Archive | August, 2011

Where’s everyone gone?

13 Aug

You are probably wondering what happened to these group of young bloggers that used to post stuff so frequently. Well, they’ve been very busy in the last month writing one final reflection for the first version of The Young Ethnographers Project. This project consisted in two parts: first, three months of intense blogging in Ethnosense, making sense of their cultural immersions as international volunteers and, second, one last month of writing, putting together a final reflection for a compilation to be published in a booklet format. A new group of young ethnographers will start blogging again in the next few months, but in the meantime, I’d like to give you a snippet of what you’ll find in the concluding thoughts of this exciting and creative group:


The transition from my world to theirs and vice versa was undoubtedly the most challenging thing that I faced. It was culture shock but not in the sense that the Peruvian culture is vastly different to mine, more so a sense of lifestyle shock, if there is such a thing. It was impossible to ignore. Inescapable, surrounding me like a misty haze on a dark night..


I feel for India, I opened to the country and as a result have reassessed a lot of what I do in daily life. I smiled, and India smiled back. India head-wobbled, and I head-wobbled back. I sledge-hammered through how ‘normal’ is such a painfully relative term; how through repetition we can be used to anything, through getting used to anything we foster a familiarity which then becomes immunity – oh look, there’s another cow taking a dump in front of me outside the bakery about to cross an 8 lane road..


Perhaps it was because of how welcome and included I felt that I did not experience any “culture shock”. I think this is true to an extent but, most of all, I think it was because I was so immersed in the culture that I failed to recognise its major particularities.


I blindly picked Vietnam off a list of countries I could visit using my chosen volunteer agency. There was no reason behind my choice. I wish there was, just so I could explain the reason why I spent three months in a country I only associated with war and Forrest Gump. In hindsight, I think this blind decision benefited me..


Even your own efforts as a volunteer seem senseless, futile and even egocentric in the grand scheme of a system that created poverty and inequality in the first place. That’s the volunteer hangover..


When I found myself in Vietnam, amongst systems and structures that also don’t treat people as people, I was overwhelmed. And that overwhelming sensation returned multiple times during my 12 months there. However, I found that one must choose one’s battles. By seeking to understand the context, the players and the dynamics between them, you can choose the battles you fight..


While I have volunteered in Vietnam and India, my time spent at an Australia Immigration Detention Centre was by far the most ethically challenging and changing. I think in Vietnam and India it was easy to dismiss poverty and inequality as essentially ‘developing world’ issues; the inevitable outcomes of poor governance and inadequate education. Yet the egregious Australian asylum seeker process cannot be blamed on either of these things..


My journey of sacrifice and approaching everyday activities with a posture of learning benefitted me incredibly. Even more so, was my retelling of such experiences through blogging. The sacrifices that my friends make every day in Swaziland, of which I also partook, e.g. walking for hours in the heat of the African sun for the purpose of establishing a more united and prosperous community, serves as a reminder of the goals we strive to achieve..


I remember feeling very foreign when I first arrived at my placement. I had a reoccurring thought of the meaning of the word foreign. To me I had mostly heard the word used by mum, who works in medicine, referring to a ‘foreign body’, something that should not be where it is..


The wonderful humour and lightheartedness sometimes brings with it frustration when things need to get done.  Not just for me but for the locals sometimes too. Perhaps what is different for me is that I can seemingly drift in and out as I please, picking and choosing the bits of cultural fruit that tantalize my taste buds. For the Fijians however, such freedom is not as easy..


At University, School and Church I always hear statements such as “We are so blessed to live in Australia” but maybe we are just so well off because we keep everything to ourselves and we don’t help the less fortunate countries as much as we could..


I have found all too often, following a stint of volunteering, I’ve been asked to relate my feelings and experiences in power points and easily understandable photo gallery narrations that last no longer than the welcome home dinner party… it is very rare that one is driven to the simple act of self-reflection for reflections sake..


Though I think many of the issues raised can never be resolved by blogging, the value is in our shared experiences and reflections, which are often not understood by those close to us..


I think pushing your comfort zone is a great experience and should be encouraged.  Language is a big part of your comfort zone.  Not being able to converse with someone is not something we’ve had to deal with since early childhood…



I will upload the digital version of the booklet as soon as we have it ready, and I’ll keep you updated with everything, but if you think you can be one the next young ethnographers or if you want to make a guest appearance in this blog, don’t hesitate and let me know.

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