Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Learning Journal 25

In class today we practiced methods in the WILK. It was an interesting experience to see how much we can read into situations based on our cultural understanding. The whole experience was the epitome of people watching. I actually found it pretty easy to simply write down what I saw without reading into the situation. However, when we got back as a group I realized that although I didn't write any of those interpretations down, I thought about them. Normally I wouldn't perceive those interpretations as a bad thing, but I understood the point that our understanding won't always be applicable to what we observe in Tonga.
The second exercise of the class was to try and enter a 'community.' That was a little harder because it meant I had to do more than observe and write. Actually trying to join a conversation or just starting one was a bit of a challenge. I think the main reason for that is that on campus most people are working some form of homework, listening to music, or just wanting to be alone for a minute. I walked around trying to find someone I wanted to talk to and finally ended up joining a group that was taking a survey. They were probably surprised to see someone who was so eager to take participate, but it was interesting to include myself in the study as well as talk to a few of the other students. They guy next to me was mostly interested in the free fortune cookies they passed out, and kept asking if he could have another one. I laughed about that and finished my survey by talking to one of the people in charge for a minute. I think as a whole, joining random conversations isn't something that comes naturally to me. I can do it, but I generally keep to myself so I'll have to get back into the swing of doing it.

Learning Journal 24

I enjoyed contemplating the term "be flexible" in class. One of my main concerns has been with understanding how to deal with obstacles in the field. At this point, its hard to know exactly how I'll handle things as my knowledge of the culture is largely limited to information gained in conversations. My approach will likely change shape as I come to understand how my project fits into Tongan culture. That ties back in with the idea of being ok with ambiguity in my project at this point and finding clarification along the way. Since my project is largely exploratory, I have to be willing to accept ambiguity to a point until I have a foundation to build off. I realize that my proposals are helpful in developing some framework to where I can begin, but some of those specifics may need to be adapted.
The question that we were supposed to answer in class dealt with getting the project started once we get in the field. Initially I thought about how I'll just have to see what happens when I get there, but then Ashley made us think deeper. One of the questing she asked concerned our intitial observations. The gist of what she asked was, how are you going to observe what you don't naturally notice? I'm still not sure exactly how you would even identify what you don't notice, but I suppose making a conscious effort to observe is a good start. Going into a new culture, in my opinion, actually helps because since most things are foreign you have to make an effort to understand what's going on. When you've been around something for most of your life its harder to observe because you think you understand it. It will be an interesting transition of seeing how my proposal will act as a framework for my project in Tonga.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Learning Journal 23

For our Tongan language class we planned a field trip for today. We were going to go to Salt Lake but not enough people showed up from both of the classes so we just stayed around in Provo. We went to Many Lands and Sione showed us some Tongan food before heading over to a restaurant just down the street called Sweet's. I ate a teriyaki burger while the owners explained how everyone in Tongan culture is related somehow. We later went to the luau in the WILK and saw a lot of dancing. It was interesting to see how proud the Polynesian community was of their various cultures. The program spotlighted Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga and New Zealand with several dances from each place.
One thing that I didn't completely understand was that during some of the dances people would go up on stage and throw many at the girls dancing. I realize that its not done in a bad way because men and women would go up and throw money at the girls dancing. The thing that confused me was that everyone seemed to know when it was appropriate. Not every culture had people get up on stage to give money, and it wasn't on every song. During the Samoa segment a woman with a huge headdress seemed to be the signal for the money. But in the Tongan dance the only difference was that only girls were dancing, and they were wearing the ta'ovala. But after they'd been dancing for a minute people just got up and walked across the stage throwing money at the dancers as they went by. I'll have to look into it more and see what that means.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Learning Journal 22

I feel like I’ve been out of the loop not having gone to the inquiry conference in person, or having the syllabus for the class. For that reason its hard to think about what to write because most of my thoughts are focused on this trip in Chicago. Its been an interesting experience to represent something more than myself again this past week as I competed and interviewed under the reputation of BYU. I competed in the plant problem diagnosis competition and did well. As I handed in my test the competition sponsor commented that he expected me to do well because I was from BYU. Throughout the week, similar comments were made. BYU’s landscape management program was mentioned in the keynote address during the opening ceremonies for having more industry certified students than any other program. Several companies pulled me aside to talk because of the reputation of BYU students.

