Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Learning process

When it comes to international travel, one thing I've learned is that it is extremely difficult to prepare for what you are going to experience. All of my expectations of Cochabamba were completely wrong. The type of work I did at my host organization was completely different from what I had prepared for. The pre-trip preparation from FSD was completely disconnected from what FSD was like in my host country. So the most important thing I learned was that, at least when it comes to international experiences, nothing can take the place of going there and just doing it.

Any type of preparation you try to do will leave you more confused that when you started. Of course, the pre-trip logistical process for visas and vaccinations and plane tickets was very important to the trip. And the philosophies of service that we learned like how to avoid being the overbearing and unhelpful outsider really shaped how I acted and conducted my research in-country. While all these things helped prepare me for going abroad, nothing could quite prepare me for Bolivia.

Bolivia is a country unlike anything I had imagined. I learned so much from living there for just two months. I learned about friendship and family and food and how to enjoy life. I learned about small businesses and I learned about work ethic. I learned so much about myself and how I wanted to live and who I wanted to become when I "grew up". I learned how cold you can be on an unheated bus in the middle of the night in a desert. And I learned how beautiful the night stars are on the highest lake in the world. These were the moments that truly defined my experience and nothing could have prepared me for that.

The post trip training was definitely helpful in helping me process my experiences and integrate them back into my life. Being able to talk to other Loewensterns and share those small, defining moments helped me to not forget what I had been lucky enough to do that summer.

This type of pedagogy has taught me the importance of sharing and discussing your experiences with others. Before the UNIV classes, I feel like I was much more closed off to discussing my stories. When I came back from Bolivia and had connections to other people in the class (whether from being in Bolivia together or from the mutual experiences of trying to do a project abroad) I had a lot of stories to tell and experiences that I wanted talk about. So I really appreciated the returning class more than the pre-departure class.

Future action research: Wagoner Fellowship

Wagoner Proposal
Deadline: January 20
Requirements: Letter of invitation from abroad, 2 letters of recommendation, motivation/proposal for project

The purpose of research is to create knowledge, expand understanding and ask new questions. It requires extensive analysis, creativity, and, most importantly, originality in thinking. While unique thought can happen anywhere in the world, it is arguably best fostered in places where many diverse minds come together and join forces in solving problems. One city that truly upholds this diversity is Brussels, Belgium. As the center of the European Union, Brussels is an international and growing city where people from across the globe come to share their ideas. Brussels is filled with people from around the world who foster the crucial diversity of thought that leads researchers to look at problems from different perspectives. With this ideal climate for academic thinking, Brussels is undoubtedly the perfect place for a Wagoner Fellowship.  

The internationality of Brussels is especially significant in the field of research in which I am interested: energy economics. Energy is complex topic that expands many geopolitical boundaries, so it is important to understand it through a global lens. In Brussels, I would have the ability to study energy through a modern, European perspective while also letting the extra-European internationality of Brussels shape my thinking. Conversely, while Houston is a global center of energy, the research it produces is strongly biased toward the oil industry, creating a limited scope for learning and growing. If my research was instead centered in Brussels, I would have many directions in which to lead my work.

My interest in the Wagoner and Brussels mainly stems from my experience doing community based research this past summer. Through the Loewenstern Fellowship, I was able to travel to Cochabamba, Bolivia and work with an organization called CADEPIA, a union of small entrepreneurs and artisans. The entrepreneurs affiliated with CADEPIA paid dues in exchange for workshops and training from the organization. The leaders of the CADEPIA wanted to conduct research on the needs of the business owners so the organization could learn more about what types of workshops to provide in the future.  This project in Cochabamba was my first independent research project, and I knew that it was an experience that I wanted to repeat. If I were to go to Brussels, I would once again have the ability to conduct a research project abroad. However, this time I would enter the project with much more know-how and experience on what it’s like to conduct research in a foreign country.

While doing my research project in Bolivia, one of the most important things I learned was the importance of communication and the obstacles that a language barrier can present in research. While I knew a sufficient amount of Spanish, it was at times difficult to execute the study to my full capacity because of communications issues. One crucial fact in choosing Brussels for my Wagoner placement is that English is widely spoken in Belgium, which eliminates the issue of the language barrier. I have also taken several semesters of French, the main language of Belgium, so I will still be able to communicate and get by in limited French if needed.

With this past experience in research abroad and a passion for the diverse and global nature of Brussels, I believe I will be an excellent candidate for the Wagoner Fellowship. I know that I will learn so much from studying energy economics in Brussels, and I hope that what I learn will be translated into solid academic research in this growing and changing field.

Per Month
  •            Lunch €10
  •            Dinner €15
  •            Breakfast €5

Public transport

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Reflection Interviews

1. What did I seem most excited about when I spoke to you about my experience?
2. Has how I talked about my experience changed from then to now?
3. How could I better talked to you about my experience? (Or to community members: how could I better keep in touch now?)

Peer Interview-Friend (Paraphrase Summary)

When you first got here you seemed really excited about all of your excursions and travels while you were there. You talked about the buses you went on and biking around and going places on the weekends. But now you talk more about how you miss the little things in Bolivia. You'll randomly say that something small reminds you of it. I think you were pretty good about answering all of my questions when I asked you. You never sat down and "told me" about your whole trip. So you answered all my questions so I don't think there was anything I was wondering about.

