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Conducting Research in Kyrgyzstan through the Boren Fellowship

I applied for a Boren Fellowship in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan because of a persistent feeling that the work that I started there in 2012-3 as a Fulbright Scholar was left undone. When it comes to fieldwork and data collection, there are questions that you just can’t find the answers to in the library—even if it does give you free access to WorldCat and rare collections. My primary research question, which aims to measure the impact of energy insecurity on daily life, hasn’t been answered before. The grant has allowed me to have 30 families throughout the country keep an energy journal for me, which details how energy (gas, electricity, heat)—or in many cases, its absence—impacts their daily lives. Although currently, the only absolute plans for the research involve presenting at the 2016 Central Eurasian Studies Conference and finishing my Master’s thesis, the second grant has certainly opened doors to future PhD dissertation proposals, as well.

While the research certainly has yielded information beyond my wildest expectations, it hasn’t been without its share of obstacles. Keeping a long-term visa has proven problematic for many of us researchers this year. Aside from this, working with ordinary people as participants has certainly illuminated for me a number of things. The first of which is certainly the degree to which locals do not fully understand the value and time commitment of research; it’s taken me months to impart to many of them the importance of not just telling me something in passing, but writing all of it down—since I will be working with the data for the better part of two years by the time I finish collecting and analyzing the data, and then writing the thesis itself. Differing conceptions of timeliness is also an ongoing issue. It’s become increasingly difficult for me to get my families to turn in their journals on a monthly basis. While some of them are quite responsible, others—as is typical in this culture—will give you every reason why they can’t turn it in on time, and then three months later, I get three months of data that is virtually unusable in quantitative analysis because the participant has omitted so much. For them, it’s not a big deal to take my notes into account for the next month, but for me, it’s often frustrating knowing that a lot of the issues could have been avoided in later months’ entries if I had only seen the data earlier. While my original plan was both qualitative and quantitative data analysis, I worry often that the significance of quantitative analysis may be greatly hindered by gaps in some of the journals. Only time will tell!

The silly thing is that whenever someone asking me what I miss most about Bloomington and IU, the first thing that comes to mind is everyone that I miss, and the second thing is restaurants. I love Central Asian cuisine, but time away has really impressed upon me the diversity of options we have in Bloomington as far as food is concerned! I’m also greatly looking forward to having the time to really sit down and start to write my thesis after my return in June. Here in Bishkek, my priority has really been on things that are not physically possible once I leave—meeting other local academics and professionals, touring heating facilities and hydroelectric dams, as much one-on-one language instruction as possible, etc.—and as such, writing has really been only in the back of my mind as I go through each participant’s journal with them each month.

Alyssa conducting an information session with research participants at the American University of Central Asia (Jan 2016)

 

Alyssa on a private tour of a micro hydroelectric plant just outside of Bishkek (Dec 2015)