Doing research in Germany this summer was a life-changing experience for me and has reaffirmed my love for the field of anthropology. I had the opportunity to travel all over Germany collecting data on folklore, and in the process learned just as much about myself as I did about the culture in which I was immersed.
Being in Germany for five months helped to boost my confidence and increase my language skills. I firmly believe that if I had stayed just a few months more, I would have come back to Charleston speaking fluent German. I had almost no confidence when speaking German with other people when I first reached Bamberg, but by the time I had to leave I was holding hour-long conversations with complete strangers in German and feeling sad at the thought that I was going back to a place where I would not get to utilize those language skills as extensively. For my independent research project I conducted about six or seven interviews and focus groups completely in German, and I am still surprised at myself and how much I was able to accomplish in a relatively short amount of time. My comprehension of written German also vastly improved, to the point where I thought I might have to pay an overweight luggage fee due to all of the German books I was bringing back to Charleston to supplement my research. I am still surprised at how much my German improved and how much I pushed myself to do using only German, and I now feel confident that returning to Germany, whether for school, research, or work reasons, is now very possible.
That being said, the kind of research that I was doing in Germany opened my mind to possibly taking a different path in graduate school than I had originally planned, yet at the same time it reinforced that I would not want to do anything with my life other than some form of anthropological work. I had originally planned on applying to graduate school to pursue a degree in biological anthropology, and while that could still be a possibility for me, my research in Germany reminded me of how much I love folklore, symbolism, and analysis, and made me realize that there are other options out there for me. Some of my favorite experiences out of my entire trip were the focus groups I conducted with German college students. Not only did these focus groups give me a chance to utilize the focus group training I had received as an employee of the College’s Office for Institutional Effectiveness, but they were incredibly fun to do as well. It was so enjoyable to learn about these various students’ childhood experiences and memories, and while they provided me with endless amounts of valuable information, I think they had just as much fun as I did and always walked away from each group trying to come up with more stories for me or trying to organize a “children’s games” day for the residents of our dorm. My only regret is that I did not have the time or connections to organize more focus groups with informants of older and younger age groups to serve as comparison. Learning about other people in this manner and watching them interacting with each other during the focus groups was incredibly interesting, and conducting focus groups in the future would be something that I would be happy to do.
Overall, I feel like my time in Germany has made me more independent and confident, while also improving valuable research and speaking and comprehension skills. I feel more prepared after this experience to enter the field again to conduct future anthropological work.
Lauren’s experience was funded in part by an Anthropology Fieldwork Award.