Final Thoughts

When my academic advisor, Dr. Amber Johnson, first informed me of the opportunity to take this class, I honestly had no clue what I was getting myself into (of course I filled out the application anyway). In a similar fashion, when I found out that Maggie and I were accepted to partake in the course, I was excited yet still rather clueless. However, Maggie and I had been in classes before (being in different tracks within the same overarching major), and the topic seemed very interesting to me, so I went into it with high hopes. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. While this was, in some ways, one of the most difficult classes I have taken during my undergraduate years, it was perhaps one of the most rewarding as well. I was no stranger to research upon beginning the Cultural Crossroads Journey with my classmates – having completed research papers as well as an in-depth content analysis project for my Research Design and Data Analysis classes – but the emphasis on outward facing research allowed me not only to stretch outside of my comfort zone, but to think about why I was doing this research and for what purpose.

When I first began the course, I was slightly overwhelmed with all of the components to it – the tweeting, the blogging, the research, the Zoom meetings – but I was also intrigued by the Digital Learning aspect of it. Zoom itself was a frightening prospect at first, since I had never used it before, but I found I quickly got the hang of it and even enjoyed using it (audio lags and strange noises and all). Putting faces to names was fantastic, and I loved getting to know people from all across the country (as well as hearing the stories of their communities as the semester progressed). The small class size allowed for ample interaction between all of us, which I appreciated. Overall, the beginnings of the class reassured me that I could indeed navigate technology (to an extent) and sparked an interest in looking in-depth at Kirksville, which I’m sure was the goal.

The research project itself was, as always, easier said than done though (or perhaps easier conceptualized than carried out is a more apt phrase). Surprisingly, Maggie and I immediately knew the topic we wanted to explore. This part is usually the most time consuming for me when completing a research project. Upon thinking about the migratory movements in Kirksville, however, I thought it would be very informative to look at Congolese migration (and since Maggie was in my Research Design and Data Analysis classes, I knew this was a topic she had previously studied). We both agreed on this research topic, then set out to gather some interviews from people in the Kirksville community. This, as I’m sure you know, was where the problems began. The infuriating institutional red tape – ahem, I mean the lovely IRB approval process – held us up in our research endeavors for most of the semester, but we finally gained approval to conduct audiovisual interviews in November, the month we would be presenting our website. After four rounds of approval-seeking, we were only able to complete a fraction of the interviews we wanted to, but we are certainly considering the possibility of extending this research into our final semester at Truman. While The Great IRB Wait of 2017 was probably our biggest obstacle, we also spent a significant amount of time trying to format our website, which caused us some grief at times. In spite of my complaining, the research process wasn’t all bad by any means. After all, we were able to get funding for our project through Truman. We also were able to learn so much from other students in our class, and I really enjoyed facilitating the interviews once we could actually conduct them. It was a long, hard, often stressful process, but definitely worth it in the end.

Something unique to this course that I appreciated was the digital/technical aspects included throughout. Whether it be Zoom, WordPress, TimelineJS, StoryMap, Twitter, Slack, etc., I felt like my overall use and understanding of technology improved (which was nice, considering I am usually woefully inept at all things technology outside of the realm of social media). Working with all of these tools inside and outside of class was a great experience and certainly one I will take with me throughout my career and life.

I think my favorite part about the whole course was to see everyone’s final product (not that I didn’t enjoy the steps along the way). I just loved seeing how everything came together and how everyone made sense of their copious amounts of information they no doubt collected on their given subject. Again, in the spirit of outward facing research, I am eager to see how these projects will make an impact on their given community. I think there is tremendous potential for each project to shed some light on the history of a place and its people, which can only be beneficial for the community in the long run. This digital archival work is something that will become increasingly important in the future, not only in the discipline of history, but other social sciences as well I’m sure. When I think about our project, I am eager to see how it is used as a community education tool as well as a resource to find community notes, ESL class schedules, etc. We have already garnered some interest in our project by presenting our website at the most recent Community Meeting, and we have people who have contacted us with an eagerness to participate and contribute to our project.

