Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Two Countries, One research student

            I've done this dozens of times before. I'm staying up late again on a weeknight after all my friends have gone to bed even though I have to wake up early tomorrow because I have a paper to work on. I've been feeling stuck up until this point, but now my ideas are starting to flow more easily. In my mind all of the individual concepts that have until now been splayed disjointedly across my paper, notes, and mind like remains on a battlefield are finally are weaving together to create the story I have been trying to tell for hours. I always get over my writers' block best when it's late at night. I look at the clock and wonder when 11:30 become late at night. I guess this is the first research paper I've written on jungle time, and I decide that midnight is late enough for this particular forest-dweller.
            This is one of the first assignments I've done in Costa Rica that feels so much like what I've written before in the United States. The last two months have put me into the best learning environments I've ever experienced. There's no line between education and recreation when we walk through the rainforest being taught to identify plants and stuffing some into our mouths. Walking around communities asking people questions about dengue and showing them how to build mosquito traps made me feel more like a volunteer than a student. There is an incredible integration here between living and learning and there's little I've appreciated more about this program.
            But the paper we're writing to propose our final research projects does not feel very different from my old, stationary, indoor way of learning. I've written plenty of research papers and enough research proposals that there's little about this particular experience that's new. More hours on end staring at computer screens, flipping through sources, writing paragraphs that I later delete, etcetera, etcetera. It's not a pleasant reminder, and I've felt frustrated for most of the week thinking how this paper is keeping me from enjoying my time out in the woods like I've been able to for the rest of this trip. It's been a long time since I've felt this academically burnt out.
            It's now the next day and things aren't feeling any better. I want to go hiking but my time is running too short. I'm losing a source of my sanity and I'm starting to feel disconnected from my work. It feels so much like college in the states. The day passes as a frustrating blur of slow progress and distractions. At the very least it's dinner time, and I decide to use the distinction I'm drawing between work and rest to my advantage. I leave my work behind in favor of the cool darkness of the rainy night.
            I was one of the last to leave the building, so the hill outside the Wilson House is peaceful. I don't want the calm of the rain and the forest to go away, so I linger. I step out into a dark corner on the hillside and try to capture the enveloping calmness I feel all around me. I look out and see the lights illuminating the thin path that meanders down to the gravel road below. The way they shine on the brightly colored plants in the garden makes me feel as though fairies should be flitting between the flowers and bushes. As it is, I see only a few friends leaving a group meeting to go to dinner. Their quiet laughter echoes over to me, dulled slightly by the rain.
            Standing here, I don't know where I got the idea that this paper is disconnected from the life that I'm living in Costa Rica. I can't be isolated from my work because I'm surrounded by it. It's not about it's being different from home—the integration of studying and living is important no matter where you are. For me, that connection has always been the very root of my passion. This experience hasn't been special simply because it's been different from what I do at home; it's been special because it has shoved in my face the inextricability of my life from the research I do. If I think of this trip as an escape from home, I'll miss the very point of it. Unless I can bring this skill back home with me, I've lost one of the greatest opportunities this journey has to offer
Submitted by Casey Morrison
Caption: Research papers Costa Rica style


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