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To Montana, With Love

Hannah Jaicks

            Last days are always bittersweet, and the conclusion of fieldwork is no different.  Labor Day weekend is notoriously symbolic as the end of summer, and for me it represents the wrapping up of my research out West.  I've been home a little over a week, and, unsurprisingly, it's taken me a few days to get back in the swing of New York City's pace.  It's hard shifting gears from a summer of open spaces and interviews to crowded trains and intense reflection.  Admittedly, I'm in that daunting phase of research where I've just spent a long time collecting a massive amount of information, and now I'm sifting through everything trying to make sense of it in a way that someone other than my own quixotic brain can understand.  As my friend and colleague said yesterday, 'We've got all this work we've done, but it doesn't mean much until it's put together and presented to others in some way.  This process is so personal.'  In other words, our ideas are what we have at this stage in our professional careers, and we're wrestling with how to share them with others in a way that's at once authentic, articulate, and a contribution to the field.  As you can imagine, this task is both exciting and daunting.

             Thinking about this summer, it's hard to separate field work from the personal experience of being out in Montana and all of the Greater Yellowstone for me.  Then again, that's likely because, as an ethnographer, I tend to absorb everything I'm surrounded by, so any sort of research is inherently personal and transformative.  As I've discussed, I'm a firm believer that place can deeply influence one's experience and self-perception.  For me, I never anticipated the deep connection and sense of 'home' I would feel when I started my dissertation work out West over two years ago.  I grew up on the ocean, so I never gave much thought to what the mountains would mean to me.  Getting to spend such a concentrated time out in those mountains this summer and doing the type of work that I love, ethnography, was the ultimate privilege.  Naturally, it was hard to leave.  If it weren't for an already planned return trip in October, I don't think I would have ever come back.

               Still, being back in New York brings its own form of excitement.  Astoria is home to some of my closest friends and graduate school colleagues, so seeing them brings a different sort of joy to me.  Casual conversations of our summer work over board games has helped bring me back to the mindset of the city and the expectations of my graduate school program.  I'm getting ready to meet with my committee, and I have a few presentations coming up this fall, so any feedback from the people I trust is greatly appreciated.  It helps that I've heard their inquiries into my methodologies and theoretical frameworks over games of Settlers and a sailboat ride on the East River.  It cuts the sting of 'Back to School' quite nicely.  In addition to analyzing and writing up my research, I'm beginning my work again with the director of the Child Development and Learning Center, and I've started my position as a Writing Fellow for the CUNY School of Professional Studies.  On September 10th, I'm giving a presentation to the Critical Psychology cluster on my dissertation research, and I'll use that talk as a chance to get some feedback on the road-map I've created of my dissertation (aka- the Table of Contents).  Anyone is welcome, so if you're in the city, come by the 6th floor of the Graduate Center from 11:45-1:45.  Myself, along with my colleague Bryce, will both be speaking on our work.  As sad as I am for my summer in Montana to end, I'm well aware of how lucky I was to get to go out there in the first place and spend days on end doing exactly what I love the most.  It just makes me all the more motivated to find my way back there.  To summer. To Montana.  To my animals.  To my people. With love.

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