India 2019: A Summer of Social Research

A brief reflection of my time in Bangalore (February 2019).

As I look back on my experience as a student fellow for Pollinate Energy in Bangalore, I’m reminded of how naive I was to the world of s social development. My research in the classroom could not have prepared me for what I would encounter during my time in India, from extreme poverty to the mechanics of a social enterprise. It was only through the challenges of working as a social researcher in Bangalore’s urban slums that I was able to understand just how my university studies inform my path as a social researcher and a global citizen. The lessons that I learnt on the trip are sure to stay with me for a long time, and I hope that going forward I will be more informed as to the potential that my degree has in creating social and political change, no matter how seemingly small.

Lessons in Social Research

As a Social and Political Sciences student, I have often found myself in pursuit of a disconnected and detached approach to my research, mostly in part from my desire to protect the quality and the integrity of objective research, but some, I must admit, from a sense of boredom and detachment from my subject material. My experience working as an Student Fellow for Pollinate Energy in Bangalore allowed for me to address my own assumptions about working as a social researcher as it provided me with the opportunity to work directly alongside people living in slum communities in Bangalore and witness first hand just how the people living in this communities faced daily difficulties that I took for granted. As a social researcher for Pollinate Energy, the experience was invaluable, as it allowed for me to understand the needs of these people in community while also developing products that could best address them. Further, it taught me as a social researcher there is always a need to balance one’s own emotional engagement with a sense of detachment in order to work objectively and fairly in the field. While I found this to be one of the most difficult parts of my trip, the experience taught me first hand just how valuable this skill is for a researcher, one I am sure which will help me with the rest of my studies and my career. The quote, “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” by Gramsci comes to mind, as it serves as a reminder of my role as a social researcher working in developing countries. That is, to be a scientist that sees the subject matter objectively, without hidden biases and with a sense of clarity, however, whilst also maintaining a sense of optimism that change can be achieved within these communities.

Lessons in Cross-Cultural Communication

Perhaps the most challenging aspects of my time in India was trying to overcome the language barrier out on the fields. At first, I did struggle with how I would be of value to Pollinate Energy as I was unable to speak Kannada, the local language, and many of the locals were unable to speak English. However, after a few days out on the fields, I gradually became more comfortable speaking to the locals, often relying on body language or eye contract. This helped me establish a bond with the locals, and I was able to continue my research. I also managed to pick up a few phrases in Kannada which was very helpful!

Lessons in Life

The lessons learnt during my time in India were seemingly infinite. However, if I do part with a few words of wisdom, they are this:

  • Always order the ‘Mild’ option for curry when in India. Seriously.
  • Take the time to get to know not just fellow UTS students on the trip, but also interact with International Fellows. Their experience was invaluable to me, and I learned a lot about life as a university student in Bangalore.
  • Throw yourself into as many experiences as possible, it’s an exhausting two weeks, but you’ll thank yourself later.
  • Take the time to reflect on your experience as you go, even if its just a few lines at the end of every day.
  • Learn a few phrases from the local language.
  • Take lots of photos! But be careful when taking photos of local people. Make sure that you are respectful when doing so, and ask for permission first!

 – Carla

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