Students who attend IFR field schools come from all walks of life and have unique reasons for joining a program. Some attend a field school in order to determine if archaeology is a career option. Some wish to learn about a specific culture in the past. Others come for very personal reasons, seeking to learn about their own heritage…
Then, there are the less obvious, nuanced reasons. Field research, especially archaeological field research, often leads to strong shifts in our understanding of ourselves. Going on a field school is far different from traveling as a tourist. You are going to places not to be accommodated according to your normal expectations at home or on vacation. You will find that in questioning why people in the past made the decisions that they did, you will also question your own. Encountering different expectations and world views both of students and of the locals is a given. It is in the crux of these differences where we find the greatest transformation in our students. At the IFR, these tensions are what we hope all students encounter and grow from. Our success as an organization is measured not by how many of our students become archaeologists, but by their world exposure and in their reflexivity. Below is an account from IFR Vera Campbell Scholarship recipient, Angela Burgos. Her story may not be a typical field school experience, but it is a remarkable account that speaks to her strength as an individual and a testimony to the impacts of seeing your own culture through the eyes of others….
“As one of the 2018 Vera Campbell Promise Scholarship recipients I was allotted the opportunity to share how attending an IFR field school has impacted my life. I was accepted into the Peru: Corral Redondo field school, and awarded a scholarship through the Vera Campbell foundation to pursue my dreams of becoming an Andean archaeologist. However, what was supposed to be a month long stay in the Churunga Valley in Peru was actually only five days. I am an Ecuadorian-American, undergraduate, anthropology/ archaeology student at California State University, Los Angeles. My desire to be an Andean archaeologist clearly stems from a need to connect with my South American cultural roots. Being accepted into the Peru: Corral Redondo field school was the embodiment of that dream come true, or so I thought. I believed that working in Peru was the perfect opportunity to enrich my academic career, but what I did not realize at the time was that the trip was going to be transitional for me in all aspects of my life.
I decided to leave the field school after just five short days for a number of reasons, most of which are related to severe cultural shock that I experienced once at the site. I share a lot of things in common with the habitants of the Churunga Valley including religious beliefs and social practices. I was able to relate to the concerns and worries of those around me more than the other students on the field school. I also found difficulty in working with human remains, an important part of the field project, because of these cultural beliefs. The first night in the field was something of a nightmare for me because as soon as the sun set I had the most intense panic attack of my entire life. Luckily, I was in the company of amazing staff and supportive teammates who helped me work through it. Although the shortness of breath had stopped, I was never able to shake off the uneasiness living inside of me. Two days after the panic attack I made the conscious decision to return home.
All of these scary moments aside, if anyone were to ask me if I at all benefited from the field school I would say, “Yes, in more ways than I could have ever imagined.” You see, I am a survivor of sexual abuse. I have lived most of my life being voiceless, constantly letting life and various opportunities pass me by. However, making the decision to leave Peru was the first time I ever stood up for myself. I could have stayed in Peru and been unhappy, but instead I chose to go home and take care of my mental health. Something that I have been putting on the back burner for many years. The field school, the scholarship, and those that supported me were all instrumental in helping me finally break a vicious cycle of self-loathing and self –doubt. I am more than grateful to be able to share this story.
I learned many things about myself on my IFR journey starting from the moment that I decided to apply to a field school through the institution. When I returned home I had a lot of time to not only reflect on what had just occurred, but also how I was still going to use this experience to my advantage. Most importantly though, I realized that I want to continue to be supportive to others like myself. I do not share my field school experience for sympathy or to scare people from attending a field school, instead I would like to encourage people to continue to push through life one scary moment at a time.”