Update 2: In-Country Research

I arrived in Israel last week. After a month of background research, I was ready to start conducting some of my interviews with members of the Ethiopian community to get first-hand accounts of their immigration process. However, I ran into some frustrating difficulties at first. Before travelling, I reached out to my Israeli relatives to see if they could put me in touch with members of the Ethiopian community (I have a cousin that worked at a predominantly Ethiopian school). They all seemed eager to help, but many were slow to get back to me. I figured things would all come together when I arrived in Israel, but still, at first I had difficulty figuring out who I would interview.

Challenges

In hindsight, I think I should have been more organized in planning how many people I wanted to interview and how I was going to do this. I think I should have had a clear idea of what I hoped to gain from these interviews. On the other hand, I still don’t know how I would have done that from the United States because the Ethiopian community is very small and if I’ve learned anything since being here, it seems like you have to have some sort of “in” to get into contact with them and interview them.

After arriving to Israel, I realized how much easier it was to get the ball rolling here, rather than in the United States. In the United States, few people know that there are Ethiopian Jews in Israel at all, so it was difficult to find sources and people with knowledge on my subject. In Israel, however, I worked at the IDC (a university) and simply talked to some professors and asked if they could put me in touch with people that could help me with my project and they pointed me in the right direction. In general, as an international relations major, this project has made me realize that doing research on a specific topic in a specific country, can be very challenging, and sometimes for the best results, you have to travel to that country. It makes me wonder if in the future I’ll have the same issue of having to travel to whichever country I’m studying in order to make significant headway in my research. I suppose it all depends on the research project, because there is certainly plenty of international relations research that can be conducted from the United States (e.g. AidData).

Part of why this project may have required traveling to make significant progress is because the nature of the project is anthropological. My goal was to paint a picture of these peoples’ stories and the challenges they face in modern Israeli society. It is hard to do modern anthropological research without talking to the people you’re studying. That being said, I am not an anthropology major, and I think I should have done more pre-research to develop a more rigorous research design. It’s not as though this topic is completely unrelated to international relations, but anthropological research is certainly different from international relations research. However, I am still glad that I decided to research something that I’ve always been interested in, and I’m glad I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone.

Positives

Although I have discussed some of the challenges and difficulties in my research above, things have gotten significantly better after being here for about a week. My dad’s cousin put me in touch with his friend in the Ethiopian community and he agreed to sit down and talk to me. He gave a very informative interview. At the beginning of the interview he said he was very appreciative that I was doing this project, because it is something that few people know about. That made me think that all of my hard work has been worth it, and is meaningful for the people that I am researching. Additionally, by complete chance, I met a member of the Mossad (Israeli CIA) that played an integral role in the rescue of hundreds of Ethiopians from Sudan. He also agreed to talk to me about the operation, which was great. Furthermore, the first female Ethiopian member of the Israeli parliament agreed to answer some questions for me, which is truly an incredible opportunity. For the rest of the week, I plan on going to Ethiopian villages and meeting with activists in the Ethiopian community and hearing their stories. I’ve been told that I will be allowed to interview them and ask any questions I want.

Although I went into Israel with a relatively loose plan and experienced some frustrations early on, I think things are heading the right direction. So far, my visit has been really informative and helped me understand more about the Ethiopian immigration and challenges they face. With this being the first research I’ve conducted on my own, I think it was inevitable to run into some challenges with the research design and unanticipated frustrations. However, I am grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to do undergraduate research at a young age because this experience can allow me to learn from my mistakes for future research. My advisor told me that it is good to do research when you are a freshman/ sophomore because your first research project will likely be full of mistakes and unanticipated challenges. It is better to understand where you went wrong now, rather than doing your first research project as a senior, and messing up where it matters most (as in, if you mess up as a senior, your timeline is more urgent).

 

Comments

  1. Yutong Zhan says:

    Hi! Your research project sounds very interesting! I also use some of the oral history, but it was done by others in the 1930s so I am quite curious about how you conducted the interviews. Is there a specific set of questions that you ask your interviewees? How would you examine the potential biases in your interviewees’ narrations? I am doing research on Native Americans so I am facing the problem of lacking sources. I would like to hear about what kinds of sources you are using. I am looking forward to reading your updates and the final product!

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