Overall, this course (while at times stressful) was wonderful. The deep commitment to research combined with its exploration of digital tools and resources made it stand out among the classes I have taken previously. I cannot think of anything I would really change about it, because I thought each piece of the puzzle was fairly helpful and vital in some way. I’ll be forever grateful to everyone involved with this course – Dr. Dunn and Dr. Turner, Leah, Dr. Johnson, Maggie and my other classmates, as well as the technical experts who were behind the scenes – because it was definitely one of my favorites and allowed me to get involved in my community in a meaningful way.

Posted in Uncategorized

Hit the Ground Running

At long last, Maggie and I have finally received IRB approval to begin our interviews, and we will be able to record them as well. It has been a long and paperwork-filled journey to reach this point, but I believe having audiovisual elements on our project site will be well worth it and allow us to truly capture the voices of those who have migrated to Kirksville in recent years.

We certainly have plenty to do. With several interviews to conduct, videos to edit, and site layouts to finalize, I can’t pretend like the upcoming month will be an easy one. However, I do not think the challenges we face are insurmountable. Now that we can finally get into the bulk of the information we will be gathering and sharing, there is a building energy that is sure to carry us through until presentation day.

Despite the fast-approaching deadlines and significant amount of work to be done, I am still very hopeful about the outcome of this project. I am excited to be on the forefront of this effort to work with and understand the Congolese immigrant population in Kirksville, and I look forward to sharing what we’ve learned with the public, so that people may look back in the future to explore how the community has changed over time.

We are now at the beginning the final stretch. Throughout the whole process, it has been so intriguing to see the progression of my classmates’ projects and the passion they have for their communities and migration studies. As we begin to think about the end of our projects (and the close of the semester), I cannot wait to see what direction everyone takes their research and how they will display it on their sites. Everyone has been working so hard, and I am eager to get down to business and churn out some content in the next couple of weeks.

Posted in Uncategorized

The One Where We Go to a Town Hall Meeting

Pictured below is a synthesized version of my notes from the Town Hall meeting Maggie and I attended last Wednesday. I split up my notes into three sections: struggles (the challenges the Congolese community currently face), resources (what is being used/can be used to improve these conditions), and goals (both short term and long term).

page 1
page 2
Posted in Uncategorized

The Brain Waste Problem

Many of us have heard of the concept of Brain Drain – – but not as much consideration has been given to its lesser-known cousin, Brain Waste. Brain Waste is the phenomena where immigrants with higher education and specialized knowledge are forced to work lower-skilled jobs due to the insurmountable language barrier they face when moving to a different country. Thus, there is a significant amount of wasted brainpower in communities across the country.

“23 percent, of the nearly 7.2 million college-educated immigrants ages 25 and older in the U.S. civilian labor force are affected by brain waste” (McHugh et al. 2014)

The burden of brain waste is certainly felt among the Congolese in Kirksville. Many people arrive in the US with advanced degrees, yet the majority of the Congolese population works in the Kraft food factory and Farmlands food processing centers, where they are not able to use their knowledge or professional skills they have gained from their degrees back in the Congo. Getting re-certified in their area of expertise is often a time-consuming and difficult process, especially with limited ability to use English.

Brain waste also has an impact on community integration. The schedules for the factory workers are typically 12 hour shifts, with a few days on and a couple of days off. Some people work during the weekends. This can limit the interactions between factory workers and those who don’t work in the factories. One can argue that this community isolation is a latent effect of the brain waste problem that forces immigrant communities into lower-skilled jobs.

I look forward to hearing firsthand accounts of how this issue has impacted the Congolese community here in Kirksville, and what is being done to combat it. Kirksville seems to be always looking for more ideas for economic development, so perhaps it is time to look at the people and resources already here.


Batalova, Jeanne, Michael Fix, and James D. Backmeier. “Untapped Talent: The Costs of Brain Waste among Highly Skilled Immigrants in the United States.” December 2016. Accessed September 27, 2017.

McHugh, Margie, Jeanne Batalova, and Madeleine Morawski. “Brain Waste in the Workforce: Select U.S. and State Characteristics of College-Educated Native-Born and Immigrant Adults.” December 07, 2016. Accessed September 27, 2017.

“What Is the Cost of Brain Waste for Highly Skilled Immigrants in the U.S.?” December 07, 2016. Accessed September 27, 2017.

