The Ateneo Junior Engagement Program (aka JEEP, with the mysterious extra “E”) is a requirement for all third year undergraduate students in Ateneo. It allows students to get a taste of the working class experience; to engage in working class jobs and other related activities (such as commuting). Under the Office for Social Concern & Involvement (OSCI) and Philosophy Department, JEEP aims to lead to deeper understanding and perhaps empathy towards others. There are various posts available to students in different sectors. Choices range from Labor to Volunteer work, Environment to Elderly and more. Students sign up for these jobs, very much like the online enlistment before each semester. Students enlist for twelve (12) hours, split into three (3) insertions of four (4) hours each. In my case, I was unable to find any schedule to match my classes. The OSCI assigned me under UP MANININDA, every Saturday from 1:00pm-4:00pm. My experience as a UP Manininda is my chosen “event” for my Participant Observation activity (Both are unfamiliar, concerns other people, and are required; two birds with one stone).
Since my first engagement happened before this Participant Observation activity was given (Or at least before I was aware of the activity), I was unable to actively take down notes and observations of the event. However in my second engagement, I have taken a more observational approach to the whole experience. My observations here will include both inactive and active observations and conclusions.
Basically, my job assignment was simple; I was to help out as a vendor for four hours. I was assigned to a small stall located near UP Diliman’s cafeteria in front of the sunken field (I’m not sure what it’s called). The stall sold a variety of goods. It sold biscuits, crackers, junk food, sandwiches, instant noodles and of course, street food (Isaw, Fishball, Squidball, Dynamite, etc.). Like Ateneo’s campus, UP Diliman is full of trees and open space, but in a much larger scale. It was often sunny and breezy, leaves all around, a lot of weird bugs in the trees, that sort of setting. There was still some considerable amount of activity despite the weekend. There were Joggers going around the campus, students moving from one building to another (Considering the size of the campus, this was no easy feat), people playing frisbee and football, and regular hanging out in the area. One thing I can’t help but notice about the campus was the openness to nudity. Aside from the famous Oblation statue, there was this statue composed of at least seven naked ladies, and there were various short tribal looking figures. The area we were in often smelled like food (For obvious reasons). The constant frying was both the scent and music of the place. This was generally the look and feel of the place.
Our “job description” was pretty vague (“Help out as a vendor”). So when I first met Ate G (My key informant who up to this day has never told me her real name) I didn’t know what to do. She assigned me to handle junk food sales and monetary transactions (My fancy way of saying “Give back change”). There were four of us at that stall; Ate G, Ate Janine, Ate Aileen and myself (Though Ate Janine had to leave by the time I had my second engagement). It was a weird feeling, being on the other side of a stall for once. Since our engagements were restricted to Saturday afternoons, I rarely had any interaction with customers. Often I spent my time talking with Ate G. According to her, Saturdays were really dull. She added that had I been assigned on a weekday, I might not be able to handle it. This was true, since the most action I saw was handling three customers at once (Which I was barely able to do), and she says the typical weekday would have five to seven at a time. I noticed a few things about eating habbits in Up. I observed, first of all, that students love Pancit Canton and Isaw. More than half the customers’ orders had either Pancit Canton or Isaw. Even Ate G asked me if students from Ateneo share this love for Pancit Canton, because apparently UP students don’t eat rice, even in the cafeteria. Aside from the joggers and students, jeepney drivers composed a bulk of the day’s sales. Often jeepney drivers would have Isaw and Buko Juice between rounds or while waiting for more passengers. But for most of the four hours, it was just me sitting and chatting with my “stall-mates”.
Generally, I learned there were noticeable differences between Ateneo and UP cultures from the point of view of a vendor. Though the campuses are similar physically (Large open spaces, greenery, etc.), certain accents in the place showed possible differences in ideals (aka nudity in statues). There were even more differences in the people in these two campuses. Where Ateneo practices a very strict entry policy (And thus mostly only students in campus), UP is more open to outsiders, allowing joggers, visitors, sports players and students alike to make use of the area. The choice of food that they eat may also be a point of difference between the two cultures (Some students in Ateneo are disgusted by Isaw. Unbelievable.) Though we may hear about these things from other people, nothing beats actually having a hands-on experience of other cultures, no matter how small the difference.
What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
To actually take part in the activity allows for a wider range of interaction with people, and from these interactions we see the finer points of observation. Observing from afar only allows for limited physical observations (We observe that vendors are paid to cook dynamite), but actually experiencing it adds a new dimension for thought (You actually experience” loading” the dynamite, putting cheese and ham in a green pepper before any customers actually arrive. You experience the heat and dull moments of vending, etc.)
What did having a key informant add to your understaning?
Most comparisons I make come from the observations of the key informant, which I could not have otherwise observed. For example, I would not have known that the typical weekday has vendors handling five to seven customers at one time, and this allows me to try to imagine that experience and compare it to my current experience.
What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
All the smaller details that we think aren’t worth noting get lost if we do not experience them for ourselves. For example, one might not consider accent in speaking a factor to consider in observations, however talking with people and noticing accents allows me to see that people here truly come from different backgrounds.
For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
These more rigid instruments are better suited for extracting precise information from target people or groups. These are better for gathering numerical data and determining trends in a culture, etc.
Ramon Rodrigo L. Gutierrez
101810 III-BS LM