Onwards & upwards

Standard

“Hello world!”

When I first started this blog this phrase was the WordPress stand-in for my very first blog post. Now, almost a year later, after living in two countries and traveling through West and Southern Africa, I feel like my little blog has helped me say just that: “Hello world!”.

I’ve really enjoyed blogging over the past year but I’m setting aside Snippets for now. Why? Well, I’ve got a lot of other things going on! Over the next fourteen months, I’ll be finishing my undergraduate degree, writing my thesis, working on residence, and moving back to Toronto!

In the meantime, I’d like to send out my thanks to the world of WordPress for giving me a chance to write about my thoughts and experiences on placement. And thank you for reading as well! I’m moving onwards and upwards, as they say!

Last day in the office (brief co-op update!)

Standard

My time in Botswana is quickly coming to an end. The past week has been both the longest and shortest of my life! I’ve been slowly saying goodbye to friends and colleagues, wrapping up the data collection for my undergrad research, and finishing my reporting for work. I am looking forward to spending my last weekend relaxing with my friend Carragh who is making the journey south to Gabs to keep me company while I pack.

As my list of ‘To Dos’ before I leave gets shorter and shorter, I’m realizing just how much I’ve accomplished over the past five months in Botswana. It’s been a wild ride and, I won’t lie, there have been plenty of pretty big challenges, but I’m proud I’ve made it through relatively unscathed. I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to travel in Southern Africa during my time here as well. This is certainly a region of the world that has captured both my heart and imagination.

I’m struggling with the realization that I’m leaving the continent of Africa after an incredible eight months of travel and co-op experiences! I’ve visited seven countries over the course of my co-op placements in Ghana and Botswana. There is no greater learning experience than this, I think! I’ve been even more bitten by the travel bug and I can’t wait to explore other parts of the continent. I already have plans for an epic East African trip… But that will have to wait until I’ve graduated from university at least!

In the meantime, I’m planning on heading home, starting my data analysis for my research, hanging out with my family and friends, and taking a couple of courses online. It might sound a little anti-climactic after all I’ve been through this past year. But I’m thinking a little downtime won’t be a problem at all. At least until I get itchy feet again!

I fly out on Monday and arrive home on Tuesday afternoon so the next time you hear from me this Canadian will be back on home soil. Until then, go siame, as they say in Botswana!

Roadblocks & perseverance… Research is hard!

Standard

I’ve been working on my undergraduate research since September 2014 when I started writing my research proposal. After months of revisions, ethics approval, and bureaucracy battles with the government of Botswana, I finally began my data collection a couple of weeks ago. What have I learned since then? Research is hard!

I’ll admit I knew it was going to be hard from the start. I knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. I knew things wouldn’t always go my way. … But I’ll also admit I thought things would go a little more smoothly than they have so far. Frustratingly, there have been so many bumps along the way.

Most recently, I’ve had issues accessing my research sample, secondary students between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. I specifically designed my research so I’d be interacting with students during ‘down-time’ in their scholarly schedule. Since January is the beginning of a new term, the students aren’t as busy with exams and projects as they were in November and December.

But while they aren’t busy with school, I’ve still had trouble getting enough time with them to complete surveys let alone get some interviews in! There’s always something else going on that mucks up my research schedule. I’ve had situations where schools have double-booked their students, situations where the teacher I’m working with isn’t around on our agreed meeting day, and even sticky situations with disorganized administration, when schools I’ve been working with for the past three weeks to set up a meeting with their students forgot to tell the right people I’d be coming, resulting in chaos or rescheduling.

Since I am now into my last week of placement in Botswana, data collection is now in full crunchtime mode. I have some data now and I should be collecting more over the next few days. The truth is, though, that it just might not be enough. It’s hard to admit that all this work has culminated into such a whirlwind but I’m working on focusing on this experience as a time of growth instead of a time of disappointment. I might as well find the silver lining because I can’t change anything now.

All I can do is my best. I can work as hard as I can to get as much done as I can. And then I can take what I’ve learned from this experience to become better for the future. For example, I’ve learned how best to liaise with government institutions and educators. And I’ve learned to become even more of a self-starter, to advocate for my needs when no one else will. I’ve also learned that I need to let things go when they don’t go my way, especially since the roadblocks I’ve run into along the way are out of my control.

There are only five more working days left of my placement, which means there are only five more research days as well. Fingers crossed the worst of the challenges are behind me but, realistically, I’m sure I’ll be flexing my problem solving muscles this week too to get things done. Wish me luck!

Odd consequences of my time abroad (plus, co-op updates!)

Standard

Living and working abroad comes with a lot of change, of course. Some of this – like being away from family – is fully anticipated but some of it isn’t… In fact, there are some strange, funny, and even useful consequences that I’ve experienced while on my co-op placement that I had no idea would happen. Here’s a list of some of them I’ve noticed in myself.

1. I’ve become exceptionally good at jaywalking. The driving in Ghana was hectic due to mass volume of people, especially in the cities, so walking across the road was always a struggle outside of the village and the drivers in Botswana just don’t care about pedestrians at all. On the roads, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, especially when the traffic lights (called ‘robots’ here in Southern Africa) aren’t working. Remember that it’s all about timing and, if you’re worried, just sneak across behind a more experienced jay-walker because they know what they’re doing.