Posted in Uncategorized

One step forward, two steps back

Truman State University does love its research paperwork. This is the main thing I have learned in the past few weeks.

The Good News

We received IRB approval for the initial draft of our project (after we submitted our French draft of the consent form, of course). We also received a $750 research grant to compensate the time it takes to conduct and translate the interviews. Both pieces of news filled me with joy, but we had a bit of a problem…

The Bad News

We decided to rework our project in order to create a final product that was more reflective of the people we were speaking to and more engaging for audiences. We believed filming the interviews would be a fantastic digital tool to include on our project site, because people would actually get to see and hear the stories for themselves. We still stand by this decision. However, this means we will have to drastically revise our IRB application and once again submit it for approval. This has pushed our project timeline back quite significantly, but we feel as though it will be worth it to be able to publish our interviews.

During my time in undergrad, I’ve found that research is never perfectly clean, never cut and dry. Being able to roll with the punches is a valuable skill when it comes to these endeavors. The way I see it, this delay has allowed us to explore some vital contextual materials (both of primary and secondary nature). Beginning this project with a solid background is key in order to help interpret and situate the testimonials we will be receiving. We will also be able to use this time to take a look at the aesthetics of our website, which we haven’t focused on thus far. Sometimes things don’t go as we planned, but we have to make the most out of the situation we’re in. I have high hopes for this project, and a few minor setbacks are inevitable with an undertaking like this.

We’re up for the challenge.

Posted in Uncategorized

A Changing Landscape

Adair County looked very different prior to the establishment of the first settlements in the 1830s and 1840s. The Keokuck Indians were the only inhabitants of this area of Northeast Missouri at the time, and relations between the Native American group and the settlers were fairly peaceful for the first decade of settlement. However, as Maxine Montgomery notes in a Kirksville Daily Express article, “the Keokuck Indians were friendly, but not so their dogs” who “often attacked hog pens.” This was deemed reason enough for the white settlers to drive the Indians off of their ancestral lands and even imprison them.

Today, the inhabitants of Kirksville are still primarily white. However, recent migrations and demographic data show that there are indeed people of other races living in Kirksville. Daniel Lichter’s article in Rural Sociology explains that minority populations tend to be more spatially segregated from the majority population, and thus less noticeable to those who may not be looking close enough. While the Congolese population in Kirksville is by no means invisible, it is interesting to take this into consideration, especially when we look at the spatial assimilation model. This model “suggests that immigrants become integrated residentially with natives as they become economically assimilated.”

While I do believe that the Congolese immigrants have been doing a great job of connecting with the community, this economic separation is something I’d like to look at, especially in terms of limitations on how these families can live. In his article, Lichter specifically focuses on Hispanic immigrant populations in rural communities (which Kirksville also has), but I think some of his reasoning can be applied to the Congolese immigrants as well. He claims “Hispanic growth is linked directly to rural industrial restructuring (especially in nondurable manufacturing, which includes food processing) and, more generally, a rapidly globalizing agro-food system.” This similar phenomenon applies to the Congolese immigrants working at the meat packing plant in Milan. Lichter describes how language and cultural barriers force immigrant populations to take these jobs, whereas many white people would refuse to work them.

I really want to delve into the effects that economy and economic integration have on community integration in regards to the Congolese people, especially since many of them hold college degrees and are simply barred economically by their inability to speak English. How does the economic separation (working at the meat packing plant vs in town at other jobs) affect peoples’ perceptions of them and their perceptions of themselves? What are these working conditions like? What are the implications for social mobility? What about that of their children” Does economic separation really have as much of an impact on community integration as Lichter suggests?

I’m sure we will answer some of these questions once we begin our interviews. I’ll leave you all with another quote from Daniel Lichter (mostly because I am excited to be on the forefront of such studies):

“The shift in settlement patterns among immigrants to new destinations and the continuing replenishment of new immigrants through ongoing migration streams mean that the emerging literature on immigration will have to take a new empirical and theoretical focus. Empirically, it is time to move away from city-based studies in traditional gateways and look at the transformation of the South, the Midwest, and small cities, towns and rural areas, and suburban areas as sites of first settlement… Now is a propitious time to study the new second generation in rural America and its progress in school, relationships with teachers and peers, and links to other institutions (e.g., social services providers and police).”


