I have started reading a book entitled Autobiographical IR, I and IR edited by Naeem Inayatullah, in which a number of IR scholars from around the globe present deeply personal autobiographies of their personal connections to their research, motivations, and moral points of view. In short, it is a rare, truthful look at the personal side of the profession- a side that is often covered up to present a lie of objectivity and the presentation of true fact. More on critical approaches to IR and Political Science later; for now, I thought I might try my hand at this exercise in a shortened version here. While the book might only take established scholars on for its material, I thought looking at my own autobiography as emerging scholar have completed only one semester of a PhD program at the young age of 26 might be informative and being the process of truthful and open research from an early point. That said, here we go!
“I’m Scottish, English, Italian, and Polish,” I proudly declared one day to my best childhood friend in 6th grade. We were on our way to lunch, and were waiting in line to wash our hands in the basement, before going to the gymnasium/cafeteria. It was one of those classic old school houses: two stories high, brick, with a steel tube-slide as a fire escape out the second story. I felt very multicultural, so a 6th grader in a school with a total of about 40 pupils, K-8th grade in rural Montana.
“Well, I’m part Mongolian and Estonian!” my friend replied. Now he could never be trusted 100%, and I was sure this was some crazy joke.
“Those aren’t even real places!” I confidentially declared. After all, Estonia sounded like a made up place, and Mongolia, that was only in storybooks, right?
Fast-forward 13-14 years, and suddenly Mongolia is incredibly real for me, maybe too real, even. I speak Mongolian, I lived in the country for over 15 months over 5 trips, and written two theses on the country’s foreign relations. Estonia remains a little more elusive, but has generally factored into my research as an example of a small and internationally engaged state. Surely the more than a decade in between must have been formative in this regard.
I’m sitting on a plane seriously doubting my decision to study aboard for a year in Russia as a high school junior. My mom had brought me to the gate, and she parted from me bawling, as mothers are want to do. It certainly was a strange decision to make, and I had no background or substantive education to prepare me for what I was up against. My impression remains that most students that study aboard at any point in their academic career, and especially high school students, come from at least modestly well-off families. Study aboard organizations are often proud to highlight the number of students that receive some sort of financial aid, but let us be clear, not being able to afford a $10,000 price tag for a year abroad (that was in 2004, I doubt the price has been stable) is a very different thing than not being able to afford the gas money to get to the airport. And yet, here I was going to Russia. Why? Two reasons: 1) I saw a Russian dictionary in a bookstore, and thought it looked cool; 2) It seemed far more interesting and unique than Spanish, which was the only foreign language offered at my high school, sort of post-comm chic, if you will. And so it began, a series of fortunate coincidences motivated by not excepting economic limits (often not as heroic as it might sound) and refusing to go with convention.
Mongolia was really just a continuation of that theme, at first. It sounded cool, I had access to student loans (regrettable, yes; unhelpful, no), and I thought it would make me stand out later in the job world. So, I paid an organization to let me work for free as a summer intern. Yes, that’s what I said, paid to let me work for them! In reality, I was terrible intern, so it might have been a fair deal after all. I thought I would spend a couple months in Ulaanbaatar, and then never return!
In no time at all, though, I had caught the Mongolian bug, and pursued every opportunity to get back. Eventually, I developed real research interests, but at first, it was all about hanging out, learning Mongolian, and making friends along the way. I became intoxicated (figuratively?) with the culture, people, countryside, and the general struggle of living in UB and traveling outside the city far earlier that I became captivated by nationalism, foreign policy, indigenous rights, and irredentism. There is a certain level of truth to admitting that our research interests can be real, even when our initial case study was the result of youthful chance and thrill seeking.
I’ll stop here for now, having come to an impasse. However, I think this might be a nice project to prolong a bit, so stay toned for additional installments.
Analysis, Thoughts, Ideas
This blog will be an online publishing site for smaller analytical projects, news stories that I find relevant to small state foreign policy and indigenous autonomy, as well as a testing ground for new ideas and new projects that I may pursue.