My interviews took place last weekend. With each interview, they got better, but I now feel very guilty now for ever thinking that interviewing people was easy.
On Saturday afternoon, Bobette and I met at the library on Truman’s campus. Despite it being a Saturday, there were quite a few people in the library (welcome to college), so we decided to move to Baldwin Hall, where it was significantly quieter and we could speak loudly without disturbing people.
I had met Bobette before at Kirksville community coordination meetings, so we weren’t complete strangers. Yet, I think we were both a little nervous going into the interviews; interviews aren’t the same as a casual chat. One problem was the conversational aspect. In a conversation, each person shares his or her views or experiences on a subject. They can bounce off of each other, compliment each other, and share stories. An interview is different in that the focus is on one person. I tried my best not to talk too much about myself since the emphasis was Bobette. Yet, it felt much more rigid, and after the interview, I did a lot more talking.
Another issue was the pressure that came with an interview. As an interviewee, what you are saying is the main point of the interview, so if you say something wrong, it feels as though everyone will be focused on it. As an interviewer, your job to make the interviewee as comfortable as possible while also coaxing interesting information from them.
Finally, one thing that is hard to convey through an audio recording is the negotiation of meaning. Since communication takes place through both verbal and nonverbal communication, the facial expressions were an important part that didn’t always get conveyed. Throughout the interview, we did stop a couple of times in order to collect our thoughts and to make sure that we were on the same page. Then, I would restart and ask the question again. It actually made things a bit smoother since there was more time to put together our thoughts and knowing that we could stop it gave us a little less pressure.
The whole time, I was self conscious of my reactions. I couldn’t say “That’s cool,” after every line, but that’s what I ended up saying for a lot of them. Reactions are difficult, especially on audio, because you need to show that you really are interested in what the other person is saying, but you shouldn’t take any bias.
Interview 2: Ossok
This was probably the smoothest interview. After English classes in Milan on Sunday, Ossok stopped by for the interview. We had talked before in English classes about the differences between his and my country, so in a way the content of our interview was not new. What was new was that I was no longer playing the role of English teacher, but as an interviewer. As an English teacher, you have to give your students plenty of input, which means that you talk a lot and when your student doesn’t understand (which, Ossok usually understood because his language level was so high), you form a simpler sentence or you draw a picture. In an interview at even his English level, there was definitely negotiation for meaning, but the roles were reversed. Ossok was the one talking; I was the one listening.
Interview 3: Servais
I was ecstatic to find out that Servais was home from Iowa and that I could interview him. He was very into the idea of the project. I went to visit him at his home on Monday after our class, and after elaborating on the project (I had given him a general idea a few months ago, when I asked for the interview), he insisted that I film him after he shaved the next day. However, none of the other interviews on our website were filmed (not everyone wanted to be filmed), so I explained to him that I would prefer if we did audio. I came back to his house the next day, when the rest of his family was at work or school, so that it was quieter when we did the interview. He was very passionate about talking about the suffering in DRC and hoped that the US could help solve the political situation.
After listening to part of the first recording, he wanted to record again. We ended up creating three separate recordings. Each one had better English, but each one was slightly different.
After doing these interviews, I thought about Ellen Degeneres. Yes, Ellen. And here you think, “Well, that came out of nowhere,” but really, she does the same things I was trying to do. She helps to share the stories of hundreds of really cool people. She is an excellent interviewer. Peoplon her show always seem to be relaxed and viewers tend to learn a lot about them. I want my interviewees to be relaxed, but I also want to learn a lot about them.
This project has showed me that I need a lot more practice. Listening to the recordings (after a little bit of editing), I realised that they weren’t as bad as I thought, but I could still use practice.
My view on interviews wasn’t the only thing that changed; so did my appreciation. As I’ve said before, there are two sides when it comes to immigration. And these sides get mad at eachother. I know that not everything is as awful as the news makes it out to be, but I feel that I’m constantly stuck in this mindset of feeling pressure that I have to make things better. That any sort of thing in the news is mistreatment that needs to be stopped. That we as a country are troubled because we don’t always accept people who are different than us. According to the interviews, though, this wasn’t the case. America is not filled with people who are against immigrants and against English speakers. In fact, many people are welcoming.
And honestly have so much here. I can support immigration, even if the government does not. I can speak out against an executive order and I can go to local government leaders for help. Despite our disagreements, the government will not kill me because I believe the opposite. There is food in our supermarkets; public school is free (well, except for the universities). We are able to accept the people who are different than us. And for some people, that is all that they want.
The American dream is not a happy poster of a family with a good income and a mansion, but for some people, the American dream represents the possibility of things getting better. When I see pictures of people from other “poorer”countries, it might seem like their struggle is an atrocity happening a world away. That their country is broken beyond repair. But really, despite all the problems, their country is still filled with culture and with people who aren’t always in agreement with how their country is now. When they come here, it feels like they are choosing a hopeful future over their culture, and it shouldn’t have to be that way.
So, in all, I am thankful. And I want to turn that thanks into welcome for everyone else.