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About the blog

22 Sep

This collaborative blog is an experiment in ethnographic methodology that I organized in the context of my doctoral research. Just as it would happen with the copious amounts of field notes in any classical ethnography, only a very small portion of the actual material produced by the project makes an appearance in my dissertation. But from the beginning that was one of the appeals of gathering thoughts through this kind of public writing.

The blog has now been for a long time an archive and I apologize to those who kindly tried to encourage me, like Jaap Timmer, to pass it on to others who might be able to find new directions and energies for the blog. At least its general concept seems to have made some impact and found some resonance within a wider public, the most evident being the way the Fieldschool for Ethnographic Sensibility at The University of Alberta adopted and embraced the domain name of “ethnosense”.

My PhD has taken me in unexpected directions throughout these years, shifting towards rather theoretical and historical inquiries. You can check out the abstract for the thesis that will soon be appearing in the MQ online repository to see what I mean. I am still of course open to the idea of extending the life of this blog. Please email me at if you have any ideas.

Lastly, apologies if the hyperlinks within the posts don’t work at times. This was a side-effect of changing the blog’s name from to But they can be manually fixed by editing the ending of the relevant link to To this day I continue to find interesting posts that I had not read closely enough before. I must thank one last time all the bloggers who contributed with so much commitment and creativity to this experiment. I hope that, with the passing of time, they have come to see this exercise as a useful step in their own personal explorations.

Check out our publication!

31 Oct

The Young Ethnographers Project has come to an end. Our bloggers finished their journey by creating a short publication with their Final Reflections as cultural travelers and international volunteers.

Last month they got together one last time to celebrate the success of this project and receive a certificate of participation for their creative and bold contributions. This closure event was also the perfect opportunity to launch their edited compilation. To give you a better idea of how that publication complements this blog, check one of the things it says:

To conclude the project, the young ethnographers wrote a small reflection or ethnographic
piece that synthesized their insights and thought process in a concise format – resembling
the way anthropologists would put together an ethnography for publication. After facing
several weeks or months of being immersed in an ocean of cultural difference, and after then
blogging and thinking back on many of their unique experiences, the journey finally comes
to a resolution in the following ethnographic pieces of writing. Just like an anthropologist,
these returned volunteers have engaged deeply with another culture and then have
systematically reflected on that experience, allowing them to write, at the end, a public
reflection that brings together the entire process.

And to complete the event, we announced the happy winners of the 2 iPads that were meant to encourage everyone to keep their energy up throughout this lengthy project. Congratulations to the two participants! And congratulations to all of the participants, who made this an amazing blog to read.

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.

Getting ready for the last month of the “race”

10 Jun

What a month! So full of emotions and bold writing, breath-taking stories, videos and even music. Well, last Saturday some of the Ethnosense bloggers had the opportunity to meet again for a second Cafe Chat and celebrate this period of intense blogging. We got together that night (incredibly, because with this insane winter, really, you have to think it twice before going out) and we had a rather chocolaty (?) chat in the city.

We talked about many of the issues that have been raised in the blog like, for example, the issue of refugees and detention centres. The perception was that it just feels very different to volunteer abroad than to work somewhere “nearby” like, say, with asylum seekers within Australia. “It’s because you don’t get to leave it behind” said panapestimio. Clearly, it has to make a difference.

In general, it was nice to have a nice hot chocolate, warm up and refresh batteries for the month that lies ahead. After all, this will be the last month of intensive blogging for the Young Ethnographers Project. One of the questions that we talked about during that night was: “and what’s going to happen with the blog after this project?”. Well, the idea is to continue using this platform as an open space for alternative travelers and international volunteers to reflect on their cultural experiences.

A few weeks ago, Ethnosense was featured in the betterplace-lab where I had the chance to explain a bit more what the concept behind this blog is in a post titled: “Ethnosense: an experimental blog for an experimental crowd“. I think that post gives quite a few hints about the future of Ethnosense. In any case, I suspect that the Young Ethnographers will keep blogging no matter what (“it becomes addictive!” I’ve heard them say), and that more and more returned volunteers will get involved. But I’ll leave the details of how that’s going to work for another post.

