Transnational Questions

Brainstorming Questions as a Transnational Academic

How does a professor prepare a group of doctoral students from the University of Massachusetts Boston to have a rich transnational experience? What can be learned in a place you have not visited but somehow could plan to the most minimal detail by googling every potential step? What is the right measure of structure and improvisation young researchers require in order to be systematic, creative, and make a meaningful contribution to knowledge and action in Chile and elsewhere? How do you decide what the lines are between tourist encounter and marvelling at the new with what it is required to advance knowledge in an area of expertise? When does safety, security, and order trumpets danger, the unknown, the after getting lost insights?

As a transnational researcher, these questions are simply routine; they are tested though as I invite doctoral students into my work between the north and south, a life between the progressive, wealthy, and predictable surroundings of Greater Boston and the mixed, unequal, crowded, and changing landscape of Santiago. Monday, at the start of a work week, they came downtown to join me at a CREDEN, a government sponsored commission, in one of its monthly meetings, with some of the foremost experts on natural disasters as well as present and former government officials. We were all invited to think about our personal values as they relate to disaster resilience research. Half of my students don’t speak Spanish while many in the meeting refer to North Hemisphere experts coming to share their expertise with us in a few months. In this small crowded conference room space, transnationalism was present in the conversation. Later that day, my students joined my research team at CIGIDEN for a discussion about digital disaster volunteers. Would I have been able to plan this exchanges months in advance? Probably not. It required improvisation grounded in the development of relationships. Good learning for the day.

Each of my students has to produce a paper that should be publishable and can contribute meaningfully to the advancement of disaster resilience social sciences research. At the core of each of those papers is responding to the question: How are emerging technologies shaping the ways community participate in the midst of a natural disaster? The questions are not simple as it is not simple to know how to respond to the questions I asked in my first paragraph. I do know though that what I may think matters, it doesn’t necessarily. That context matter, relationships matter, the experience creates history, and in a few decades, these same students may experience what I live everyday as I encounter the Chile I left almost three decades ago.

Thanks everyone, Claudia and Alfredo, Calu, Jossie, Daniel, and Viviana, for opening their homes to host our students and for allowing them to live an experience that we can just define so easily. Thanks to Peter Taylor for joining around the same time here in Chile.