Friday, August 31, 2012

Voting Abroad

As most of you know or can tell from watching about five minutes of TV in the US there is an election in November.  As a political scientist, I know how important and useless voting can  really be nonetheless I still think it is important to do my civic duty and vote! This posed an interesting problem since I will be abroad when the election occurs. First, I thought I could just do absentee or early voting as I have done many times in Kansas however that can only be done 30 days before the election and I am leaving the country in the next two weeks. I talked to many people about this before I left Kansas and most were perplexed as to what I should do. Finally, I went down to the Douglas County Election's Office to get some answers. I received a form I had to fill out and send back in order to vote. Then I left for Russia and forgot about the form. A couple of weeks ago the Study Abroad Office at KU sent us an email with voting information and I was reminded that I still needed to register to vote abroad. I also just thought I could show up at the US Embassy in Ukraine on November 6, 2012 and vote as the diaspora can do in Latvian elections. Unfortunately, you can't do this in the US and you actually have to register. This is the website for the Federal Voting Assistance Program that the Study Abroad office sent us and anyone residing abroad can register through this method. The only down side is that you need an address where they can send the ballot in the country you are living. Since the Ukrainian postal service is very unreliable and I am not entirely sure if I can receive mail at my temporary address I opted for an emailed ballot. You can also receive an faxed ballot as well which would be a good option except that I don't have a fax machine! Also you have to print out the form and mail it in so I suggest doing this before you leave the US. I assumed it was an online submission process but you have to mail it to the election officials in your voting district. Once you fill out the form and send it in, you can sit back and wait for your ballot to arrive and then you can one said it was easy to do your civic duty but I think it's important to remember this duty even while living abroad!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Research Clearance and Ethical Issues

As I prepare to travel abroad on my fieldwork there are a couple of ethical issues I have had to confront in order to conduct research in Eastern Europe. I obtained human subjects approval all the way back in January because many of the fellowship applications require you to have this approval before you apply. As evident from this and my previous post, preparing to do fieldwork is a long process and actually, I have been planning and preparing for this trip for almost as long as the length of my actual trip will be. 

Human subjects approval is necessary for research involving people since I will be interviewing and observing people I had to get authorization from the human subjects committee at the University of Kansas before I could conduct my research. Some countries also have a human subjects boards within the country or university so I would recommend looking into that before conducting research. Also the European Union has Researcher's Mobility Portals now called EURAXESS in all member countries so researchers can check with those units about research clearance. Here is a link to the main website Russia and Ukraine have no such authority although some universities have human subjects units so make sure that you cover your bases if you are performing research abroad. Some human subjects units will require you to get this in-country clearance before they will authorize it on the US side. So again I would advise researchers to start thinking about this early!

The issue I am running into now is encrypting my email and computer. Since I will be in an authoritarian and semi-authoritarian countries I have to protect my sources and my files from being infiltrated. Most people advise encrypting your computer but the computer person I work with at KU advised against it because that would mean that he couldn't help me if something went wrong with my computer. I am going to put a password on my computer to protect it. I also keep the names of my subjects separate from their interviews and in different non-descriptive folders on my computer but I feel like there should be more I can do to keep my information safe and I plan on looking further into different types of encryption in the future.

The final ethical issue I am dealing with is hiring someone to transcribe my interviews for me. I will be conducting interviews in Latvian and Russian and decided after spending so much time with the interviews for my master's thesis that I would hire someone to do it for my dissertation. There is a big debate in the scholarly community about this and how it takes you away from your research and inserts other impressions of the interviews into your research. For me it is mostly a time issue because no matter how good your language skills are, a native speaker can always transcribe the text faster. I plan to advise my transcriber to transcribe everything in the interview and then I will go back over an compare them for accuracy. I also take notes during the interview of non-verbal communication which I plan to add to the transcription once it is completed so it's not like I am hiring someone and never looking at their work ever again until I analyze the interviews. I will not have any identifying information in the interviews but just in case I plan to cover my bases and train the research assistant on ethical research practices. At the SSRC seminar the professors developed a human subjects training powerpoint in Russian and I plan on going over this with whoever I hire to help me transcribe.  

