with the Toba Batak weavers there, as well as to get a handle on the social functions of ulos in that area. Perhaps halfway into my month I would leave Sumatra and head towards Jakarta (the capital city of Indonesia) in Java for an incredibly well-timed museum exhibition about ulos.
I entered into my period of study with no clear thought on how to narrow down my subject focus into something more worthy of a final thesis. Due to a lack of information at the time about specific ulos in the Balige area, I was forced to adopt a ‘go with the flow’ attitude in order to make the most of whatever information I was able to actually glean from my time in Balige. I must say, that this ‘go with the flow’ attitude was the most useful and widely applicable mindset to adopt. Beginning with complications with my flight to Sumatra, leading into a multitude of random, odd occurrences during my ISP and onto strange tangents in regard to my study, as well as much more; the mindset helped alleviate the anxiety that springs up with the unexpected. Furthermore, I feel that this attitude equipped me with the strengths to navigate those new and unfamiliar experiences.
For example, I arrive in Medan, Sumatra, and prepare for a long drive to my target area in Balige. What was supposed to be a four-hour drive became a nine-hour drive, and my plans to immediately settle into my living space were put on hold. Instead I stayed the night at the home of my contact in Balige. And from there on out, my living situation was as similarly unpredictable as that first night. Although I did secure a space very close the village, I often randomly bounced between it and my contact’s home. I had expected my contact to withdraw once I’d settled in, but instead he and his family would graciously bring me to various places in Balige in order to show me how their Batak culture could be seen within the city—which was an invaluable help to my study.
In all honesty, I feel like I continually come to conclusions during my semester that should be beyond obvious, so forgive me if I’ll make another: Without my contact or his family, I would certainly not have had access to many of the places and people that have fueled my ISP study. In fact, I would not have even known that these people and places exist! Thus, I come to the extraordinarily trite conclusion that connections are everything. Such people are more likely to know the ins and outs of a place and of their people far better than I, a stranger, could divulge during my brief stay. Without them, my study would certainly be lacking the bits and pieces that in my opinion enhance the overall quality and depth of my findings.
Even by taking the time to simply socialize with the people in the area enriched my experience and added to my knowledge, impressing upon me how very little I actually knew and where I should start in my journey to find out more. Therefore, I make the claim that dedicating the time to casually integrate oneself into the social spheres of a place is just an important as the academic research that one must perform while conducting their ISP.
Thank you, and until next time!