One of the fun things about preparing for my prelim exams was the opportunity to dig through old notes and I found a few “gems.” What follows is some advice on doing international fieldwork I drafted after spending ten weeks in Ecuador conducting research for my masters thesis, which is a case study of a community radio association headquartered in Quito, Ecuador. I ofter it here in case it might be of use to readers. In particular, I’d like to give a shoutout to my friend and colleague Jackson Foote who will soon be embarking on fieldwork in Chile.
Be a better version of yourself.
Learn how people greet each other, social norms, etc.
Be prepared to make a total fool of yourself (often…).
Expect a rough adjustment period in the new place (setting, country, social situation, etc.). Stay in touch with people at home so you don’t go too crazy. Remind yourself often that it was your choice to be there and undertake the project and that things will probably get better!
Be honest about who you are—your values and worldview—but think about how what you say and how you present yourself will be perceived with in the cultural context of the country you’re in and the people you are with. (Talking about the Bush administration, views on abortion, difficulties of getting visas to visit the United States, etc.)
Be a good listener (not just when think you’re “on” as a researcher because in a sense you always are when in the field). Also, remember that you’re being judged holistically, not just on how you act in an interview or when presenting your research pitch, etc. How you act in social situations is probably more important than when you’re searching for sources at a library, etc.