This post ended up being way longer than I anticipated but I think ethical issues are very important in conducting research especially when you are traveling to another country to conduct this research. There the do no harm principle is more important than ever because we are outsiders going into a community and in my view we should leave it better and not worse than we found it. If anyone has any advice on encryption or ethical considerations for research I would love to hear about it!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The long and painful visa process!

Since I returned to the United States at the beginning of August, I have been working on applying for a visa to Ukraine. Most of the times I have come over to Eastern Europe I have had institutional support either through the university I studied with in the US or a State Department affiliated organization, which supported programs such as Fulbright and the Critical Language Scholarship. However, the program I am participating in this upcoming year provides no such support and this has been more challenging than I anticipated. Don't get me wrong I am very happy to have the scholarship that I have and the Kharkov Center for Gender Studies, the center I will be working with has been wonderful but they cannot provide me with visa support so I have had to work with other departments at the university in order to facilitate this assistance. I started contacting people back in January but most of the emails to university officials went to full mailboxes or were unreturned. I knew that they accepted people until October so I was not missing any deadlines but it was even unclear what department I would needed since there were many programs for international students. I decided once I got to Russia this summer I would start calling people because email is still not the main mode of communication in the Post-Soviet sphere and making phone calls in Russian especially with technical immigration questions made me nervous. I finally received a response from a gentleman who told me I had the wrong department and wrote him back saying that he was the only person I received a response from in the entire university, so he took pity on me and put me in touch with the correct people at Vasyl Karazin Kharkiv National University where I will be taking Russian classes next year. 

By July I finally had a contact there that was willing to start the paperwork to get me an invitation. You can't just go over and be a student in Ukraine (and Russia), you have to be invited by the university and have an invitation issued by the Ministry of Education, Science, Youth, and Sports. In August the invitation arrived at the university and I have been waiting for my contact to figure out where I can send money so they can send to me in the US because I need the original to apply for my student visa. It took three weeks for her to figure out that I needed to Western Union her the money which only seemed a little less sketchy than me direct depositing the $125 into her bank account. I guess the university does not have direct deposit which makes me nervous for the future when I will have to pay my tuition! Because this process took so long I ended up having to push my departure date back two weeks to accommodate the delay and thankfully I decided I shouldn't buy my ticket until I knew when I was going to receive the invitation. Yesterday, I received word that my invitation was on the way to the US and will arrive (fingers crossed) on Monday. Now I have to translate a bunch of documents into Russian because they don't accept the English originals, notarize them and apostille them (the internationally recognized notarization) before I can send all of these documents to the consulate in Chicago. Then after all of that hopefully the Ukrainians will send me my student visa! We also decided to buy our tickets yesterday for September now I have less than three weeks to do all of that and get my visa! Of course that is just the beginning of the process because once I get to Ukraine I have to apply for a residence permit to live there and only once I receive the residence permit can I apply for a visa for my husband. I have talked at length about this process to other people from the region and they tell me foreigners coming the US have to go through similar processes to study here. I do have sympathy for them but then I think at least the requirements are clear and people return emails. Half of all the run around I have had to do has been because the information is not available on any website and because people won't answer my emails! I am especially thankful to the Fulbright office in Ukraine who has been really great helping me through this process even though I had my grant five years ago and it was to another country. So the advice I would give to people trying to navigate the bureaucratic process of Eastern Europe is start early, be persist, and ask many questions about the ever changing process to a wide variety of sources. This process is frustrating in every country and is much easier to navigate in person so hopefully the following stages will be less painful. Also please keep your fingers crossed for me that my visa arrives before I leave on September 12, 2012!

