Monday, June 14, 2010

Intern Taylor Hargrove’s Notes from Nepal

It was an exciting day when I received an email with an airplane itinerary destined for Nepal. This simple email meant I was definitely going to the place I had been reading about and analyzing data from for 10 months during my undergraduate internship at the Carolina Population Center. After working with Dr. Lisa Pearce for that same 10 month duration on the Chitwan Valley Family Study (CVFS), I was finally going to see what Nepal actually looked like and felt like; how things worked over there and how people lived day to day. We were coming down here to collect data for a new project on environmental perceptions. We were going to do a series of focus groups and individual interviews about how people in the local villages perceived the environment. For instance, did they see any issues within the environment? What were they? What were people doing to fix or alleviate those problems? These interviews would give us a better understanding of what the locals would have to deal with on a daily basis and develop culturally sensitive ways of helping with these issues.

As of yet, I have been observing how ISER-Nepal operates. Specifically, what they do, how they collect data, how they clean and enter the data, etc. I have also attended a couple of their training programs for the staff and also for scholars in the area who want to learn more about data collection and analysis. I have gotten to know some of the staff pretty well. It has been a joy to go to their houses and get to know them and their family better. I have also been receiving Nepali language training for about two hours each day. These classes have been so great because I will eventually be able to better communicate with the ISER-Nepal staff and the various participants in the focus groups.

We have to date completed six focus group interviews (three male, three female) in three different villages. This was a great experience because this was my first time observing a group interview in general as well as an interview abroad. Although I couldn't exactly understand what they were saying, it was interesting to just watch the dynamics of the group, how everyone interacted, and how group interviews are conducted in a different country. After making a few revisions to the interview guide, Professor Pearce, Shradha Shrestha, and I conducted four more focus groups in three more villages and plan to do two more in one other village.

Of course a trip such as this cannot consist of all work and no play. As of now, Dr. Pearce, two recent graduates from the University of Michigan, Shradha Shrestha (a CPC predoc and Nepal native), and I have taken trips to various Hindu and Buddhist temples, a few of the small towns in Chitwan where lots of shopping has taken place, Devghat, a town where two rivers meet which is thought to be a holy place, and the Chitwan National Park. The temples were wonderful, full of colorful statues of different Hindu gods and Buddhas. The towns in Chitwan are very busy with lots of trucks, buses, cars, motorbikes, and bicycles occupying the roads during the day. There are lots of little food stands, restaurants, and shops. Devghat was a very peaceful and relaxing place. There are many houses along the riverbed where older men and women stay. This is a popular place for the elderly to live because they think it is the holiest place to die.

The park was especially fun. I got to take my first elephant ride through the jungle looking for rhinos and tigers. On the third elephant ride, we actually saw some rhinos! No tigers, however. We also saw a lot of deer, birds, wild hogs, and bugs of course. I was also exposed a bit to the relationship between environmental protection and locals' sustainability. Only during certain times of the year are the local inhabitants allowed to enter the park and collect grass and fodder for their homes. There are punishments for those who cut the grass illegally such as paying fines or having to work in the army barracks for a week. This can put a lot of stress on the people who need that grass to feed their animals, especially on those who live next to the jungle.

Thus far, this trip has been a great experience. As a rising senior thinking about post-graduate plans, this opportunity couldn't have come at a better time. It gave me a chance to see what international research is like and what goes into a data collection study from writing proposals and completing applications to organizing participants and actually collecting and cleaning the data. I was able to discover the various things that I enjoy and do not enjoy so much about conducting research. This trip is extremely rewarding in that it has given me the opportunity to experience something that I will be (or would like to be) doing in the near future.