Reflection on being a Visiting Researcher

by Gina Hechanova

This year, I was fortunate to have received the Asian Public Intellectuals Fellowship. Sponsored by the Nippon Foundation, it allowed me to serve as visiting researcher in Indonesia and Thailand to do a cross-cultural study on the impact of globalization and transformation in local Asian organizations. As part of my fellowship, I worked with other faculty members from the University of Indonesia and the Assumption University, Thailand. I also found myself delivering lectures to graduate students.
The experience has been life changing. The first challenge I had to overcome was homesickness – it was my first time to be away from my family for this long and there were times when all I wanted to do was pack my bags and go home.

Then there were the misadventures of traveling to non-English countries – mixing up currencies, getting lost, not being understood and having to resort to miming, ordering food and getting something unexpected, feeling alone in a crowd because you can’t understand what they are saying and stumbling over foreign phrases and intonations (note to self: the words for ‘excuse me’ and ‘I farted’ are the same in Thai – the difference is how you pronounce it 🙂 )

Yet there was also the exhilaration of seeing new places, tasting new flavors, discovering new things, making new friends, and simply the satisfaction of knowing I can survive. There was also the experience of meeting other FIlipino OFWs. Or just seeing them during Sunday mass – even if I don’t know who they are, there is a sense of community that brings comfort beyond words.

Then there is the solitude. Stretches of time to write, to read, to research, to reflect, or simply just be. I tried to revel and not be daunted by the silence knowing that when it was over, my life would return to its breakneck pace and I would not have this luxury again.

Gina Hechanova

In these pockets of solitude, I’ve discovered strengths I never knew I had. I also unearthed vulnerabilities I didn’t know were there. Just when you think you’ve grown up – experiences like these stretch and shape you. Entering new worlds make you realize there are other ways of doing and being. It makes you question your assumptions and perspectives. And although I do see the differences in language, customs, and religions, I was continually amazed at the similarities in histories and cultures. More than this, I’ve realized that at the personal level, – there are many things that are still shared across the planet. The human frailties. The search to be relevant. The desire to love and be loved.

So despite the difficulties, I am glad I did this. Beyond the work I set out to do, I feel I’ve grown as a person. And perhaps even more important than what I have learned professionally, is experiencing the joy of finding people you can connect with despite the barriers.

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