I wrote this blog on the plane flight over on 15 January. Just getting around to posting it now! It summarizes where I’ve been and where I am going over the next few months!
Today officially begins my U.S. Fulbright. I am so honored to be part of the US Fulbright program and have the opportunity to do research in the Solomon Islands. I was told that I was the first Fulbrighter to come to the Solomons, which is such a privilege. The Solomon Islands is such a beautiful country with wonderful people. I hope that I can represent the US well in my research, but more importantly, work alongside Solomon Islanders to do research that will benefit them.
So what is my research plan?
If you have been following this blog, you know that I began my research in September 2018. From September to December I focused on research at a Community High School in Honiara building relationships with students and teachers. My goal was to better understand the school system and the opportunities (or lack thereof) it provided for students. Those three months were full of many wonderful observations, conversations, surveys, a photo project and so much more. I have gathered a lot of data that I still need to process through. More than just the data, I am so thankful for the relationships I built during this time.
As I move into this next phase of research, I hope to maintain relationships with some of the teachers and students. Many of them have become good friends and I want to continue to learn from them. I will also follow up with students who took their exams last year and find out how they progress over this next year. I will do a little of this in the next month but will focus on this the second half of the year.
For the next 4-6 months, Mike and I will be setting off on a new adventure. We will be heading to Isabel in about a week. This will be the comparison part of my research looking at what youth who have returned to their homes do after experiences in town. This will give me a deeper analysis of the experiences and opportunities for youth in the Solomon Islands. It will also come with its own set of challenges. We will be living in a more remote location so the internet will be very limited (which means less blog and social media updates and less communication with our families back home). We will also have limited access to food that we are accustomed too. Mike will also be taking a leave from work, so he is unsure how he will occupy his time. Despite these challenges, I know it will provide a richness to my research and experience. I will continue to do observations, interviews and photo projects with youth. I look forward to building a whole new set of relationships although the unknowns of it still make me a little anxious.
The next week before going will be filled with logistical details: securing Mike’s visa (we had success on Friday!), booking ship passage, buying supplies we need, repacking etc. I also hope to reconnect with a few people before going to Isabel. It will be a busy week, but hopefully not too stressful.
So how did I get here?
Back in October, I wrote a post about how I got to where I am, but never shared it. As I get ready to begin this new phase, I once again am struck by the blessings and opportunities I have been given through this experience.
Here are some of the things I noted in October…
“As I sat down at the table after tea to take notes, I was struck by the amazingness of where I am.
I am in the Solomon Islands. I have the opportunity to live here for over a year. I get to do research on something I care about and hopefully benefits others. My husband is with me; I am not alone. I am pursuing a Ph.D. on a topic I care about. I have received grants and other funding to help cover expenses. I even received a Fulbright! These are blessings and experiences I never thought were possible.
Ten years ago I stepped foot in the Solomons for the first time. I was young and naive. The opportunity had come for me to do research on an endangered language in a remote village. I was nervous and scared, but also excited about the opportunity. During this research, I fell in love with the people of the Solomon Islands and the natural beauty around me. At the end of eight weeks, I had a feeling that I would return but didn’t know how or when.
I returned to the US and finished my MA. I was so burnt out at the end of the MA that I left academia. I tried to return to the Solomons through various organizations and grants, but the doors kept closing. I was lost and confused, but in retrospect, I see how the time in the US provided me with healing and growth that I didn’t know I still needed. I remember talking to my best friend during this time. She asked what I wanted to do with my life. Two things came to mind and they stuck with me: 1. To live overseas and use my anthropology training to work, do research, or volunteer. 2. To teach college students.
Grad school has opened up both these doors. During the school year, I get to teach. Now I am doing research and living overseas. I never thought that both these dreams would come true. Even better, I get to share this experience with my husband. After my first trip to the Solomons, I knew that if I lived overseas I needed a partner to work with. Now fast forward 10 years, I am living in the Solomons for 14 months. I am sharing this experience with my husband who is excited about the opportunity and supports me in so many ways. I get to do research on a subject I care about and teach, even here, with some students as they prepare for their exam.
There are many days that I feel lost. I have no idea what I am doing in my research. I don’t know how this will all fit together or what insights I will gain. I don’t know if I will find something useful. However, this is where I am supposed to be.”
The Start of Something New!
Now as I begin Phase 2, although the nerves and unknowns are still there, I am also excited. It is good to reflect on where I have been and the challenges I have faced to remember that I can overcome. This door has been opened and I have received provision and support I didn’t think was possible. An amazing opportunity awaits. I want to embrace it with my whole heart and enjoy every moment. Anxiety will not take over. I will overcome and thrive!