Friday, May 30, 2014

Tips for Field Research in Asia

1. Start before going. This is a list of things you should get together before leaving: letter from advisor(s); letter from university; letter from local affiliated institution (if you have one); business card; and short summary of your project. You will probably need this to access local libraries such as the Jawarhalal Nehru University's (below). Make a rough draft of your research schedule detailing the aims of your trip and how you intend to achieve them. Save up time upon arrival by making a list with addresses of places you want to go (e.g., libraries, archives, government offices, universities) and take some time to become acquainted with their location. The same goes for people who you might want to meet: make a list of contacts and email them in advance (but don't rely on this, see below). I'm assuming you have visited your research area previously, but if not, you need to think about items such as local phone, Internet and transport.

Jawarhalal Nehru University, New Delhi

2. Don't rely on e-mails. Few things will hamper down your research as waiting for people to reply to your emails. The truth is that most people will never prioritize (or even read) an email from an unknown student posing strange questions about a remote topic. In the hierarchy of research communication, emails should come last, followed shortly by the telephone. Of course, getting hold of someone's mobile number is always better than having his or her office number. But even phone conversations can lead to dead ends. As many researchers discover, scheduled meetings often get cancelled at the last minute. If this happens, the fallback option is simply to show up at the person's workplace - sometimes you do need to be a bit pushy. Naturally, you must be careful not to come across as rude (i.e., apologize, explain that you won't take much time) but, in general, it's worth taking the risk. My experience is that once people see you they'll grant you a couple of minutes or so, mainly because it will get you out off their backs.

3. Sort out your office space. Unless you to intend to spend your day at home (and then you should be asking yourself why going?), you need to take some time to consider where you will be working. Researchers conducting archival research will have a slight easier life on this point. Nonetheless, they still need to think about library opening hours, where to have lunch/water and, most importantly, Internet access (none of the libraries/archives that I visited in India provides wireless access). Alternatives are, in my experience, limited to two options: (1) Internet cafes and (2) co-working spaces. In regards to the former, you should prepare beforehand a list of Internet cafes that are convenient for you and that will enable you to work for extended periods of time (i.e., a bar or a sports bar will probably not be a very good choice). Moreover, in India, I have found that many of the places offering Internet access online, do not once you are there (e.g., most Coffee Days and Costa Cafes do not). Ideally, you should check with someone and/or ask recommendations from locals. Online resources (such as blogs) often provide lists of Internets cafes in your research area (in the case of Mumbai, I found a very helpful map at the Mumbai Boss). The other option is co-working spaces. In Delhi, I was lucky enough to find a social networking cafe in Hauz Khaz village called Book Your Dream, which offers Wi-Fi, coffee with cookies and a beautiful lake view. All this in exchange for a contribution (left to your discretion) to an NGO promoting education in local slums.

My office at Book Your Dream in Haus Khaz Village, Delhi

4. Organize a photo library. Turns out your phone camera and tablet are an excellent field research tool. If you are like me, then you'll have filled their memory after a couple of days with pictures of libraries, interview subjects, street scenes, posters, slums, pages of books, documents and videos of political rallies. My advise on this unfolds in five parts. First, create a folder in your computer for all the photos that you will take during your field trip. Do not mix these with the non-research related photos that you might have taken during this trip. Second, you should to copy your phone/tablet photos to your laptop as often as possible so that you always have sufficient space for new pictures/videos. It is always frustrating to delete potentially important material from your phone in order to make up space for more. Third, once you have copied them, reduce the size of the files so that they do not take an inordinate amount of space. Fourth, after doing this, you should copy them again to a backup device (e.g., external drive, dropbox, self-email, etc). The thing to remember here is to have the photos saved in more than one source. Finally, when possible (this can be done once you're back from field research), organize the photo files in your computer into categories. This will facilitate searching through them.

Note to self: do not ride the Delhi metro at rush hour

5. Don't scare people with your CV. Extensive experience with grant application might give researchers the impression that listing their achievements is a natural way to introduce oneself. Yet, when it comes to field research, the opposite may well be true. Unless your CV increases the chances of interviewing someone or being entrusted with data, you should seek to reduce the information about you to the bare minimum: you name, your university and your field of study. In my experience researching in India, I have found that interview subject are sometimes scared off by too much information about my academic curriculum (or my personal trajectory). Instead, a much better strategy is to compliment the person who you are talking to and thanking her for the time granted. Naturally, this involves doing some background work about the person (i.e., if you want to talk to an academic, you should read some of her or his articles in advance) before meeting her.