Friday, August 10, 2012

SSRC Eurasia Program Summer Workshop in Quantitative Methods

After returning to the US last Thursday I spent the weekend at home in Minnesota and then headed on Sunday to Madison, Wisconsin for the Social Science Research Council Eurasia Program Title VIII Summer Workshop in Quantitative Methods. The workshop was an intensive week long qualitative training on survey research and data sets available in Eurasia. We had a lecture style class in the mornings and then in the afternoons we presented our research papers.  I presented a research design for the quantitative section of my dissertation. I was having some problems operationalizing a couple of the variables to the comparative context and I received some really great feedback and ideas for my project. Plus it was nice that we spent an entire hour discussing my paper and I had two very involved discussants, one who wrote her dissertation on human trafficking in Russia. In the afternoons we also had a couple of thematic lectures by UW-Madison professors. This workshop was a really great experience and I was happy to be a part of it even though I had had a cold and was only able to spend two days at home between retuning from Russia and the going to the workshop. It was also nice that the workshop was in Madison which is only 3.5 hours from Minnesota and so I got to drive instead of being stuck in airports. Also it was fun to be in Madison again because I lived there for a summer internship during college and really loved the city! Here are some pictures from my trip.

I always thought this was a library but it turns out it is the State Historical Society building.
 The Memorial Union.
The Terrace at the union. During the summer they have concerts here and it is full of people enjoying the beautiful view of Lake Mendota.

 My patented self photo!
Enjoying a walk along the lakeshore path on my way to class.
 A view of picnic point.
The Social Sciences building where we had our classes.
Bascom Hill on the way back from class.
 Me and Bucky (the campus mascot)!
 State Street with a view of the capital.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Final Thoughts on CLS

I returned to the US on Thursday after a night of no sleep on Wednesday because we had to meet at 3 am to go to the airport. Then we had a long ten hour flight from Moscow (without working video), and a literal run through Dulles International Airport customs and US security. I didn't even have time to say goodbye to everyone since I almost missed my connecting flight. Still it is good to be home and I am enjoying all the things I missed while I was in Russia (free refills, cold drinks, people smiling and saying thanks). My final thoughts on the CLS program are that overall it definitely helped my language skills. I feel more confident speaking Russian and while I still have more work to do on my grammar and sentence structure I think I am ready to go on my fieldwork. That being said, the homework and all the excursions and class left little room for all the other work I had to do over the summer like sending articles off to journals and writing the theory chapter of my dissertation. So while it definitely helped with my language skills I am feeling behind in my professional development and I am not sure I would recommend an intensive program to someone who is ABD (All But Dissertation) like me. I don't regret going on the program, the CLS program is not designed to accompany or allow full time research, I think I just had low expectations for the amount of time everything would take. In the end I could only fit two days a week of participant observation at the NGO and I could only schedule three interviews for my research. I also didn't have time, or the days off from class to make a research trip to Moscow to interview people there. The good and bad news of this situation is that this means I will have to go back to Moscow and Kazan next year to finish up my interviews. This type of situation occurs very often in fieldwork where you think you can accomplish more than you set out to so it's doesn't stress me out too much, I just have a lot of work to do in the next month! 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Last Days in Kazan

After our final exams and final concert we had two days to get things in order before our departure. I used this time to see everything I had been meaning to see all summer! Here is a run down of all the monuments and interesting things I saw not including all the great museums I visited since I can not do them justice here so you will have to visit Kazan yourself to visit them! This is the Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral right down the street from my institute.
This is a picture of me and my tutor Roza during our last lunch at the House of Tea her favorite restaurant on Bauman the main pedestrian street in Kazan.
This is the picture of the Cat of Kazan, a popular Russian folk character.
Here is a picture of my Kazan Cat Toshka! 
 This is a replica of the carriage Catherine the Great took on her trip to Kazan.
Lenin went to university in Kazan and was expelled due to his revolutionary tendencies. This is a monument of a young Lenin in front of Kazan State University.
These is me and Syumbike Tower, the only leaning tower in Kazan as you can see in the photo. If you would like to read the story about the history of this tower see my earlier post

One last photo of all of us before we went our separate ways at the Irish pub in Domodedovo Airport in Moscow!