Community Member-Coworker (Paraphrased and Translated)
I saw on Facebook a few weeks after you left that you went to a soccer game for Bolivia (in the United States). You had pictures of wearing Bolivian colors and looking happy. It made me happy that you were remembering Bolivia. Now we still talk on Facebook and comment on each others posts. Because the posts are so different they're not all about Bolivia, so we talk about more things now. You could keep in touch better by sending more messages and we could Skype!

Faculty- Professor (Paraphrase Summary)
I remember that you emailed me about natural gas cars while you were in Bolivia. You were really excited about them because you had never seen them before and we studied them in class. More recently we've talked about you biking in Bolivia so that's a bit different from before. I you sound more reminiscing than excited. You could have talked to me more about your project there and what it was like living there under President Morales after how powerful he has become now.

The main themes that I think some of my interviews brought up is how when I first got back from Bolivia, I was really excited about the most "adventurous" things like traveling and trips. But now I miss the little things about culture and my host family. I think that shift makes sense because even though the trips on the weekends were fun, the best part of my experience really was just living in Cochabamba and meeting people and learning about the city. Those small experiences are difficult to explain to people when you come back from a trip. I agree with the evaluations, and I definitely think I should try better to keep in touch more often with people who I met this summer. The growth I've seen in myself is probably attitude adjustments for annoyances. I feel like I have grown a lot more patient and flexible since coming back. Although that has faded to some extent due to school stress, I still try to keep that mentality in mind in times of stress to keep me calm and not forget about the summer.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

(E-Portfolio Post) Journal #1

Themes: One of the main themes I noticed from my blog posts is excitement for small, little things. I would get excited about the music playing in the trufi, a new dessert I tasted on the street, or a new word or phrase I learned. I think that type of joy and excitement is really important for being happy. You should always be excited by the small things in life, because they happen all the time. Another theme I noticed was flexibility. My posts often start with how something I was expecting that day changed or went far differently than I expected. This is a common occurrence when living and working abroad. While this unpredictability was something that annoyed many of the other Americans I knew, it was something that I actually enjoyed. Life back at home can get pretty monotonous and repetitive, even with a busy and dynamic schedule every week. The final theme I noticed was a fear or reluctance to return back to the United States. I would often compare the relaxed and fun days of running around Bolivia to the scary days of college back in Texas. Towards the end of my blog some of that went away as I was getting somewhat homesick, but I think the whole time I was anticipating missing Bolivia.

Gaps: A lot of the gaps in my blog posts are about the more negative elements of my experience in Bolivia. Sometimes my work could get frustrating, or I would have a small miscommunication with my family. But I didn't want that to encompass my experience so I chose not to write about them. I also did not write very much about my travels on the weekends, which is strange because that was a huge part of my Loewenstern experience. I think they were so important to me and so sensory and so dynamic that I didnt feel like I had to the time to sit down and totally capture in words what they meant to me. I had a lot of fun traveling on the weekends, and I guess those experiences are better preserved in the few photos and memories I have.

(E-Portfolio Post) Organization Information

CADEPIA (Chamber of Small Business and Artisans) is a non profit organization that promotes, unites, defends, and represents the interests of artisans and small business owners in Cochababmba. Its mission is to represent the business interests of micro, small, and medium businesses in the industrial, service, and artisans sectors. CADEPIA helps to strengthen these businesses through integral services. The organization's vision is to be an institution that represents entrepreneurial leaders at the local level to create a national impact.

CADEPIA's strongest assets come from its 20 years of experience in the region. Over time the organization has built a strong leadership board consisting of successful entrepreneurs who represent the interests of their peers. CADEPIA also has over 1000 affiliated business, giving it strength and reputability in the community. The organization provides very useful workshops to many of its affiliated businesses and also sponsors trade fairs every few months for these business-owners to sell their products. Another key strength to CADEPIA is that despite its size, the organization has very close ties to its affiliated entrepreneurs.

The main point for improvement in CADEPIA is more services for certain industries represented in their affiliated businesses. The leadership board of CADEPIA consists of mainly entrepreneurs in the food sector. This leads to many of the trade fairs and workshops being oriented to this sector. CADEPIA needed a way to know more about underrepresented sectors such as leatherwork, handicrafts, and metalwork.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Service Synopsis

Aruni Ranaweera (Hanszen ’17) conducted research for CADEPIA (Chamber of Small Business and Artisans) in Cochabamba, Bolivia for nine weeks. Her project was a study identifying the various production and business needs of small businesses affiliated with the organization. She spent the first month of her experience learning about CADEPIA and meeting with executives at the organization to plan and design a survey. The final survey contained questions about marketing, financial, production, industrial safety, and technological needs of the businesses. Once the survey was created, she spent several weeks interviewing business owners in sectors ranging from leather-work and textiles to confections and chemical products. Aruni was able to meet with these business owners at market fairs, technical workshops, and walk-ins at the CADEPIA office. At the end of her summer, Aruni wrote a report for CADEPIA summarizing the results of her research. Her findings will assist CADEPIA in deciding what future workshops will best serve the needs of their affiliated businesses.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The return

Strange habits I've picked up from living in Bolivia:

1) Feeling the need to pay for things in cash
2) Leaving the house without my phone
3) Looking for things in actual stores instead of ordering it on Amazon
4)Trying to remember where places are instead of using my GPS
5) Trying to get businesses to accept different currencies (okay haven't actually done this one yet, but I always have to fight the urge)
7) Feeling awkward about NOT individually kissing every person in the room when you enter/exit