Posted by: Jackie | May 22, 2014

Posted by: Jackie | July 31, 2011

Project Alterations

I have been very fortunate that my project has proceeded largely as planned, but there are a few changes I have made. The first of these, Xhosa translation, was not entirely unexpected. Once I started getting involved with the clinics, it was clear that I would need to translate my consent forms into Xhosa, as well as use an interpreter in my focus groups and interviews.  I was fortunate that Siyakhana provided me with an interpreter for these trips, and I found a retired professor in the area that was able to translate my consent forms for me. Conducting research in Xhosa had some effects on my methodology such as smaller focus groups and shorter interviews to make it easier for the interpreter.

About halfway through my research, I made another adjustment. Up until this point, my population had consisted almost entirely of women that were coming to or worked at HIV clinics, meaning they were all either HIV-positive, recent mothers, or worked as HIV counselors. While this was a great population, they had all gone through some kind of HIV testing or counseling. As such, many were more educated concerning these topics than the typical South African woman. My challenge, therefore, was to find women that were “safely not HIV-positive” or knowledgeable about HIV. Ideally, I could have asked random women walking down the street, but this was neither ethical nor realistically possible. Instead, I started trying to identify other populations to get a more representative spread of data. The first new population I tapped into was local university students, and I found exactly what I was looking for- a new outlook on HIV and breastfeeding; one that had not been affected by professional counseling and education. I also attended a Provincial Strategic meeting for HIV where I networked and found more places from which to pull participants.

To still get valuable information from people such as HIV counselors and health care workers, I wrote a second set of questions similar to the first, but different in that they allowed the interviewee to share the opinions of others as well as her own, thus giving me a wider range of perceptions. I also added a few questions to discuss various issues that have come up during interviews and focus groups. The new interview guide is posted under “Project Notes”.

Posted by: Jackie | July 26, 2011

the secret double life of a researcher

When I first got to South Africa for research, I had a hard time defining exactly what my role was as a researcher. I did receive fair warning from the prep class, so it didn’t completely catch me off-guard. Since that time I have learned why it is so hard…because there is no one role that you play! Rather, there are a plethora of roles and responsibilities that all change depending on where you are, who you’re with, what you’re doing, etc.

For example…I am a student and I am a teacher. I am an observer and a participator. I listen, I talk, and sometimes do both at the same time. I lead and I follow. I help and get helped.  Sometimes I cause the problems, and other times I provide the solutions. I rarely know exactly what I’m doing, sometimes have no idea what I’m doing, but usually learn as I am doing. I try to fit in and I try to stand out. Sometimes I want to see but not be seen. I read, write, study, and work in the context of South African culture without losing my own American culture, and I try very, VERY hard not to offend either.

Sounds exciting, right? It is, but I promise you its not quite as glamorous as the double lives portrayed by James Bond, Spiderman, or the Incredibles. Unfortunately, I don’t have the awesome sunglasses, mask, or cape to hide behind when I get it wrong. After two months of hard practice, however, I think I’m finally getting it right, or at least learning what ‘right’ is.

As a great philosopher (more commonly known as Edna Mode from the Incredibles) once said: Go. Fight. WIN!


Posted by: Jackie | July 20, 2011

67 Minutes

Happy late birthday to Nelson Mandela! July 18th is Nelson Mandela Day. To celebrate Tata Mandela’s birthday, one is suppose to do 67 minutes of good for their community in remembrance of Mandela’s 67 years spent serving in the public sector. The goal is for people to do something to give back to their local communities in an effort to better the world around them.

How did I celebrate, you ask! Well, I got invited by one of my organizations to participate in a TB and HIV education program in 15 different elementary and high schools in the East London area! This organization is partnered with Mercedes-Benz of South Africa (MBSA), so we met with a group of their peer counselors and human resource managers and spent over 14 hours on Monday and Tuesday going out to Mdantsane and Duncan Village to visit these schools. We taught students from age 4-18 about TB, its signs and symptoms, treatment, and the connection with HIV/AIDS, and we challenged them to take action in their communities teaching others and helping those that are sick. There is definitely a social stigma with both TB and HIV/AIDS, so education is absolutely essential to combat the disease. Our presentation was rather brief, but some schools had prepared musical and dance presentations for us as well.

In the process of these presentations, a representative from MBSA talked to the students and briefly explained why they were chosen to be one of the 15 schools supported by MBSA. This is primarily based off of academic achievement, and I was impressed to learn that many of these schools had a 50% or more increase in their number of students matriculating in the past few years! It was amazing to see the benefits of the MBSA support so clearly. It certainly goes to show that corporations like that can make a huge impact on their communities. The students that are receiving this education will one day be the leaders of MBSA as well as the greater community.

