One thing I definitely underestimated when we started this journey 4 months ago, was the power of immersion.
By choosing to live in the village of Naddi, amongst the community we are working with, we had the opportunity to understand the lifestyle, the challenges, and the everyday decisions people made at a much deeper level than I imagined. As we bonded with the families beyond our research guide, they opened up their full selves to us. They invited us into the intimate spaces of their homes, told us about their fears and aspirations, and found their way into our hearts. What I didn’t realize was how hard it was going to be to work together with my new friends on such sensitive topics.
If your research plan involves true immersion, but doesn’t have time blocked off for self-care and emotional recovery, you’re doing it wrong.
I can’t even count the number of days in our 6 weeks of research where we planned for a full day of chats and came home at 1pm emotionally exhausted. There were days I was overwhelmed with a strange mix of guilt and gratefulness for the opportunities I had access to, and other days with anger at the realities I just experienced or heard about. Some days it was overwhelming happiness at how similar our experiences were, even coming from such different contexts. The hardest were the days of frustration at not being able to truly understand the situation, no matter how hard I tried to emphasize.
Immersion is so powerful for any project or research, but it’s important to recognize how emotionally taxing it can be, and be prepared to include self-care into your research plan.