While it may seem surprising, one of the most unexpected things I have experienced on this trip is the power of laughter. It wasn’t until Wednesday evening, after having completed two focus groups with my teammate and listening to myself on a tape recording as I transcribed the discussion (a very odd and humbling experience if you’ve ever had to listen to yourself for that long) that I realized what an important role laughter had played not only in the focus groups, but also in our work as a team, and just as visitors in a new place. So, as Julie Andrews would say… let’s start at the very beginning.
First, I should let you know that I am one of the drivers in the group for this trip. Now that may seem trivial, but let me tell you, navigating the South Texas highways has certainly afforded us opportunities to laugh at ourselves. Whether it’s making sure we’re going in the right direction, or letting Siri re-route us a time or two, even just cracking a smile helps us remember we’re blessed to be driving on these smooth Texas roads – a welcome break from the potholes and snow back home.
On Monday my teammate and I had the good fortune to do a mock practice focus group at the University of Texas-Pan American. It gave us a chance to develop our skills and raise our comfort level a bit before our first real group. These participants brought incredible character to the discussion, choosing fun personas, breaking the ice and helping me to feel right at home as I noodled through learning some of the ins and outs of facilitating a focus group.
Then came the big debut – my teammate and I leading our first group for the study on Tuesday morning. Naturally I’m a bit nervous. We had been preparing for this for weeks, I asked every question imaginable, prepared for possible mishaps and surprises and then I had a moment. I laughed a bit to myself as I realized the core of what we were doing – having a conversation. Listening back over the tape later, I realized just how often the discussion was punctuated by genuine shared laughter. Far from being distracting, it garnered a richer and more comfortable conversation because it was truly shared.
Lastly, beyond the parameters of working with our incredible preceptor on facilitating and note taking for our focus groups, laughter has been at the core of our teamwork. After weeks of learning about our project, our strengths and weaknesses as a team, and our collective experiences on this trip, being able to laugh at the fact that we seem to unintentionally wear matching outfits every day, or make a bit of fun of my poor sense of direction, my teammate and I have learned through laughter.