Anyway…what did you do for Nelson Mandela Day? If you didn’t do anything, do it today!! As the South African’s say, make every day a Nelson Mandela Day!

Posted by: Jackie | July 1, 2011


I attended a Community Outreach Program presentation at one of the NGO’s I am working with this week. Afterwards, the youth and the media representatives that were present all ate lunch together and we had a very interesting conversation about the labels we carry. One of the media representatives was talking about these labels and groups of people and he said, “What if I didn’t know that I was black? What if I didn’t know that I was poor or uneducated?” He was arguing that these are all labels placed on us. Labels themselves have absolutely no effect on us whatsoever; it is we humans that start to act different because we have had a label placed on us, and eventually we let that label define who we are. “Names”, he said, “are really the only labels that we should be dealing with on a daily basis”. A name is a label just as much as these other characteristics.

This last point really caught my attention. It’s interesting, I think, that if you picture a baby or a small child, it takes time for them to learn that their name represents how they are referred to. It is the fact that they hear it over and over again that makes them respond to it or define themselves based on that name. Any other label is the same- it makes no physiological or observable difference in the wearer, but it is the wearer that changes to fit the label. It is the constant exposure to that racial, social status, or educational label that causes the person to accept the fact that they are different, poor, or stupid. What if people were color-blind to race? What if poverty and wealth didn’t define social status? Unfortunately, I think these things are far too engrained into our culture to change, but it goes to show that many of these labels, if not all of them, are entirely socially constructed. We are defining our differences instead of building on our similarities. We are, in fact, all human.

Posted by: Jackie | June 24, 2011


I realized today that I have been in South Africa for almost four weeks now! It’s incredible how fast it has gone. I have made some great progress with my research. No project ever goes 100% as planned, but I have been lucky because a lot of things have worked out really well. The biggest change I have had is the use of an interpreter to conduct some of my focus groups and interviews in Xhosa. I’m getting the chance to meet with women in some of the clinics around town, and a lot of them do not speak English. While it has been difficult to learn the ins and outs of using an interpreter as I go, I am glad that it gives the women the opportunity to express their feelings in their own language.

Something that isn’t even a part of my research that I am learning about is Ubuntu. I spend almost all of my time with Xhosa people, and it has come up multiple times. We learned about it in prep class, but it is different experiencing it first hand. I’ve asked a couple of people to define it for me and they have said things like walking hand in hand as one people, loving all people as your family, accepting all people regardless of creed or color, humanity, peace, and brotherhood. One of my contacts described it as, “the glue that holds us together”. While it is largely referred to on a large scale, I have felt it on a very personal level with the people I am working with when I see the way they treat me. I have lost track of how many adoptive mothers and fathers I have here, some of them I haven’t even met in person! I am their daughter, not only in the sense that they like having me around, but also in the sense that I truly believe they would do anything they could to help me; they almost expect me to come to them for help and they go out of their way to do so. Many times, I have been told that they will not be happy until I get what I am looking for with my research, and I believe them! It seems they have adopted my concerns and priorities as their own. Maybe I am just associating with the nicest people in East London, but I have felt this same spirit of Ubuntu with so many people that I have interacted with. I don’t mean to build them up as all being perfect and always seeking out others to help; they have their struggles and difficulties as all of us do, but I have been extremely impressed with this spirit of Ubuntu that seems to define much of their culture.

While this is great 99% of the time, it gives me the frustration of figuring out ways to return the kindness. I really want to reciprocate the kindness, but I feel there is very little I can do. This is particularly true with two of the organizations I am working with who have gone way out of their way to help me in ways that I didn’t even expect. I am learning that small things, such as bringing in muffins for early morning meetings or washing dishes in the kitchen after a lunch break, while extremely small tasks, seem to be greatly appreciated. If I continue to do these things, hopefully it will begin the express my gratitude.

Posted by: Jackie | April 16, 2011

Ready or not, here we go!!

Well, we had our marathon meeting and now we’re getting ready for take-off!! Now its just some more preliminary research, vaccinations, and packing…then I’m on my way. Check back around the end of May to hear about my adventures in South Africa!

Posted by: Jackie | April 11, 2011

Journal Entry #30

I heard back from Mercedes-Benz the other day, and they said that they are ready to support me in any way possible!! Although things can still change once I get in the field, it’s kind of encouraging to find that someone is willing to help out with my project. As I mentioned in my last post, it was also great practice for explaining my project because they really wanted me to get into detail about my recruitment plans and some of my methodology when I was explaining it to them, so I really had to nail some things down. This was perfect timing since our final proposals are due this week!

