Although my last post promised a follow-up on how my ISP ended, as you may notice I’ve taken a little longer to post again. I’m not sure if I’m even technically allowed to keep posting as I have returned from being abroad, but after trying multiple time to write this post and failing, I realized that I needed time to process my semester abroad before I could (coherently) reflect on it all. This post will come in two parts: one part following up about my ISP, and one part reflecting about my time abroad overall. I feel like I’ve become the queen of splitting up posts, but I’ve also become the queen of very long posts, so I think the former is a better title to end on! And a last note before I jump in: as I mentioned in my previous post oh so long ago, my computer decided to suddenly fail on me (perhaps thanks to humidity, one joy of somewhat long-term residence in a tropical country), so my pictures are currently inaccessible. If I am able to still post to this blog when I get them back, I will make sure I get a photo album posted with some captions that show you all what the end of my semester (and travels in Bali post-semester) looked like.
To fulfill my first promise, I’ll give you a follow-up about ISP (Independent Study Project, which if you’re reading this for the first time and have no idea what I am talking about, visit here where I explain it all). I am proud to say that I after a little over a month, I finished my first big research project in the field, complete with sixteen interviews, a twenty minute presentation to my peers, and a 36 page paper! My final title is Breaking the Compound Wall: The Impact of Employment in Tourism on Families in Bali, Indonesia. The title kind of speaks for itself – my research investigated the effects of jobs in tourism on Balinese families, from physical living structures to opinions about tourism generally in the island. The results were somewhat unexpected, which made it all exciting for me as a researcher. I thought my participants would be more negative about tourism in Bali, which I’ve since realized may have been some of my own bias interjected into my hypothesis (researching fail, oh well). Although many of my participants were able to name negative effects of tourism on Bali, they seemed to have an overall positive sentiment about the impacts of foreign visitors and the booming industry on the island. That was also reflected in their feelings about working in tourism. I wanted to have a holistic representation of the family, and achieved that to some degree by interviewing both people who work in tourism as well as people who don’t work in tourism but have family members who do (and in a couple of cases, I had more than one interview from one family). I also thought that family would be important to my participants, and found that through my research this point was very true. Grown children employed and working away from home felt strongly that they should support their extended family, and in that sense the growth of the family economy and support was the most common response in all of my interviews.
In the midst of my research, I had a vague idea that primarily independently conducting interviews in a foreign language (that I had only started to learn 2.5 months before) was a personal accomplishment. A month out and back in my home country, I am realizing how proud I am of this. Granted, I didn’t do everything completely myself – I had wonderful teachers who helped to transcribe interviews and a teacher who jumped in for one interview when the participant spoke Balinese (while I spoke Bahasa Indonesia). Google translate was also my hero – sometimes translations came out a little funny, but usually I was able to piece together words and sentences.
But although there were these accomplishments, doing research in a foreign country definitely came with major challenges. I had very limited access to background and supplementary sources. The majority of my sources are over thirty years old, and with some knowledge about what makes good research, I am not crazy about this fact. I really wish that I had current data about families or even more recent background information, but sadly I failed to find any. Even tourism data is hard to come by – I found statistics about tourist arrivals, yet nothing about Balinese employed by the industry. This is, to some degree, understandable, as many workers are undocumented. Still, with nothing to truly back up my research about current families and workers in the tourism industry, my research is simply reliant on my sixteen informants. Another challenge that could also likely be found in most cases with a researcher in a foreign country is that I had to figure out how people would respond to my questions. Many questions that seemed reasonable to me were worded in a way where the Balinese participant likely had a hard time responding. For example, I’ve always been taught to ask open ended questions in an interview. In this case, I would ask a question like, “How have you see Bali change due to tourism from (x point) until now?” and then I would sit there for awhile while my interviewee struggled to come up with an answer. I found out (a little later than I would have liked) that if I had asked “Has you seen Bali change due to tourism?” and then followed up with “How?” my interviewee would be much more responsive. It’s the little things, but after three weeks of research I realized that they can definitely add up.
Since this has turned into a sort-of a “What I Learned From My First Major Research Project That Also Happened to Be in a Completely Foreign Country Than My Own” list, I am going to add one more thing. This falls less under the foreign country part of that title and more into the general research part, but in writing a very large paper, I found that it will take way longer than one would think. When I write this out, it seems like a fairly dumb point to add on this blog. But, for anyone who is reading this blog with an ISP paper or even regular long school paper in their future, think of this as one of those warnings where you respond “duh,” but then make that mistake yourself. I felt comfortable with my probably 100+ pages of interview transcripts, my three weeks (plus unofficial three months) of observations, and few news articles and book chapters I had read. Still, when I thought I was nearing the end of my paper, the last few pages seemed to take forever. I am normally one who can write papers fairly fast, but with a project and paper this big (and with a short turn around time for writing conclusions), it kind of turns into the Mary Poppins bag of projects, where it just seems to never end. I suppose in my case a partially broken computer did not help, but I still feel the need to present myself as an “Example A” of big project warnings. Do Not Underestimate the Writing Process. Again, just think Mary Poppins bag and you’ll understand.
I suppose my list of things I have learned makes this seem somewhat like a disaster, and by no means was it really one at all. I produced a research project that I feel proud of, while still acknowledging that there are faults (which are mixed in terms of what I could have prevented). Was this a culmination of my entire semester? In a few ways no, but in many ways yes. And by yes (because why focus on the no?), I mean that I utilized my newly acquired language skills, developed my research techniques, practiced writing and organizing long papers, and came full circle with my homestay. That last point is one I’d like to end on, as I haven’t really talked about it besides a little in my ISP Part 1 post. I imagine that I will also mention it when I reflect on my semester as a whole, so I’ll make it fairly simple and concise (ha!). To me, this seems like the epitome of study abroad: I disliked my homestay at first. I felt lonely, and it was not what I expected in a country that is so family-oriented. However, with a little time and language classes, I was able to realize that I actually really enjoyed living with my host mother. The fact that my homestay then inspired my ISP topic seems to be just another layer of this all, where the seemingly uncomfortable, foreign situations often will turn into the best opportunities. To anyone who is starting a program and unsure about their situation , I say wait it out. It could turn around and become something you value most about your time abroad.