Learning from Mistakes

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By Sara Christensen

Doing research in Kerala was a process of going farther outside my comfort zone than I ever thought possible. It involved a significant amount of culture shock; I was challenged physically, intellectually, and emotionally. My mind was broadened, my cultural understanding was deepened, and I realized that any process that involves learning is a very worthy process indeed.

I learned that I love ethnography. I found the practice of immersing myself into the lives of others to be irresistible. I also learned that it is a process wrought with challenges, which I was able to overcome with the help of my colleagues, loved ones back home, and a new burst of confidence in myself. There is no “one” way to do ethnography; this was the key I held dear during my time in Kerala.

Making mistakes was such a wonderful part of the experience. From fumbling to eat with my hands, wearing “too much black,” or mispronouncing Malayalam words, my interlocutors allowed me to enter their world through humour. Their openness and general ease was comforting and enlightening. The pressure I put upon myself as an ethnographer was constantly reassured by Keralites’ willingness to be open and real with me. I am still very much filled with gratitude at their eager approach to share life stories, woven with joy, heartbreak and a desire for a future where all things are possible.

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