Tuesday, 17 September 2013

In which I wander away from the group and learn a valuable lesson

Yesterday, Xuan and I separated ourselves from the rest of our class as we all walked through Quidi Vidi with Ed, discussing architecture and history. And we are not the first to slip away during our time here, sometimes from the classroom in the Plantation, other times during various group excursions into the community. Were this a traditional classroom, there would not have even been an occasion for the two of us to decide to stay behind, but the opportunity to continue chatting with Walter, a ninety-year old resident who was out enjoying a sunny September day, was too much to pass up. Fortunately, field school works a little differently from other classes and here, flexibility is essential.

As someone who enjoys order and structure in her life, I have sometimes struggled with the “fly by the seat of your pants” aspect of fieldwork. However, since arriving in Quidi Vidi, I have learned the value of being able to adapt to the situation, taking advantage of unexpected opportunities that simply cannot be anticipated or modifying a planned activity in order to accommodate someone’s changed schedule or the always variable Newfoundland weather.

Learning the tangible: Christine, Xuan, and Kayla measure the Mallard Cottage while Ed draws the plan. Photo by Kari Sawden
I am in no way advocating that we throw away our agendas and leap blindly into whatever situation appears. For along with the many tangible skills I am acquiring here, like how to set up and record interviews and how to draw buildings, I am also continuing to hone my ability to balance preparation with flexibility, to recognise when I need to step back and when I need to just go with it. There is a place for research, but it can only take you so far and there are some things that you simply cannot anticipate. Sometimes things will work out, sometimes they won’t, but there is always something to be learned from the experience.

So while Xuan and I missed out on the opportunity to listen to Ed, we knew that he would be here for the rest of the week, and we adapted to the new situation. In stepping away from the group, we got the chance to talk with and, more importantly, listen to someone who has seen Quidi Vidi grow and change through the years. We got to be teased with exaggerated (I hope) stories of the amount of snow that falls here in winter, to meet his friend, to talk about our fieldwork and experiences in the community, and to gain further insight into life in Quidi Vidi and Newfoundland.

(I think it's rather impressive we get anything done, being surrounded by such views.)

Looking toward the Plantation. Photo by Kari Sawden.
Beyond the harbour. Photo by Kari Sawden.
Quidi Vidi. Photo by Kari Sawden.

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