During my first year at George Mason University, I became very interested in the lives of second and third-generation immigrant girls who live in the suburbs of Paris. I was dealing with questions of identity at the time, in part because of my own multi-cultural background, in part because I was learning French, and finally because I had discovered the field of cultural anthropology. Anthropology, and its signature methodology known as participant-observation, provided me with the intellectual and methodological frameworks to study immigrant experiences. My reading at the time included Trica Keaton’s book “Muslim Girls in the Other France” which further stimulated my interests. I wanted to know more about how girls living in the suburbs of Paris negotiated their identities in a country significantly different from the country/countries of origin of their parents. How did they conceptualize their self-identity in France? For example, did they consider themselves French? Some scholarly sources described these young women as “oppressed girls,” “kids from the projects,” as “immigrants” even though they are born in France. I wanted to know more about their lives, understand how they expressed their agency within their unique social and geographic contexts, and explore how they interacted with each other at home, in the public space, and at school.
Through participation in the OSCAR program and the opportunities it offered, I set off to try to gain more insight into these questions through an anthropological study project conducted during my study abroad year (2017-2018) in France. I audited classes at a high school in Saint Denis (a suburb North of Paris) and learned about the lives of girls in the projects (in French, the banlieues) of Saint Denis through observations and informal interactions with the students there. I was occasionally invited to some students’ homes. I also spent time making observations in public spaces and recording my data in anthropological field notes and on observation protocol sheets.
One of the most important things that I learned through this experience is that one must be flexible to the changes that may come about in one's ethnographic research. I plunged into the study with the focus of only learning about girls who live in particular housing developments but I gradually came to realize how important it is to understand and record experience of boys in relation to the girls. Ethnographic research also requires a serious investment of time, patience, good language skills, and luck. I learned that a single encounter or interaction can completely open up a whole domain of questions to ask (questions that may pertain to the original ones) and it may even be necessary to modify the original research question itself. Being open to change, I realized, is an essential mindset that one must have in order to conduct anthropological research. I look forward to continuing my research in the years ahead and am grateful to the OSCAR program for encouraging my anthropological aspirations.