Hello! I'm an undergraduate student at Texas A&M majoring in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Sciences and Minoring in Anthropology.
The Summer of 2019 I had the opportunity to be part of the Isla Mujeres Ethnographic Field School from June 1st to July 28th.
This is my experience.
ISLA MUJERES ETHNOGRAPHIC FIELD SCHOOL
What was Isla Mujeres Ethnographic Field School Like?| Course Description
Generally, a field school is an educational program where an anthropologist is in the field and working on research with the addition of guidance from a professor and a structured curriculum. That's exactly what my field school experience was like. Our professor was Todd Pierce who became a true friend along with his wife Jenn over the summer. They not only teach and run this program, but they open up their hearts and the home to us. As far as the structure of the course, it changed over time as we built up our skills and transitioned to focusing on our own research. It included a wide variety of ethnographic methods lectures, assignments, and extracurriculars.
We started out with a tour to familiarize ourselves with the island. It was important that we build a sense of place. Then we began Spanish lessons alongside research design-based methods lectures. At the same time, we were building research grant proposals and designing our research, while also working on assignments. Shortly after we got there, Todd threw scuba diving into the mix, enhancing our sense of place and group cohesion. Research design continued alongside all of our extracurriculars until it was time to begin collecting our data after our design was approved.
While collecting data we were also beginning the process of data organization and analysis. During this portion, social networking was crucial and social activities were also a pivotal part of our experience. Next up, we began analysis and writing, preparing a conference paper for our conference as well as writing a paper to submit to a journal for publication.
During this time, the feeling of winding down was strong. This made the work harder as emotions were becoming stronger. While we did a lot of work, we had a lot of fun at the same time. After our conference, we got to have the last two days touring the historic Mayan sites of mainland Yucatan and having our last dinner together. The island became our home and our friends became our family, so it was hard to see that slipping away. Overall, it was an amazing experience. Challenging at most times and blissfully fun others.
ISLA MUJERES ETHNOGRAPHIC FIELD SCHOOL
But what did I really take away from this experience?
Looking back at my summer, I'm overwhelmed with the memories. So much of my time was spent pouring over readings and notes and chatting about research methods with Todd or the other students. However, a vast amount of my experience was also based on pure fun and having new experiences.
I have grown tremendously as an anthropologist from this program. I didn't have a strong anthropology background because I just changed educational paths recently. So honestly, it was pretty hard. The readings and lectures were so important and everything I learned, I immediately had to apply to my work. I feel like I just scratched the surface, but the field doesn't scare me anymore and I feel capable. At the end of this, I felt I had more questions than answers, but now I knew how I wanted to alter my methods to find that data. I ended with a conference paper that I was proud of. I am now using the skills I learned to help my professor with writing up a textbook chapter and also considering pursuing a Ph.D. in Anthropology. I wouldn't feel as sure of myself and skillset without this experience. I also know now that I have friends that can help guide me along the way.
I learned more about life and grew personally as well. I learned how to be a lot more independent than I've had to be in the past. I also learned that I could scuba dive and be part of a beautiful alien world. Also, I learned how to push out of my social comfort zone and make friends and be confident in who I am as a person. Through that, I made amazing connections with people who each had unique ways of viewing the world and their role in it. Basically, I learned how to work hard and still be able to really have fun and balance that.
Communication was another huge focus of the summer, and I learned how to speak up and voice my needs while still considering the whole group. Group cohesion has always been something I cared a lot about, but I had to learn about my conflict and communication styles in a way that was challenging and new to me.
Most importantly, I learned how hard it is to leave a place that you've come to think of as home and harder to leave people you've come to love. And for that, I am forever grateful.
To look into the field school more or register for your summer, follow one of the links below!
For more info on the island, check out this tourism-focused link!