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Student Experience

2006 Student Evaluation for MIRA Field School

Meaning and Experience of SELT Teaching English Service Learning
Laurie Kovacovic, Comment
Lisa Porostovsky, Comment

2009 Student Evaluations
Summary of 2009 Student Evaluations
Selection of Comments from 2009 Field School Participants

Student Testimonies. click here

Selecton of Student Comments (different years)
Staff, Teaching, Seminars
Home Stays, Cultural Adaptation, and Life in Pisté
Fieldwork and Research Projects
General Comments

Images from OSEA Programs
Winter Workshop with Dr. Juan Castillo Cocom (January 2005)

Brianna (OSEA 2009) at Yaxuna Dzonot

Staff, Teaching, Seminars
The respect and trust that exists between the students and staff is remarkable.

One of the best things about the field school was Quetzil’s respect for us and his expectations of us. We were treated as equals, and we were expected to respond to him, each other, and the people of Pisté as equals.

In one seminar session, Professor Castañeda was able to present an outline of different theoretical approaches which actually made sense to me. Not only did I learn about structuralism, post-structuralism, materialism, idealism, positivism, functionalism, and hermeneutics, but I understood the differences between these and how they were relevant to what we were doing.

What I most appreciated about the way in which all this material was presented, was that we looked at it critically, we looked at ourselves and what we were doing for examples and illustrations.

Quetzil’s teaching style is excellent, challenging.

As students, we took a great deal of satisfaction from our interactions with the people of Pisté and from the responsibility and professional respect which we were given by the project staff.

I have to admit I was surprised, however, as I received more information I realized that the independent nature of the program could be daunting or confusing to an undergraduate. In truth I prefer more independence in my research.

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Home Stays, Cultural Adaptation, and Life in Pisté
Although I found myself in an environment as alien as any I had ever been in and felt as “foreign” as I have ever felt, I can think of few situations in which I was truly uncomfortable.

the village of Pisté. It is small enough so that nothing is far, and the students begin to develop a sense of all the relationships binding the town, yet lively enough to support a fun social life.

…the extreme kindness of my host family…from the very first day, they were willing to help me learn Maya and discuss local life and customs. They were equally interested in learning about my life in the United States.

A very important realization I had while living with the family was that the people of Pisté were conducting an ethnography of their own through their questions and curiosity about the lives of the students. Living and participating in a family environment allowed me to blur the distinction between my ethnographic work and day-to-day life.

This opportunity for immersion in local cultural life and full participation in ethnographic research made the completion of our projects that much more enjoyable.

While overwhelmed by the attention and the adjustment to the language, I did not feel threatened despite my position as the target of all these big eyes, fast mouths, and gesturing hands.

I was amazed by the generosity of the people of Pisté throughout our stay, accepting us into their homes, weddings, funerals, classrooms,streets.

Eventually I simply accepted the possibility and probability of being misunderstood. Then the exchanges I had with people began to move forward because we both were communicating in new ways. Talking became much more of a pleasure, an unknown path taken with humor.

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Fieldwork and Research Projects
As the plans for the projects developed, we concentrated on particular tactics and strategies used to solve the research problem.

Also impressive is the hands-on application of ethnography in conjunction with art, theater, language teaching, training and learning. The students in this field school are exposed to a wide array of different arenas of experience, yet these are all brought together and thoroughly explored.

Although the unpredictable nature of the fieldwork requires a great deal of flexibility, it would also be helpful for students to have a fuller awareness of project requirements in advanced.

Here we were able to implement the experimental methodological practices which we had learned such as double sensation, evocation, transculturation, and ethnographic triggers. These all recognize our presence and the other’s presence, together in contact. From the contact, we were both witness and agent in the continued emergence and changing of culture.

Instead of trying to document culture as it was at one instant, our preoccupation was in the change itself, in recognizing the exchanges and not trying to make our presence, which was undeniable, a mere suggestion, but an acknowledged event. We used these methods in every aspect of the field school, amongst ourselves, with our friends in Pisté, with everyone, for these are really the practices of normal human contact which occur regardless of whether or not you are wearing the cloak of an ethnographer.
Instead of only producing a textual summary, we also constructed photographic essays, filmed video for display, both of which show us in exchange, with cameras, with tape-recorders, observing, being observed. These media helped expand the description, make it “thicker” as Geertz says. But they do more than portray a rich description of a moment with multiple perspectives, they show a continuation of exchanges, a process with no beginning, no end.

All of these accounts show only glimpses, but together they interact to raise questions about who is influencing whom, and who is observing whom, and how these influences and observations are triggering the continued creation of culture.

There are photo essays which show the artists, their work, the ethnographers, our interviews, our tools of documentation, their tools of artistry, us using their tools, learning to carve wood, their using our tools, learning to speak English, etc. There is video footage which shows these exchanges as well.

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General Comments
The students are challenged to immerse themselves in ethnography, in the local culture, with their host families and new friends, yet there is always academic and personal support from the staff and other students of the field school.

Students will not only get their feet wet playing with ideas, but they are encouraged to dive in and truly explore their emerging visions.

The Field School in Experimental Ethnography has been and will continue to be a wonderful, wonderful thing.


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