2. I’ve become slightly addicted to Masterchef. In Ghana, of course, I didn’t have a television (I sometimes didn’t even have electricity) but in Botswana, I rent a room in a house and my housemum happens to love television so we have a rather fancy flatscreen plus the best access to all the good channels with DSTV Premium. One day when it was so, so hot and I didn’t want to do anything more than lie in front of the fan and not move a muscle, I searched through the channels and found Masterchef… And I’ve been addicted ever since.

3. I text message far less than I do at home. The main system here in Botswana and in most of the developing world is prepaid. You can buy credit (or ”airtime”) whenever you need it at gas stations or from street kiosks. You buy a code then punch in the code on your phone to load the credit. Because of this system, you pay for every text message. Back home, I had an unlimited texting plan so I never worried about sending a friend a ”What’s up with you?” message but nowadays a conversation over text would burn through my credit fast. So, like most people here, I buy small data bundles to have text conversations via Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp instead.

4. I always have about five pounds of change on me. In Ghana, this wasn’t a problem since there are far fewer coins than there are in the currency in Botswana. Since moving to Gaborone, though, I’ve noticed that my wallet is always heavy with coins because there are coins up to five pula here! I use public transit as my way of getting around so it’s useful to carry all this coinage but sometimes even I’ll admit it gets a little ridiculous… Like the day I counted it out and realized I had over fifty pula in my change purse. Oops!

5. Even though I told myself I would stick with it, I haven’t had a proper workout in over four months. I stretch and do some little moves in my room everyday before my shower (… my bath, actually because we don’t have a showerhead!) but I haven’t put on my runners to go for a jog in far, far too long. In Ghana, I got a lot of attention anytime I left the house, which made it embarrassing to workout outside, especially if the neighbour kids decided to chase after me as they liked to. And here in Botswana, it’s summer so it’s just far too hot during the day to even consider going outside. With these excuses, I’m just waiting until I go home to get back to it. These are just a few of the unexpected consequences – good, bad, funny, and odd – that I’ve experienced as a result of living and working abroad over the past eight or so months. Maybe if I find more, I’ll draw up another list. In the meantime, I’ll give you a quick update on my co-op placement in Botswana. I’ve only got about a week and a half left of my placement. Time sure flies and I’ve got so much to do before I leave! Continue reading

My Thesis Research (DUN DUN DUNNNN)

Standard

As an international development studies (IDS) co-op student, I am required to do two things in my fourth year abroad. First, I’m supposed to live and work in a developing country for eight to twelve months. And second, I’m tasked with choosing a research topic for my undergraduate thesis and collecting data for this research while on placement. During our first three years university, the IDS-ers tend to become very excited about the work part of placement and very scared about the thesis side of things (hence the dramatics in this post’s title!). But we need to do both to graduate so thesis research always manages to get done.

For those who regularly read my blog, you know I’ve had a turbulent past eight months on placement. My first three months were spent in Bibiani, Ghana, a country I grew to love but left early due to concerns about the Ebola outbreak in neighbouring countries (to date, thankfully, there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in Ghana). Then, after just about three weeks back home in Canada after Ghana, I jetted off to Botswana to finish my placement here, where I’ve been for almost five months.

What has this got to do with research? Well, in Ghana I planned to do research on one topic. I even wrote a pretty good draft of a research proposal for my supervisor. But as soon as I left, I was forced to throw that away and start fresh in Botswana. This was nerve-wracking because I have a lot less time to complete my research in Botswana, with a placement of only five or so months in comparison to the eight months I was going to have in Ghana.

When I arrived in Botswana, I was a little disoriented. I had experienced a lot of change in a month (from West Africa to North America to Southern Africa) so it took me a while to settle in and finally start thinking about potential research topics here. After about two months in Gaborone, Botswana, I finally chose my topic. With all the media about street harassment around the world, I was interested in looking at this phenomenon here, too.

Street harassment is sexual harassment that happens in public places between strangers. Traditionally men are the harassers and women are the targets of street harassment, as it is widely considered a symptom of gender inequality. Even though street harassment is a global issue, there is little research done on it in general and even less done on it in the developing world, especially in Africa. Moreover, the youth voice is often left out of what research there is.

My research is focusing on speaking with youth – secondary school students here in Gaborone. I am looking for their stories, experiences, and conceptions of street harassment as a way of gaining insight into the gender inequality that exists here as well. I hope that my research will show that street harassment is an issue that we should be exploring as development researchers and practitioners. I also hope to add voices from the developing world to a topic that tends to be very North America focused.

I’ve already started setting up meetings with schools in the area to begin my data collection. It’s been a long time coming, since I started writing my research proposal for this topic almost three months ago. Preparing for research is almost as taxing as actually doing the research because there are numerous bureaucratic processes that need to be fulfilled with my university and also with federal and regional government here in Botswana.