Diogo Lemos
PhD candidate 
Department of Political Science 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Jackie in Japan: Spring in Tokyo

Hello there, everyone! This is my first time posting on the Asia on E Street blog, and I'll be doing so regularly for the rest of the summer while I study abroad at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan.

My name is Jackie LaReau and I'm a recipient of the Estelle Sigur Grant for Japanese Language Study in Japan. I'm a current GW junior majoring in Asian Studies at the Elliott School, and I've been studying abroad in Japan since last August. I spent the fall and winter semesters studying at Akita International University (AIU) in the northern rural prefecture of Akita, and now I have transferred to the very different Sophia University in Tokyo under the CIEE exchange program. 

初めまして!どうぞよろしくお願いします!(Rough translation: Nice to meet you!)

Now although GW has just finished its spring semester and everyone is heading home for the summer, in Japan, the spring semester has only just started. On the Japanese school calendar, the spring semester goes from April all the way through the summer to August, and then they get about a 1 month summer vacation before starting school again in September. Thus, I'll continue to be here until about mid-August. Good-bye summer vacation, you will be missed... But getting the opportunity to complete my stay in Japan for a full year is definitely worth it!

Where do I start? Well, this semester I'm living with a homestay family for the first time, and it's absolutely so much fun! The family is actually sort of unorthodox, in that I only have a homestay mother and father, and they're both in their 70's. But don't be fooled! They're very active and love life, meaning that they always take me out on day trips and spoil me like their own daughter while teaching me all about the Japanese culture and language. I'm very glad I chose this housing option, because it's really given me an opportunity to interact with Japan more than I would have simply living in a dorm!

As for school, we're about a month into the semester and classes are going great. The Japanese language program at Sophia University is definitely challenging, which I'm very happy about, since it gives you the structure and tools you need to learn the language while you practice your speaking skills with Japanese friends and students outside of class. 

However, by far the coolest thing about the beginning of the spring semester is that it aligns with the peak of cherry blossom season. Here's a few shots that I took all around the Tokyo area while doing hanami (flower viewing).

And here's one of me, dressed appropriately pink for the season.

This next one is my personal favorite. CIEE's staff organized for all of the exchange students in the program to go on a day trip to Kamakura, a city about an hour away from Tokyo which was Japan's imperial capital from the years 1185-1333. It is rich with history, temples, and shrines, and is now
a beautiful tourist spot that many Tokyo locals like to visit when they're itching to escape the big city.

As you can see, one of the biggest attractions is the Daibutsu (big Buddha), which is made of bronze, considered a national treasure, and is one of the biggest Buddha statues in all of Japan. You can even go inside of it for a mere 20 yen (the equivalent of 20 cents)!

Kamakura also has some stunning hiking trails, zen gardens, and a bamboo forest, which I made sure to visit before going home.

I also went on a weekend trip to Nagoya during Golden Week, which is a city about 200 miles from Tokyo. By bullet train it would only take a couple of hours to get there, but my friends and I decided to be adventurous and take the regular trains there and back instead. After about 6 hours of trains and transfers, we arrived!

Spending a couple days in another city was great fun, and we managed to visit all the major attractions. We visited Osu-Kannon temple, Nagoya Castle, and various local shopping districts.

We also made sure to try out all the local delicacies, such as this dish called hitsumabushi, which is grilled eel served over rice with tea you pour over it. It was absolutely delicious! I definitely understand why Nagoya is so famous for it now.

Aside from traveling, I have very much settled into my life in Tokyo. I've joined a couple of intercultural exchange clubs, which like to give Japanese students and international exchange students opportunities to hang out with each other, become friends, exchange cultures, and practice each other's languages. If you're looking to get better at Japanese and hang out with some of the nicest people around, joining clubs are the best way to do it!

I think I've hit all of the most exciting points of the semester so far, but I'll make sure to update again soon with new stories, pictures, and cultural tidbits.

For now, see you next time!