Morgan Johnson ’12
Student’s Long Weekend research initiative leads to Ecuador
St. Norbert’s Long Weekend tradition usually signals a welcome break after the busy opening weeks of the fall semester. To Morgan Johnson ’12, though, it signaled a bigger opportunity: the chance to take her research on cross-cultural communication into the field.
Johnson and her faculty mentor, Jim Neuliep (Communication & Media) had received funding to support their collaborative research into communication differences between Ecuadoreans and Americans. Their pooled grant money was just enough to get Johnson to the South American republic during her five-day break in classes this time last year.
Neuliep and Johnson had already developed the survey instrument Johnson used in Ecuador. A communications and Spanish double major, Johnson translated the documents and presented them to students at Universidad Tecnológica Equinoccial and Universidad San Francisco de Quito.
The research budget was helped by the hospitality of former St. Norbert exchange student Isa Viteri and her family, who welcomed Johnson into their home.
A chance to see all stages of research
Johnson says the opportunity to collect data in the field was critical to the research partners’ study of communication components connected to conflict style – research that will soon see publication.
“Despite enlisting the help of a liaison to coordinate participants, I still had to explain the study to administration at two Ecuadorean universities, and get approval, as well as ask permission of professors to take over an entire class period. My travel to the country also enriched the research experience, because I was able to witness all stages of research.”
A Spanish-language opportunity
Johnson had direct contact with Ecuadorean students, faculty and administration as she prepared to administer the surveys in classroom settings, giving directions and answering questions in Spanish. “After putting in hours of translation work into the surveys, it was incredibly rewarding to see native Spanish-speakers interact with the Spanish document I had created,” says Johnson. “Being in the presence of the participants enabled me to answer any questions they had while taking the survey – an important aspect in order to get accurate data.
“Being part of a research collaborative was phenomenal. This project not only gave me a glimpse of what to expect at graduate school, but also the opportunity to nurture an academic self-confidence in both of my disciplines that I did not have previously. Also, it was refreshing and quite fun to have the opportunity to explore something that has never been studied before. I now know why researchers do what they do.”
Preparing for publication
Neuliep says the team’s findings will appear in the forthcoming sixth edition of his textbook, “Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach.” He and Johnson are preparing an article on their findings for conference presentation and submission to an academic journal.
Their cross-cultural comparative study focuses on various communication components – power-distance, enthocentrism, face, facework, and conflict style – that exist among both Ecuadoreans and Americans.
Power-distance, they explain, refers to the degree members of a society are aware of, and accept, the fact that power is distributed unequally. Ethnocentrism is the tendency to place one’s own group or ethnicity in a position of centrality and worth, while creating negative attitudes and behaviors toward other groups. Face refers to a person’s public image. Facework describes the communicative strategies employed to manage one’s own face or to support or challenge another’s face during human interaction. Conflict style evaluates the types of communicative behaviors used to manage conflict.