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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Conundrum

As I look back on it, I was not mentally prepared (or financially really, but that is another matter) for a field study. The wise thing to do, would have been to stay in Provo and just work. Not take classes, just work as much as I could to save money and prepare for the fall semester. I was not ready to just show up somewhere, establish my life, learn how to conduct research and then conduct it, as well as balancing an intense load of academic course work. Just going to India essentially randomly and trying to establish a life in and of itself was a titanic project. Because I was not ready, because I did not really know what I was doing, all in all, I would have to say that mostly I failed in the explicit goals of my project. That isn't to say that the summer was a failure, per se, or that I did not learn anything. It was incredibly difficult and a very stretching situation. But as to balancing course work and figuring out how to conduct research, success was elusive.

So really, it would have been better in many ways that I had not gone. I am not going to have some amazing paper to show off to future employers or grad schools. In fact trying to describe exactly what I did and why it was worth while itself is a difficult task. Trying to do this semester with the extra things I did not quite finish in the field and trying to pull together a summer that was so full and so empty emotionally, psychologically, and academically is something that is still beyond me (even as due dates sprint at me). Had I not gone I would not feel so unbalanced now. Had I not gone, I would not have been so distracted and so busy this semester. Had I not gone, I would not have near the stress I have had to deal with this past semester trying to work through and conceive of my coursework and my project.

But I promised a conundrum and here it is: had I not gone, I would not be ready to go again. Arguably there are better ways to receive this introduction. I could have waited for a program in which I would be someone's assistant. I could have looked for a program that was an already established project with established contacts and I just had to show up. I do not discount these things. Looking back, much of what I did was foolish and in many ways suffering as the result of being lazy in my preparation. However, the thing that I struggle with most in trying to communicate my failure is that I know now how to do my project. I know how to establish myself on my own in India. I know how to begin a project. I know how to structure it. I know the correct time of year to go. I even have a few contacts that could lead to other contacts. I do not suggest that I have created the foundation to just go next summer and create some field-changing study, but I know now how to start.

So what do I do in this case? How do I create a narrative that makes sense out of this experience? I have suffered much for this field study and most of what I suffered will not yield anything productive. I have no contacts in higher education. This is not my "in" to a prestigious program somewhere. In fact I honestly believe putting myself into a program I was not prepared for and thus being overwhelmed, taking on more than I should have will most likely result in lower marks which will probably hurt my chances of getting into a decent graduate program. But I would not be able to do what I know feel so much more capable of without this experience. Do I regret the problems I have created for myself or do I rejoice in my gained experience? Is it a case of x steps forward, y steps back? Is it better to say I am stable and dependable, send me on a stable and dependable program even though I am inexperienced? Or is it better to say I have no proof, but you can drop me off anywhere and I will try?

I don't know. I don't know. I don't know what the correct answer is. What is done is done. I cannot take back this crazy summer and get back the time I spent this semester worrying over it and working on it. I cannot squeeze back in a productive summer of quiet work and preparatory reading.

Because the thing is there really isn't a way to prepare for international experience. It is international. The point is it is a different culture. If you do it by careful installation, if you try to maintain as much of your previous life as before, you will never succeed. You will always be met with petty irritations and annoyances. There will always be days when the air conditioner/heater doesn't work like the one in America even though you paid extra for it and it would be so easy for the natives to make it work. There will always be days when the people are acting completely irrational in the face of your carefully explained, science-backed rational ideas, explanations, and implorings.

But I guess you just have to be aware that the cost of jumping in with both feet can be incredibly high.

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