It’s nice to put a face to your favorite bloggers

13 May

Last night, the young ethnographers that you like to read so much about had their first opportunity to meet each other since they started blogging in ethnosense. “It’s nice to put a face to it” was what many

Cafe Chat

said during this “Cafe Chat”. It’s funny how you can get to know how a blogger thinks and feels in a deep personal level and yet you learn to associate that personality to just a nickname. (“Remember what ladybec said… no, I liked more the comment of panapestimio… oh, so you’re the famous stellainindia!”).  Well, many of those nicknames became an actual person last night, and I think it was weird at first, it was kind of like when you meet someone through MSN and one day you actually get to meet them (mmm.. maybe it only happened in the 90’s). But very quickly everyone started chatting.. if you think about it, there was so much gossip to go through!

Well, maybe “gossip” is a bit of a stretch, but the best thing definitely was that we got to talk about what’s being going on here in the blog… we laughed a lot (finally out loud) remembering funny stories like Prupodum’s mug stealing monkeys and Scronk’s squeezed-Filipino maths. We also touched on more serious subjects about the ethical dilemmas that volunteers face. For example, we continued with the little debate we have been having here about whether we can talk of a kind of selfish altruism or we should stick to a more selfless attitude. We also recounted many of the accidents and misadventures we’ve had while traveling… from breaking a leg in the Ecuadorian jungle to all sorts of bugs you can imagine.

At the end, we all found this coffee with the group reassuring. It was just nice to have a quick break and think about what we are doing. What we all concluded is that the blog has allowed this group of ex-volunteers not only to share their experiences and thoughts, but to do it in their own way… whether you are as enthusiastic as Angelene or Blokkie26 or you are more concerned with existential issues like Nakamarra or Huongness.. whether you like to write about practical matters like Lizrose1 or you are more inclined to think about the big picture like whitepageblank, what is nice about this blog is that you can write for people that can really listen to what you have to say because they, unlike most people, can relate to your exceptional exposure to other cultural worlds and modes of understanding.

Good tips, no leftovers and way too much coffee

29 Mar

Wednesday night was absolutely great. It was the opening night of The Young Ethnographers Project and it was a fantastic opportunity to introduce the idea of this collaborative research to many of who are now its official participants. And although there was too much food and way too much coffee for that time of day, after Prudence recalled her experience with food in India, everyone decided to take some more home. What a good idea! — especially for me.. it saved me half of the cleaning. Who knows, little ideas like this one are probably what we’re missing nowadays.

The aim of the night was, yes, to talk about the project, but I think the guest speakers were really the highlight of the night, with the handy tips they provided on doing effective online blogging and critical journal writing, tips that will be essential for everyone who takes part in this venture. For this reason, I thought it would be a good idea to quickly go through their tips here again, so that those who were there (and those who weren’t) can go back to them from time to time.

Simple yet very ingenious: note taking and the basics of ethnography

The first one to talk was Jaap Timmer, a motivating lecturer and director of Macquarie’s Master in Applied Anthropology, the perfect person to give us some tips on how it is possible to unfold one’s ethnographic sensibility and cultural mind through writing:

  1. Don’t forget or underestimate your HEAD NOTES — Edmund Leach, a famous anthropologist, lost the notes from his fieldwork among an aboriginal culture (the Kachin) not once, but twice! These were his records of entire years of work. Yet he managed without them and was able to write an incredibly detailed and well informed account of that culture. Needless to say, he definitely proved for everyone the importance of having ‘head notes’.  Your head notes are really what will get you to make sense of your cross-cultural experience. They conform the scattered thoughts and insights that you picked up along the way from things that shocked you or amazed you. They are like the points of focus that will help you to ground and define your personal inquiry.
  2. Take as many SCRATCHY NOTES as you can — Probably the most important tip Jaap left us with is that you have to, have to write those head notes down, articulate them in length and not let them go away if you really want to get hold of them and put them to use for a higher purpose. If what you want is to bring some of that traveling self to the present, you will have to write lots of scratchy notes somewhere  (that’s what the little notebook and the iPad or even your phone are for).
  3. Make use of narrative in a FIELD JOURNAL (or online blog) — Putting thoughts together, making connections between notes and writing a story-like longer note is always a useful technique to make you really understand and define what your particular search for meaning is directed to. Everyone finds different things troubling, everyone has different questions to reflect on, but the funny thing is that not many people get to pinpoint exactly what their particular interests and perspectives are. Keeping a journal or blogging online can help you with that.