I’m excited to get started with the data collection but also quite nervous, which I think is to be expected. I’ve only done much smaller research projects in the past – nothing on this scale before and nothing outside of a university context. But that’s why we go to school, right? To be challenged because that’s when we learn the most. I’ve already learned so much preparing for this research so I know I’ll learn even more over the next few weeks during the data collection process. Hopefully everything goes smoothly. Wish me luck!

Happy New Year Updates

Standard

I’m back in Gaborone after a marvellous Christmas Break trip. My friend Carragh and I took off south to visit South Africa and Swaziland for two weeks. It was an amazing way to celebrate the festive season and get out of town for a bit to escape Botswana’s shockingly hot summer. We spent a couple of days in Johannesburg then about a week in Cape Town and we rounded off our trip with a few days in Manzini in Swaziland. I can’t wait to share stories and photos from this trip with you. They’ll be posted over the next week or so as I go through the photos, write up the stories, and also get my life in Gabs back in order!

Rappelling off the edge of Table Mountain in Cape Town

Rappelling off the edge of Table Mountain in Cape Town on my Christmas 2014 vacation

January marks the beginning of my second last month on my co-op placement. I’ve only got eight more weeks to go so I’ve got to make them count! I’ll likely be in Gaborone this entire time since I’ve got lots of work to do (not to mention I’ve broken my travel budget…). This month will likely be busy with work as January is the beginning of a new term for secondary school students. Since they won’t be busy with exams and projects, we’ll be spending a lot of time helping them with university and scholarship applications. I also expect to present at numerous schools in the area over the next few weeks.

Beyond work, I’ll also be busy finally starting my thesis research. I’ve been given official approval on my research proposal and am in the process of getting things moving. With only eight weeks left in Botswana, I’m down to the wire but I’m confident I can collect all the data I need before heading back to Canada at the end of February. My research is focused on youth experiences with street harassment, a topic that fascinates me since I’m passionate about gender issues and also really enjoy working with young people. I’m eager to see what comes of this research moving forward, even though I’m nervous about it because it’s nothing like anything I’ve done before. Even though it’s just a small undergraduate project, it’s been a long time coming and much anticipated over my past three and a half years of university.

Lots of news from me here in sunny Botswana. Stay tuned for more over the next little while – news on my travel, research, work, and all sorts of things is coming your way. I hope your holidays were all amazing and beautiful no matter what you celebrate or where in the world you were celebrating!

Plans A, B, C… Z?

Standard

I’m one of those people who’s always pursuing the next opportunity. I’ve got emails and newsletters coming into my inbox filled with possibilities: internships, workshops, jobs… I’m often seen perusing job boards. And I love sifting through these options and figuring out which ones might work for me. I put time and energy into imagining myself doing different the things I’m applying for because, for me, it’s exciting to explore all my options. The world is my oyster, as they say.

I won’t lie; it can be tiring when things don’t work out. As an optimist, I’m pretty resilient because I’m an expert silver-lining finder. But I’m also a perfectionist, so rejection can be hard. And plans often fall through, which can be frustrating, especially if I’ve spent precious energy pursuing something that ultimately comes up short. Despite my positivity, disappointment can be as bitter for me as everyone else.

Recently, I was faced with one such situation. I had found out that there was a possibility of me taking a term abroad in Australia after my co-op placement in Botswana from March to June 2015. It was the perfect option in so many ways but some bureaucratic issues out of my control put a stop to all that. So I’ll be flying back to Canada in early March as originally planned instead of jetting off to Sydney for a few months to finish my anthropology major there.

At first, I was angry and disappointed about it and, while those feelings are still there, they’ve dwindled as I’ve started to look into other options. Like I do, I’ve begun imagining myself doing other things, being other places. Always moving forward is my motto about these things and I’m looking forward to discovering exactly where I’m going to end up come March.

Many of my friends in the same program (international development co-op at U of T) as me are beginning to think more and more about what’s next – not just after we finish our co-op placements but also about where we’ll go once we graduate… After all, we’ll all be graduating from university in just about a year and a half. I think the fact I love exploring future goals and making all sorts of plans so much will help me navigate my next year and a half and beyond that, too.

Right now, I’m pleased that I’m not stressing about what’s happening after graduation too much. I’m pleased because this is a little uncharacteristic of me, since I can be an intense over-achiever. Somehow, though, over the past six months in Ghana and Botswana, I’ve experienced so much instability in my life that now I know that I can handle little hiccups along the way (like having a plan to study in Australia struck down) as well as bigger hurdles (like moving across the world for months or like writing a thesis). Perhaps, like a puppy, I’m ‘mellowing’ or maybe this is simply what growing up feels like?

Whatever it is, I’ll not stop being the planner that I am. I’ll always going to be looking for fun and exciting experiences that I can grow and learn from. I guess, now, I’m just not taking things as personally if they don’t work out. Or maybe it’s that I’m more confident in myself now; even if a plan falls through, I know I’ll be alright. Better than alright even! I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter if I’m in Botswana, Australia, or back home in Toronto, I’ll make it work. And, if these past few months are any indication, I’ll have a mighty amount of fun as I go.