By Telissa Schreuder
We all know it, the scale of avoiding things. Level one on that scale would mean no actual harm, all the while a severe level ten has something more of a major self-destructing result to it. Thinking back to exactly one year ago, the deadline of going to fieldwork in January would be ranged in about the same level on the avoidance scale as when back in the day my mother would ask who ate all the cookies in the cookie jar. Definitely a level ten. In both cases I was trying to avoid questions to such an extent that anyone could read the panic on my face. As if it publicly announced the level that I was on.
You, students of Anthropology, may currently find yourself in the same position as I did. After all, January is only about four more weeks away… And of course, no doubt in my mind, at this very moment you are preparing yourself with the theoretical research, you are reading about your topic, thinking about it and bought the Lonely Planet on the specific area, right? But seriously, what are you actually going to do there for three months? What if the respondents don’t like you? What if there is not enough data? Or perhaps even more important for us millennials… what if Google Maps fails you? Despite the severe level ten, it is important to force yourself to think about this. I couldn’t. I choked. But I am soon to be a grown-up and those kind of people say that you have to think about this kind of stuff, I think.
In an attempt to lower my avoidance scale, my friends were kind enough to remember me that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and they even offered to escort me to the airport. I don’t know who thought of the phrase ‘the more the merrier’, but it doesn’t apply in all situations, trust me. Standing with the Transavia voucher in my hand, I had never felt so prepared and yet unknowing of what I was about to do. And so, no(!), I didn’t want loads of people seeing me tearing up out of doubt, impotence and excitement while I checked in my oh-so-hipster backpack. They could ‘like’ the much more confident looking Instagram post that I had made the morning before, that would do too.
Once I was there, in Barcelona, the first few days felt like a regular city trip. Or let’s say I was ‘researching the research site’ in order to lower that dreadful scale. I contacted my father that I arrived safely, I visited the highlights, got my groceries from a local market to feel ‘adventurous’ and I obviously refused to go with that red hop-on hop-off bus because I am way cooler than the average tourist. ‘How long are you here for your holiday?’ the taxi driver asks. ‘Oh no, I study here, I am here for three months’ I replied in broken Catalan with the attitude of a spoiled brat. But then days turned into weeks, all the highlight were visited, I sometimes felt alone and rhythm kicked in just like it does at home. Thursday is laundry day for me in Holland, no reason to change that when in a foreign country. And despite local markets being ‘adventurous’ and all, the supermarket is just far easier sometimes, isn’t it? So a piece of advice: don’t make things harder for yourself, just go to the large grocery store. Then you will become yourself again. And since you will already be in the field, all there is left is to let go and see what happens.
The bright side of it all? You cannot avoid the field. From the minute that you are there, despite your avoidance scale feeling as high as ever, data is all around you. You just need to be receptive of it. And If you have a bad day? Write an observation. Writer’s block? Make pictures. Done with serious conversations? Have a beer. All, literally, is data. After my first few weeks, I found myself meeting up with my respondents when I felt lonely. I asked them for good places to eat instead of relying on the Lonely Planet. And even better than that, I dared to ask them to join me! Being in the field on a continues base, makes you adapt naturally. And when committed, your scale of avoidance will drop faster then you realize. It will be a stupid made up thing that you thought of in preparation towards this ever so new, scary, lonely adventure that is above all cool, bad-ass and memorable for the rest of your life. Trust me, I know. I didn’t choke anymore. I made some friends. (and Google Maps is the best app ever, you will be screwed if it doesn’t work!)
Telissa Schreuder is alumna of Msc Social and Cultural Anthropology (VU).