What any blogger should have in mind

After him came Lisa Wynn, an incredibly engaging lecturer that knows well how to move an audience through witty comments and controversial waters. Talking from her perspective as an experienced blogger – her contributions include active roles in renown blogs like Savage Minds and Culture Matters –  she was able to provide us with really practical, to the point, clues about how to come up with engaging posts:

  1. TELL A STORY — Everyone likes to read a story… something that draws your attention and doesn’t let you get up until you’ve finished reading.
  2. THINK VISUALLY — “Just as text is your narrative hook, images are your visual hook”. Her exact words were worth reminding. Find free pictures without copy writing or take some of your own, even with your phone. Anything that may catch your readers’ eyes.
  3. THINK ABOUT SUB-HEADERS — “People these days have a short attention span”. Think about what? …ah that’s right.. sub-headers, they are like little ‘hooks’, to continue with the metaphor, to help your reader find her way through and not dismay.
  4. HAVE LINKS TO BACK-STORIES — “People love to follow links to back-stories”. It definitely gives your post some depth as well as a feel of trustworthiness.
  5. COME UP WITH FUNNY, CATCHY TITLES — Of a good title depends that anyone wants to read the rest, so dedicate a good amount of time to it. After all, would it matter that a post is really good if no one can be bothered to read it because of its unattractive title?
  6. KEEP IT SHORT — Not only the title, but also your sentences. The longer they are, the more room your readers have to lose their attention and keep browsing.
  7. BE FUNNY AND PROVOCATIVE – A reader is always interested in someone who expresses an opinion or says something shocking, but remember, it is also important to find ways to be positive and to make sure that what you write will not bite you in the ass”.
  8. GIVE ADVICE OR POST IN A Q&A FORMAT — This one works probably because people love to hear when someone can tell them with certainty that something works… wait, I’m confused… does it work or not then?

Lisa also recommended a couple of weblogs where we can find how well these tips can be put to practice: one is about Neuroanthropology (in lay terms, it’s the study of how cultures and brains shape each other) and the other one is about Islam and the Middle East. Good luck everyone! I hope these expert tips encourage you to reflect, blog (and take notes!) more and better.

The invitation for The Young Ethnographers Project has been released!

21 Feb


2 Dec

The EthnoSense blog is a crucial piece of The Young Ethnographers Project. This project was designed by researchers at the CRSI for young people in Sydney who have had an intense experience of cultural immersion through a combination of alternative tourism and voluntary work.

Many returned volunteers don’t know quite well what to do with what they lived and saw while they were abroad. They usually feel they don’t have a space in-between, an opportunity to process what they went through. Well, this blog will be such a space, a place to share with like-minded people how their cross-cultural experience has given them new things to think about, new perceptions, images and desires that in some shape or form become relevant in their everyday life — even when sometimes they don’t know what to do with them or they cannot even express them, because they feel no one would understand.

Some of the themes the blog will touch on are things like:

  • The ‘inner’ journey vs the ‘outer’ journey –  travelers’ experiences beyond their public role.
  • Is it really possible to make a difference? – Looking both “out there” and “around here”
  • Negotiating institutional boundaries – between the volunteer and the tourist “hats”.
  • Cultural shocks – Getting there, and getting here again.
  • Intense Travel & Social media – do you really leave home?
  • Personal life and volunteer tourism – what’s the meaning behind it?

The project will commence in early 2011, but in the meantime, you will find here news and updates about how it is progressing….

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