Tuesday, August 12, 2014

10 Things to Know Before you Go: Poland Fieldwork Edition, Part 1

1.  Talk to a local (Part 1)

Before you go, get in contact with someone who will be at the site or who has been there before. They will be able to tell you what to bring far better than this list.  Additionally, it will be nice for you to see a friendly face who is expecting you and knows you will need some help. 

Ludwik, one of the Polish graduate students who supervised the field site, is setting a bad example.  Petting the cows is NOT recommended here.

2.  Learn polite phrases in the local language

If you haven't studied the local language before heading to a new place, learn some of the easier phrases. In Poland, a simple "Dziękuję" (thank you) goes a long way. That being said, if possible, you should try to learn the whole language.

3.   Google translate only works when you have internet access. Consider bringing a phrase-book or a dictionary

Mary downloaded the Google translate app. She was excited because you could talk into the phone, it would translate the words, and say the translation for you. Then Katie pointed out that we don’t have 24-hour wi-fi access. The app has come in handy, but, generally, don’t plan to rely on something that needs the internet to work.
Katie at the bus stop after successfully asking a woman (in Polish!) for help finding a bus. 

4.   Hitchhiker's Guide is right - always bring a towel

And not just a washcloth - Mary learned that the hard way.  We also recommend bringing two water bottles and some trust-worthy zip-lock baggies. This is especially true if you want the zip-locks to be waterproof and/or leak-proof.

5.  Know what your shower situation will be like

 In other words, you won't be able to take 30 minute perfectly lukewarm showers. You should probably be mentally prepared and know how to pare down your standard grooming routine to something more field-appropriate.

6. Have money

European ATM's do not always take U.S. credit or debit cards.  Have cash as a back-up.  Some machines will eat your card. Some merchants will not accept credit cards, including some small hotels. 

7.  Always save your receipts

Even if you aren't saving your receipts for a grant report or reimbursements, it is a good idea to document and save receipts. This gives you an idea of how much you are spending in order to prepare for the next year. It's also helpful if you share any costs with others at the site to be able to track spending. It also helps you track the amount of cookies and cheese you are eating.
Katie picking black currants at our house with our landlady (who didn’t want to be in the photo without doing her hair). We used these for a delicious snack after walking around all day.  No receipts for this!

8.  You will walk (a lot)

You will need to eat more to make up for that.  You should bring at least 2 pairs of walking shoes, and prepared for one of them to get disgustingly wet and muddy.
Katie and Mary walking home at the end of a day of fieldwork.  Technically, walking home from the sklep (shop) after a day of fieldwork.

9.   Look up the weather, and adjust your backpack (and shoes, clothes, etc.) appropriately

For example, it rains here a lot. Mary's backpack is not waterproof (this is another reason to have trustworthy waterproof baggies).
Katie and Mary after running home from fieldwork in the pouring rain. 

10.   Be prepared, but there is no need to be over-prepared

Know if you will have access to a store, and if you can buy essentials at your field site.  You may find you need things you couldn't anticipate, so have the luggage space and the budget to add to your supplies if needed.  For example, Katie found she needed to buy new pants after losing weight from all the walking.
Mary’s suitcase fits a stadiometer, a scale, lots of Oragene® Discover saliva kits, Whatman® Omniswabs, Eppendorf® tubes, and all her clothes (plus lots of socks).  No towel, though

While much of this is common sense, it can be easy to forget these basics when you are in the whirlwind of preparations for heading into the field.  Never underestimate the power of politeness, the utility of common sense, and the value of clean socks and underwear after a long rainy day in the mountains.

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