Although my methodology has not changed much, I am now going to be relying heavily on my contacts in LifeLine and Mercedes-Benz to help me recruit women from their programs as well as the local community. As I explained to the director of Siyakhana (the Mercedes-Benz HIV program), I have never been to East London or experienced South African culture first-hand, so recruiting through well-established programs will not only be the most effective way to do so, but will also allow me to meet with women and request their participation in a culturally appropriate way. Being involved with their programs, and hopefully getting the chance to volunteer, will introduce me to HIV and how it is discussed in the context of South Africa, which will be beneficial as I prepare to hold my focus groups and interviews. The best part is that they not only understood my project and what I was saying, but they also thought it was well-developed and were willing to help me!

I had a chance today to look back through my old journal posts, and it is really interesting to see how my project has developed from a couple of random ideas, to a decently structured plan. All the assignments, paperwork, and proposal drafts have really paid off, and the lectures and class discussions regarding culture and making the most of our international experience will undoubtedly be just as helpful. I’m looking forward to these last few class periods and meetings before we take off for South Africa!

Posted by: Jackie | April 7, 2011

Journal Entry #29

I have made a lot of progress on my project in the last few days! First of all, I got to present my project to other field studies students and it went really well. This was probably the first time that I have explained my entire project to other people at one time and I was kind of worried about how it would all tie together, but I am happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised! It seems that my methodology will actually produce the results that I am looking for, and that these results fit in with my research and field studies goals.

I also found an NGO to volunteer with while I am there. I have been interested in getting involved with LifeLine in East London, and I just heard back from them and they are going to let me volunteer with their HIV program while I am there! LifeLine is a large NGO that deals not only with AIDS, but also with women’s health, abuse, and child rights. Their HIV program specifically advocates for testing, and provides education and counseling for those that are HIV-positive. I have not established what exactly I will be doing while I am there, but I have no doubt that it will be beneficial to my project. While this will provide opportunities for me to recuit women for my study, it will also get me directly involved with the local community and the issues that affect my research.

Yesterday, I also heard back from Mercedes-Benz (it was a good day! Happy Birthday to me!!) and their HIV program. They are still asking for more information regarding my research and expectations while I am there, but I believe that it is making progress. If nothing else, at least I am getting a lot of practice in learning how to explain my project to other people. I have learned the “what TO do’s”, as well as the “what NOT to do’s” through my correspondence with them, and I am getting a lot more confident in talking about my research.

There is still a lot to be done and nothing can really be considered “finalized”, but I’m certainly making progress and getting a lot of experience in communicating.

Posted by: Jackie | April 5, 2011

Journal Entry #28

Culture Shock!! This was definitely a worthwhile reading and class discussion because this is probably something we will all go through in the field, and it is very helpful to know the signs before you go. About a year and a half ago, I lived in London for four months as part of a study abroad program, and even though they spoke English and had many similar customs, I still went through culture shock. Although I did not fully realize this at the time, it is clear now that this is what I was experiencing, and I can almost pin-point when I was at each stage: honeymoon, irritations and hostility, gradual adjustment, and biculturalism. Everyone experiences culture shock differently, and in my case, I really just went back and forth between the first two stages I think. There were days that I would think, “that’s it, I’m moving to London! I love it here!”, and later I would complain about them driving on the wrong side of the road and having awful hamburgers. I certainly never made it to biculturalism, but I did make progress while I was there and I was able to at least function well within their culture.

Looking back, I also see that the program directors, who were undoubtedly use to culture shock and all of its wonders, incorporated many of the early coping techniques in their course requirements. In fact, I remember that on the day that we landed, they made us all go out in the immediate area around our flat by ourselves and locate certain places. Honestly, I was tired from traveling for 20 hours and really just wanted to take a quick nap in the apartment and go out later. As our reading stated, however, getting to know your immediate surrounding as quickly as possible reduces the effects of culture shock.

Another hint from the reading was to familiarize yourself with the daily tasks you will have to perform in this new environment. Again, our program directors came through. Learning the London Underground system can be tricky and they could have easily justified setting up our tube passes and transportation routes for us, but instead we were left to fend for ourselves. Needless to say, we learned fast. Other techniques I noticed using were avoiding American ghettos (McDonald’s and KFC in my case…despite the free wireless), and letting go of home (not skyping my family every night). I really believe that these helped me to adjust faster, or at least helped enough that I plan on using these same techniques once I arrive in South Africa. The faster I can immerse myself in the culture, the faster I will adjust to being there. I’m so excited!

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