Qualitative Research: Three Ethnographic Research Techniques

Once inside the office, I noticed a hot and cold water dispenser at the left side, then a pantry for those who would like to refresh themselves with a coffee or anything they want to drink and eat.

In another corner is a PLDT telephone. Beside the telephone is a sofa with fuchsia colored, silk, pillows. Adjacent to the sofa is a room for a group class while the office of the Korean manager is just next to that room. (next page please)

The block of XYZ is at the heart of hotels, restaurants, and cafes. The place is only a few minutes away from shopping malls like the SM City, Robinson’s Galleria and other business establishments where Koreans can shop, travel, drink and dine with friends.

Example 2: The Use of Private Language
What is KOR-ing? (pronounced as “kuring”)

It was one cold morning when I came to the office of XYZ to teach English to Kim (not his real name) – a Korean manager. He was late. Well, what can I expect from a young man who is only in his early twenties?

It was nice to go back to sleep and wiggle again as it was raining. I was late myself, by almost 10 minutes. I thought that I will be teaching many students inside the office, so I tip-toed and slowly opened the door. But nobody was around except Gina who is also one of the tutors.

While waiting for my tutee, I sat in a sofa facing the table of Gina. I smiled at her and began asking her some questions like “How are you?”, “How long have you been teaching here”, and “Don’t you find it difficult to be a tutor since you are not an education graduate?” She was so kind in providing me answers.

Then I remembered Dr. Loriega’s remark that I may start working on my dissertation. In fact, the real reason why I went to XYZ is to conduct an action research. I need to present the results to a panel before taking the comprehensive examination.

I started asking Gina about her students and the problems most tutors usually encounter. She answered that tutor turnover is high among Korean students. After a week of tutorial sessions, students can change their tutors if they don’t like them. They just make a request to the head tutor or to the Korean managers. Thus, the tutors may lose his/her job anytime the students want them out.

Another problem is, even if a tutor has good credentials but is a newcomer, and if nobody among the students will back them up or tell their friends how well he/she performs, that tutor will end up having no student at all. Hence, the level of competition among tutors is high.

She also told me that the students’ mothers are also hard to deal with. They complain a lot.

According to one Korean manager, there are three kinds of people in Korea: men, women and mothers. Yes, mothers play a major role in the Korean family and society. The husbands are just like machines who do most of the work to bring the bacon.

Eager to know more about the Koreans, I asked Gina how the Koreans managers are as “boss” knowing that she once worked in an American company. She paused for a while and looked at the door, wary that some students might come in. Then, she spoke her heart out:

“It’s hard. Americans are frank. And I can express myself freely, even against their ideas. On the other hand, the Koreans are discreet. They are secretive, too. You can’t ask questions. If you make the mistake of asking about anything, it gives the impression that you are hard-headed or someone whom they can’t control.”

We were in the middle of our conversation when Kim opened the door. Gina was not able to finish her sentence in “hiligay-lish” (a contraction of Hiligaynon, a native tongue, and English), particularly uttering the word Korean. Instead of saying KOR-eans, she said KOR-ings (with a short u sound, ‘kurings’). “Korings are like that.”

It was good that Kim did not hear her utter the word. Maybe, I grabbed his attention. Again, he apologized for coming late.

When he was already inside the office, I whispered to Gina, “What do you mean by Korings?”  (next page please)

She whispered back to me saying, “Koreans”. “Aw,” I uttered, using my Tagalog accent. I thought she was referring to a cat.

I got confused or I didn’t get it when she said that. We were talking about Koreans but then suddenly, she talked about a cat.

Though I was born and grew up in Palawan when Tagalog or Filipino is the lingua franca, I knew the word “kuring.” It means cat because I am a pure-blooded Ilongo and Antiqueña. My parents were born in Sibalom, Antique.

From then on, Koring became our private language. I started using the word in my dorm.

One Wednesday, I talked to the dorm’s secretary in Hiligaynon:

“Ay budlay man ang mga “Korings.”

She gave me a puzzled look and asked: “Ano ang budlay sa mga koring man?” I clarified my remark and explained, “What I really mean is that it’s hard to teach the Koreans. The Korings are Koreans.” She nodded, affirming her understanding, and we both smiled.

Example 3: Body Language

A “Roller-Coaster-Ride”Look
rolling eyes

Every time I see Kim for a tutorial at XYZ, he always gives me this “roller coaster ride look.”Just like yesterday, his eyes rolled up then moved to the side, down, then turned to the other side.

As I narrated before, Kim works as one of the Korean managers. As a manager, it’s his duty to entertain queries and complaints from students. Upon entering the office, students would greet and ask him some questions. Sometimes, they complain to him about many things. He has to attend to their needs first before his tutorial sessions with me.

We agreed that he should come at 8 o’clock in the morning during Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. But because he has to attend to complaints, he requested last Wednesday that we will start at 9 o’clock instead.

Upon arriving, he casually greeted me, and then gave instructions to the newly-hired secretary. He signaled me to start our class when Mike, the head tutor, came in. He told Kim that Sheila can’t meet her student. Hence, Kim should explain the situation to the student.

Kim said: “I have a class,” in a tone that he doesn’t like to go upstairs. But Mike gave Kim this kind of “look” (eyes got bigger then blink a little with a smile) trying to make an appeal to Kim that he must see the student.

Bucking under pressure, Kim turned to me and gave me that “roller-coaster-ride look” and said “Sorry”. I gave him my sweet little smile which means “It’s ok. I do understand.”

Kim came back after 10 minutes, but then again, another student wanted to talk to him. Judging from the way they talk, there seemed to be some problems. This guy was complaining to him about his hotel room.

Once again, his chinky eyes would show that “roller-coaster-ride look.” Then he glanced at me and said, “Excuse me.”

He was back after a while, now smiling at me with twinkling eyes, a kind of look that means “Ok, we can start now.” However, two new students, who must have just arrived from Korea, entered the office. They need to talk with him. Again he gave me that “roller-coaster-ride look” and once again apologized, “I’m sorry.”

Thus, every time he gives me that “roller-coaster-ride look” it would mean “Excuse me” and “I’m sorry.”  🙂

Now that you’ve learned the three techniques of ethnographic research, go out and try it. Then go back and post your observations here to see how people respond.

© 2014 May 30 M. G. Alvior


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