Montgomery, Maxine. “Pioneer Days in Adair County,” Kirksville Daily Express, September 12, 1979, accessed September 25, 2017,

Lichter, Daniel T. “Immigration and the New Racial Diversity in Rural America,” Rural Sociology, 77.1 (March 2012): 3–35, accessed 25 September 2017,

Posted in Uncategorized

Crafting a Project Trajectory

A. Project Description

This project will further the explanatory project embarked by Wilcox in 2016 in a team effort of Wilcox, a Sociology student, and Vietor, an Anthropology student, in an online, long-distance learning graduate level research course (SOAN 523). This will use ethnographic methods including interviews in order to gain insight on the immigration of Congolese in Northeast Missouri. The focus of the research is to continue the documentation of the experiences of this group, including, but not limited to: what factors influenced them to leave their native country and migrate to the United States specifically, what the process of applying for migrant or refugee status included, and their challenges and successes of adjusting to life in the Kirksville community, and this time, its effects on the Kirksville community.

B. Tools

To collect this qualitative data, we will again use the non-probability methods of quota and snowball sampling in order to interview at least 6 Congolese people over the age of 18. We hope to have an even sampling of single and married adults of both genders, as the only available subjects in the previous research were primarily single males. To collect data, we will use a tape recorder if the interviewee gives us permission to do so. Key variables will include the respondents’ background information, their acculturative stress and assimilation experiences, and comparisons of change overtime. Additional areas of inquiry may emerge through the interview process.

These interviews will be supplemented with outside sources such as newspapers and scholarly journals to give more situational context to the geopolitical situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These findings will be documented through individual and a joint WordPress blogs which will culminate as our final open-access research project for the Cultural-Crossroads Digital Learning Class (SOAN 523). This will allow the public to access the research as well. Please see the following links for examples of our progress thus far.

Course blog:

Vietor’s individual blog:

Wilcox’s individual blog:

Shared blog:

C. Work to be completed by each team member

Interviews and official ‘due date’ items will be conducted by both members of the team. Individual task designation will be delegated at a later date.

D. Timeline

Internal Due Dates Official Due Dates
October 3 – complete a first Timeline JS and a StoryMap JS about immigration moment
October 5 – final learning agreement due
October 31 – rough draft of website due
November 16 – finish all interviews November 28 & 30 – final presentations
December 11 – final project websites & write-ups due
Posted in Uncategorized

Where Have You Been

Weise, Bernd Michael, Dennis D. Cordell, et al. “Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC),” Encyclopædia Britannica (June 2017). Accessed September 13, 2017, Encyclopædia Britannica.


As with any research project or curious inquiry, it is important to consider the context before diving in to answer a question or test a theory. For this reason, I decided to look at some basic information about the Democratic Republic of the Congo in order to understand where the people we will be talking to are coming from, so that we have some historical and present day context.

I found out several important facts–about half of the population is Roman Catholic, and over half of the population lives in rural areas, for example. Also, a little over 40% of the population is under the age of 15. This is due to the healthcare infrastructure, which was left without any Congolese doctors after the Congo gained its independence. Only Europeans were allowed to practice medicine. Poverty, violence, and disease are also to blame for a lower life expectancy.

In terms of economic conditions, which has been mentioned by some of the immigrants as a driving factor for leaving the Congo, things are also on the bleaker side. Mainly focused on natural resources (specifically minerals), the Congolese economy was heavily affected by the drop in copper prices in the 70s and the coup by Mobutu, who began to manipulate the economy to serve his personal and political goals. The civil war that broke out only worsened these problems. Since moving to a more market-based system, the economy has expanded during the past years after the end of the civil war in 2003.

The civil war still had a major effect though, especially on education, when government funding drastically declined. Though it is mandated that all children attend primary school, there is insufficient funding and not enough teachers for the country’s students. Lack of educational opportunities is another reason immigrants cited for coming to the US.

There is much more to read about and discuss, but I’m glad that I have a better grasp of the current political, economic, and cultural climate in the Congo, because this will certainly help us in our research and allow us to go into interviews with a better overall sense of understanding and compassion.


Posted in Uncategorized