I think in some ways my experience in Tonga will be similar. I’ll be there, and whether I like it or not, I’ll be a representative of BYU and the church. While the reputation is less likely to define my personal success in fulfilling my project, it will play a role. My host family will have a definite opinion of BYU students based on how I carry myself. Within the community most people may never have heard of BYU, but if Tonga is like other places, they’ll probably assume I’m a missionary being a foreigner. The impression I want to leave of what I represent is similar to what I found myself a part of this week in Chicago. Its really a legacy of people with integrity and all other positive attributes associated with that. I hope to live up to that and to continue creating a positive reputation for BYU field study students.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Learning Journal 21

So this past week has been a crazy one in preparation for my trip to Chicago and needing to get the IRB proposal in and done, as well as a primary mentor and course contracts. The huge rush to get everything done is largely my fault as I didn't spread things out and plan my time better. That's something I'll have to invest more effort into when I get into the field because I don't want to be rushing to get everything done. In meeting with other students and reading their IRB proposal's, someone mentioned in data analysis a specific plan to begin analyzing the data while still in the field at various point to make sure they had complete answers to interview questions, but most importantly to make sure they were accomplishing the aim of the study. Doing something like that would make it easier to detect shortcomings in the research and give a heads up of how to overcome it. That way there is less of a chance of leaving the field and later realizing I had missed something. Maybe that will still happen anyway because I doubt I'll be able to answer every question, but I think it will be good to check up at the first of every month or something to make sure I'm focused by reviewing the research I've gathered and really thinking about what it is I'm trying to accomplish.
Another interesting experience this week has been the fact of getting a primary mentor and my course contracts set up before leaving to Chicago with my major. I am excited about my mentor because he will help me build up my portfolio for graduate school and I may have another opportunity to work with him in the fall. He is a licensed landscape architect, the only professor with that qualification, and will be able to help me determine more specifically what aesthetics to look for beyond the western concepts we learn in class. In class we discuss a little about Chinese, English, Japanese, and Italian gardens, so it will be interesting to see if I can detect something similar (and similar may be a stretch) for Tonga.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Learning Journal 20

For our cultural prep class, Sione asked us to read two articles written by Vai Sikahema. In these two articles, he discusses the relation of the Tongan culture to the American culture, as well as Tongan culture to the culture of the gospel. The assignment to read these articles stemmed from the discussion we had about the word palangi and what that entails in the eyes of many Tongans. To summarize the discussion he said palangi culture is viewed as being a better way of living. I didn't really like that belief, but I guess it stems in part from the idea that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I look at the little I know about Tongan culture, and admire them for their humility, family relations, and faith. Being an insider of what palangi culture is, I don't think its that great. Like every culture it has many positive attributes, but its not the best. Vai Sikahema commented along those lines in one of the articles saying that he was a 'cafeteria Tongan', taking the admirable aspects of Tongan culture and applying them within his life and family. Some aspects, especially on parenting styles, he chose to adopt a new approach rather than physical abuse and sarcastic remarks on a child performance to avoid appearing proud. So in being a member of the LDS church, he chose to adopt a more caring parenting style by praising his children, and discussing matters considered taboo in order to ensure they knew the gospel stance on matters such as chastity and not the world's alone.
There truly is a rich heritage that we gain from whatever culture we grow up in. American culture is a mix of many different traditions, and I appreciate the diversity. Yet in having traveled and lived in a few other countries, I appreciate the distinct and sometimes subtle differences between ways of thinking and living that cause me to question my own perceptions.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Learning Journal 19

If I had to classify myself into one of the three categories in the "Helping, Fixing, or Serving" article, I would say that I'm a fixer. Maybe its the man in me, but I enjoy finding solutions to problems and repairing what is seemingly broken. However, I don't know that I entirely fit with the fixing category that Rachel Remen described because I don't see everything as broken. But when I do, I want to find a way to fix it. Of the three I had the strongest understanding of that one.
Remen's thoughts on the power of service caused me to consider why that view of life is so much more enlightening. In her story of the encounter with the woman which approached her in the hospital not as an unsanitary patient, but as an equal, gave Remen optimism. It is largely the effect of service that distinguishes it from the other categories. Fixing something may provide service and can have a lasting effect if done in an attitude of service--not seeing yourself as fixing a poor man's problem but helping a friend with equal standing. When we see all people as equal we have reached what Remen described as seeing life is holy, not broken. A desire to serve isn't something we have to think about, it just happens.
I think this way of viewing life is extremely useful when traveling abroad, especially to developing countries. When I first moved to Ghana at 15 I was shocked at the many things in need of being fixed. Even though I had lived in other impoverished countries as a young child, I was taken back. Yet after three years of seeing the same beggars on the same street corners everyday, the pity I felt for them turned to respect for their diligence and I came to know some of them by name. They knew I wouldn't give them money, but I would share some of my food in our short interactions. Seeing them as equals, not unfortunate and lesser individuals made all the difference. I am still unaware of exactly how life is in Tonga, but I know it will be a simpler life than the one I lead now. I don't want to give others the impression of helping out of pity, or fixing because my way is better. Rather I hope to serve out of genuine respect and appreciation of a friendship.